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Commentary: Stadium roulette opening day ritual

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Commentary: Stadium roulette opening-day ritual


By Charles Elmore


Palm Beach Post Staff Writer


Wednesday, April 12, 2006


MIAMI GARDENS ? They're young and wide-eyed, and they played in their home-opening 9-3 loss to the Padres on Tuesday with all the poignancy of The Bad News Bears ? before Walter Matthau shows up. Marlins rookie center fielder Reggie Abercrombie, roaming Dolphin Stadium for the first time, winged a throw 40 feet past home plate in the third inning of a 9-3 loss to the Padres


"Come down here," Abercrombie urged. "We're the same age as some of your kids. Bring the kids out. We're just kids ourselves. We like video games."


Forget the Yankees. The Florida Marlins, with 11 rookies on the roster and the lowest payroll in baseball since 1998 ($15 million), are a different kind of America's team. In the latest bid to turn up the pressure for a stadium deal, whether in South Florida or Your City Here, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has signed the cast of Oliver Twist.


After all, what other club has elected officials in communities all over the continent inquiring about the attendance at their home opener?


"What's the crowd look like?" said Nelson Wolff, the Bexar County, Texas, leader who heads the effort to bring the Marlins to San Antonio.


Wolff spoke on a telephone from San Antonio shortly before the opening pitch. The announced total would be 31,308. The turnout surpassed the most pessimistic predictions, but still ranked as the lowest attendance for a Marlins home opener since 23,877 against the Expos in 2002.


Wolff thought for a moment when asked to estimate the chances that the Marlins will actually leave for Texas. He believes a whole stadium can be built, without a roof, for $300 million, a figure others have called optimistic.


"Fifty-fifty still," he said.


Welcome back to Florida's only true opening-day baseball tradition. It has been with us since the months after the team's first World Series victory in 1997, when then-owner Wayne Huizenga said he would slash the payroll and sell the team because voters feared subsidizing a billionaire. The names and the wallets have changed, from John Henry to Jeffrey Loria, but we're right back in the same place on opening day.


On Tuesday, Loria said he wants to keep the team in South Florida, but the team needs progress on a stadium deal in South Florida well before Bexar County must decide in August whether to put $200 million tax measure on the November ballot. The Marlins have also explored new homes in cities including Portland and Las Vegas, saying they will leave their lease at Dolphin Stadium as early as 2008 and not later than 2010.


"San Antonio is a very viable market," Loria said. "If we can't play here, we'll play somewhere else."


But the signs do not point to a quick resolution.


Loria said the Marlins talk to leaders in Hialeah up to three times a week, and he remains "open" to talking about building a stadium beside Dolphin Stadium, but a money gap remains.


Yet the momentum toward Texas has slowed as well. In San Antonio, the Marlins would give up TV and radio revenue from a large market ? Miami and West Palm Beach combined rank in the top eight ? for the country's 37th-largest market.


That's important, because the Marlins were going to contribute $9 million a year from a 15-year regional cable contract to a now-dead $420 million downtown Miami stadium plan.


Nor can the Marlins count on state money in Texas. Gov. Rick Perry there "sees it as a regional and local issue," said press secretary Kathy Walt. "At this time for us there is no state funding for either bringing the team here or building a stadium."


Miami City Manager Joe Arriola did not make it to the Marlins' home opener, but he answered his phone.


"Horrible," he said, when asked to assess the club's stadium diplomacy "They've done a terrible job. They like to blame me, but they need to look at themselves."


Arriola feuded with Marlins President David Samson, often in personal terms, as talks to build in downtown Miami collapsed. In a few months, Arriola will leave his position, and city officials have begun looking for a successor.


He does not see a speedy conclusion, but believes South Florida is still a more likely home than San Antonio or another city.


"San Antonio has to go to a referendum for $200 million, and you can't build a stadium for $300 million," Arriola said. "The Marlins don't have the TV revenues there. The numbers don't add up.


"Hialeah has the land but no money. Building next to Dolphins Stadium is the best chance for the Marlins. That's where I think it could work. They just need to increase their contribution."


The Marlins had pledged as much as $192 million for the defunct Miami plan, a figure team executives say would have been the fourth-highest contribution by a major league team toward a stadium.


But the most telling sign that this thing won't be over soon came from Loria. Major League Baseball has allowed the Marlins to "pursue relocation," but the league must still OK more serious moves, such as the San Antonio referendum.


"They're telling us we have to solve our problems here," Loria said.


That's why we probably have not seen the last of the Marlins' opening-day ritual.



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Yet the momentum toward Texas has slowed as well. In San Antonio, the Marlins would give up TV and radio revenue from a large market ? Miami and West Palm Beach combined rank in the top eight ? for the country's 37th-largest market.


No matter how you slice it South Florida is still larger than SA. However, SF Columnist like to spin the facts to please their readers, and rightfully so. But, beware of stats has my college prof. once told me. By applying the 80-100 mile rule (Miami-North Palm Beach County) SA becomes the 15th largest TV market, granted still smaller than SF. I understand that the TV revenue is much larger in SF, but don't think for a second that SA would stand alone as far as TV market/revenue.


If the Marlins do end up in SA, is not because the city has surpass Miami in any way shape or form. As a business person I certainly wouldn't want to leave SF. However, no stadium, no Marlins. Beside if the MLB does find SA as a medium viable market, and things work out in SF for the Marlins, there are other smaller markets with struggling teams, of course using 80-100 mile rule (true stats).

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