One year after the Miami Marlins opened Marlins Park, their new stadium on the former site of the Orange Bowl, the team has much lower expectations, regarding both the win-loss column and ticket sales.
Whereas last year a sellout crowd witnessed Muhammad Ali deliver the baseball for the ceremonial first pitch, this year's home opener will be much more subdued, partly because the team probably won't sell every ticket for the game against the Atlanta Braves.
"It was awesome," reliever Steve Cishek recalled. "Seeing Muhammad Ali out there, it was crazy."
The Marlins have had to resort to the kinds of sales promotions usually reserved for the late August dog days, including an offer on Groupon and a 2-for-1 deal giving fans a free ticket to any April or May game in addition to a regular-priced ticket to the home opener.
This is a direct result of trades that sent much of last year's core, including Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle, to other teams in return for prospects and spare parts. That core still lost 93 games, but the Marlins conceded another losing season by fielding a team of prospects and fading veterans around slugger and centerpiece Giancarlo Stanton.
"I appreciate and am sorry it has been such a tough offseason," Marlins President David Samson said Sunday before the team's game against the Mets in New York. "The people who are coming to the game (Monday) hopefully are there to cheer on the players who deserve to get cheered."
About an hour before the first pitch against the Atlanta Braves Monday night, there was plenty of tailgating space outside Marlins Park. As some fans grilled up burgers and hot dogs, they also fired off about the state of their hometown ball club.
"We're going to be upset with the front office," Phil Burns said. "We're going to be upset with a lot of people, but, I mean, hey, what are we not gonna come? No, it's not gonna happen. We're here to support the members of the team we have."
Some fans showed up wearing paper bags on their heads. With that disguise, they were free to take swings at team owner Jeffrey Loria, and the controversial call to spin off the Marlins' star players.
"We had so much hope last year, and this year's just horrible," fan Tico Solares explained.
Samson said he expected a crowd of over 30,000 Monday night, but the team will struggle to reach its attendance goal of 1 million in 2013.
"We didn't start from such a high number to start with last year," he said, "but I think it'll go down."
The Marlins have gotten off to a rough start, going 1-5 on the season's opening road trip. They were swept by the Washington Nationals, who held the Marlins to a single run in three games. On Sunday, rookie starter Jose Fernandez's gem was spoiled by a blown save from closer Cishek.
Still, the players know they can win the fans back if only they can turn around their early struggles.
"They're not angry with the players," Stanton said of the fans. "We didn't lose them, we can't gain them back from one thing. ... We've just got to play good."
Cishek was more blunt. "All people care about is wins," he said. "If we win ballgames, then everyone will shut up."
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