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Team better than song and dance By DAN LE BATARD

Strike 3

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Miami Herald


Team better than song and dance


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The game is not quite enough. Not here, in the single strangest baseball city on the planet. That's why a team of young women with short-shorts and bare midsections sexy-danced in front of the third-base dugout before Saturday's game, with pom-poms no less. It isn't the type of packaging they need in, you know, Boston.


But that's why the postgame festivities at Saturday's Marlins game included a concert and fireworks show to lure paying fans of, well, anything. The first-place New York Mets, evidently, were just something to be squeezed in between the cheese and the noise and the inevitable rain. Only the Marlins could have their entertainment experience soaked even during a drought.


It is too bad, too, because the Florida Marlins are interesting and fun and different enough to be on the marquee all by themselves. And, according to the standings today, they also happen to be better than the New York Yankees. That's pretty flabbergasting when you consider that the Yankees are paying part-time Roger Clemens as much as the Marlins are paying all their players, give or take a Miguel Olivo.


Interesting? There's shortstop Hanley Ramirez, one of baseball's best young players, leaning into his locker before Saturday's game to tend to the elaborate altar of saints and lit candles. Ramirez was reputed to be a problem child in the Boston organization, but he has been worship-worthy in a Marlins uniform and has emerged as a leader on a team that looks laughably young next to New York's Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca and Damion Easley and Moises Alou and The Rest Of What Used To Be Around Here.


Fun? There's loose Dontrelle Willis playfully yelling into the office where Marlins owner Jeff Loria had just entered Saturday to talk to manager Fredi Gonzalez, shouting, ``They're talking about trading me again! Don't trade me! I'll get it together one day!''


Different? The Cubs spent $126 million on Alfonso Soriano this absurdly irresponsible offseason and their record still isn't as good as a Florida team that hasn't even been healthy.


The Marlins have an unpopular but prudent blueprint. They don't give guaranteed long-term contracts. One of the few times they did, nostalgic after the 2003 World Series, they got the worst year of Mike Lowell's life. As much as anyone who cares about the team would like to see the majestic excellence of Miguel Cabrera locked up so we don't have to worry about more firesale betrayal, his weight gain this season shows the dangers in guaranteeing too much too soon.


The Marlins are staying afloat and relevant and competitive even though three of their starting pitchers have been hurt and Willis hasn't been himself. That's pretty tough to do. They haven't had two-thirds of their outfield for most of the year, either. Not only that, but they'd be over .500 if not for the expensive explosion of Jorge Julio. Referencing the cable drama The Closer, Marlins team president David Samson joked that Julio was ``more Kyra Sedgwick than Dennis Eckersley.''


Sure, the Marlins strike out too much and make too many errors. But they deserve better than a home crowd Saturday that couldn't boo quite loud enough to drown out all the ''Let's Go Mets!'' chants in New York South. The young, hungry Marlins deserve better because they want in a way you saw earlier this week when an angry Willis shouted over to the Philadelphia dugout asking if they wanted to take their bench-clearing fight outside the stadium, to the parking lot.


The Marlins are not unlike Olivo's crazed careening around the bases. They are wheezing and reckless and filled with youthful desire and sometimes they arrive at their destination to much cheering and sometimes they just fall on their dirt-coated face. The adventure, though, is worth watching even without the framing of cheerleaders and fireworks.

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