Ramp Posted September 24, 2003 Share Posted September 24, 2003 tampaobline.com MIAMI - David Samson is the president of the Florida Marlins. Unlike with a lot of top sports executives, we have to mention his title because there's a strong likelihood most baseball fans have no clue who he is, what he does and even less incentive to find out. That's how anonymous baseball had become in South Florida. But there he was Tuesday night, about 90 minutes before a game of considerable importance between his exciting, young team and the Philadelphia Phillies in the battle for the wild card in the National League. He was looking around at mostly empty Pro Player Stadium as gray clouds swirled overhead and moisture hung in the air. And he was pumped. ``We could draw 22,000,'' he said. ``Can you believe that? Isn't that fantastic?'' Uh, sure. 22,000. Great. For a pivotal game in a playoff race? Shouldn't a game like this draw about twice that? I mean, the Devil Rays pulled in almost 28,000 Saturday night at the Trop. What's up with these people? Maybe a lot. Maybe instead of lampooning how far this franchise has to go, it's better to look at how far it has come. Take the attendance, for instance. Samson was wrong - happily for him. A crowd of 25,311 showed for a darned fine 5-4 Marlins come-from- behind victory. OK, so you'd still expect a bigger turnout, and in many places you'd get one. But when Florida's Jeff Conine hit a three-run homer in the seventh to tie the score, it was so loud you would have sworn Dan Marino just hit Mark Duper on a 75-yard bomb to beat the Jets. Besides, you can't be too judgmental without considering the progress the Marlins have made. Samson does just that, nearly every day. No one better understands how steep the climb has been since Wayne Huizenga poisoned baseball in this market, almost beyond recovery. During one five-game home stretch late last September, the Marlins never attracted more than 7,844 fans - and that was for a game with the Braves. They hit the floor of the canyon last Sept. 17 when 4,836 wandered in to watch the Fish play Montreal. Samson was asked just how negative things had gotten toward the Marlins here in South Florida. He paused a moment, then responded: ``It had been of tidal wave proportions.'' The Revival Took Time The Marlins drew 3.1 million fans their first season in 1993, but with just a couple of exceptions it's been a downhill run since. Huizenga, their original owner, went on a spending binge prior to the 1997 season, won the World Series, then ordered that team dismantled over the winter. Fans went from aghast to apathetic. The Marlins went, so to speak, in the tank. This is their first winning season since '97, and they are on their third owner, Jeff Loria, since that World Series. Attendance bottomed out at 813,111 last season and indifference reigned. First baseman Derrek Lee knows it all too well. He was part of Huizenga's scorched earth plan, arriving from San Diego about two months after the champagne dried from the '97 Series celebration. ``It was miserable,'' Lee said. ``No one likes losing, and that's what we were doing every time we showed up at the ballpark. It made for long years, frustrating.'' If the Marlins make it to the postseason this time, it will be for the right reasons. They are young, athletic, entertaining. ``When I first got here, I told them I expected to be playing in October,`` said Manager Jack McKeon, who took over May 11 when Jeff Torborg was fired after a 16-22 start. ``I told everybody to pitch in, get on the same page, check their egos at the door, don't worry about personal stats and let's go.'' Fans were slow to respond as the Marlins began to play better, but they will finish this season with about a 50 percent attendance improvement compared with last year. Television ratings are strong, and sponsors are again lining up to be associated with the Marlins. ``Back in spring training, we were a little bit of an unknown team,'' General Manager Admin Beinfest said. ``People didn't know what to make of us, but we had one goal: To have meaningful games in September.'' It seemed pretty meaningful Tuesday night. More To Do There still are a lot of problems. Money likely will remain an issue until the Marlins get a new stadium, and even with their success this season it probably will be years before that happens - if ever. Pro Player Stadium remains a mediocre place to watch a baseball game, and there's not much that can be done to help the place. But who cares? Right now, the talk is baseball, specifically about a good young team that might just surprise everyone. They're the Marlins and, as South Florida is finding out, they're worth getting to know. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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