Expectations are high for the Marlins this year, at least if you ask team owner Jeffrey Loria. While Loria thinks the team could win 90 games, most prognosticators have the Fish finishing behind division rivals Philadelphia and Atlanta in 2011.
But with a new stadium opening next year, the Marlins look to get the ball rolling early in 2011, and hope that an young pitching staff can help the team compete with the Phillies and Braves and build fan excitement before moving into new digs.
Unlike past years, when fans worried about the futures of stars like Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson, the team has the pair under contract for the next three years, along with pitcher Ricky Nolasco, who signed a three-year contract extension over the winter.
The three join rising stars Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Coghlan to form a young core that is as good as any in Major League Baseball.
Marlins fans, who have been known to casually ignore the team even during good years, might be coming around as well. The team said it sold over 45,000 individual game tickets Saturday, the first day tickets went on sale, breaking the record of just over 40,000 set in 2010. That won't be enough to cover up the sea of empty orange seats in Sun Life Stadium all season, but when it comes to Miami sports fans, every little victory counts.
The Marlins open their Spring Training schedule on Sunday in an exhibition against the University of Miami baseball team at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. The team officially opens the 2011 season on April 1 at home against the hated New York Mets.
David Hill is a Miami native and the cofounder of Marlins Diehards, the only blog with perspective on the eccentricities of Marlins fandom.