Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter knows all about an empty ballpark and says success this season will require adapting to the absence of fans.
Jeter said the quiet atmosphere will be strange as baseball belatedly begins the 2020 season Thursday.
“I think pumping in crowd noise helped quite a bit,” Jeter said. "But it is going to take a lot of focus. The team that is focused the most and shows the most discipline ultimately in my opinion is going to be the team that’s standing at the end of the season.
“It is going to take you back to playing summer ball when you were in grade school and high school. It’s going to take you back to your true love of the game. It will be a challenge to focus.”
Jeter spoke Wednesday, hours after the Marlins played their first exhibition game of summer camp against the Atlanta Braves.
“I don’t think I've ever been so excited to watch a spring training game,” Jeter said.
The Marlins open Friday at Philadelphia and believe they're on the verge of a big leap forward after losing 105 games last season.
Jeter has rebuilt the club since his group bought the franchise in late 2017. The minor league system is much improved, and the Marlins believe the payoff at the major league level is about to begin.
“There is a mindset that I believe is starting to change here in the organization over the last couple of years: You can't accept mediocrity,” Jeter said. “We preach it over and over. I think you are starting to see that with the younger players coming up, and in the major league clubhouse as well.”
Jeter acknowledged there's still work to be done to develop a bigger fan base for the Marlins, who have finished last in the NL in attendance 14 of the past 15 years. That's not an issue for now, because the coronavirus means no spectators for any team.
With the virus surging, Jeter said, opening Marlins Park to fans later this season isn't under consideration at the moment.
“I think it would be irresponsible to even think about that right now when you look at the numbers in South Florida,” he said. “At this particular time we’re not thinking about bringing fans back.”
As for fans staying home, the Marlins are in the final year of a TV contract that is baseball's least lucrative. Jeter seeks an agreement that could significantly help the franchise's perennial financial issues.
“Everyone knows the deal we have is well below market,” Jeter said. “We want a partner that looks at this organization and sees a bright future that is on the horizon.”
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