Spring ends, Miami primed for Boys of Summer

View from the pressbox at Marlins Park before the first-ever game there on March 5. // Photo by Christina De Nicola

View from the pressbox at Marlins Park before the first-ever game there on March 5. // Photo by Christina De Nicola

 

JUPITER, Fla. — Saturday afternoon may have put a close on Spring Training, but it put into motion the upcoming — and much-anticipated — beginning for the Miami Marlins.

In a 6-5 walk-off victory against the Mets, the rebranded organization concluded its first season of Grapefruit League action. The Marlins finished with an 11-12-4 record, while the pitching staff recorded the third-lowest ERA (3.10) and the lineup scored the fewest runs (75) of all 30 clubs.

Outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison — Miami’s projected fourth and fifth hitters — missed almost the entire spring tending to knee injuries.

“[It was a] very nice spring,” Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. “I think it was better than what I thought because it’s a new thing for everyone. A lot of new things for my coaching staff, for myself, the players. It’s a great chance to know each other and let them know how we’re going to play, and it was fun. I think we played good. I think we played better than the win-loss column. I thought we played really good baseball.”

In fact, competition was so high this spring that players with otherwise big-league-worthy numbers were left off the Opening Night 25-man roster.

Non-roster invitee Gary Glover, who pitched 10 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, lost out on the final bullpen spot to right-hander Chad Gaudin (2-0, 1.26 ERA).

Another non-roster invitee, Donovan Solano, a 24-year-old infielder who spent time in the minors with the Cardinals, had the “best spring training I’ve ever seen,” according to Guillen. He hit .410 in 22 games. The utility role went to Donnie Murphy, last year’s Opening Day third baseman, who is batting .225 in 17 games.

Both Solano and Glover will start the season at Triple-A New Orleans following the two exhibition games against the New York Yankees.

“Everybody sent down from last week to now, it was a very tough move because I think they deserve to be on the big-league team also,” Guillen said.

As for Guillen, the 48-year-old noticed differences between the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues with a new change in scenery. In his opinion, the support from fans is better in Florida than Arizona. He and the players have picked up on the enthusiasm from people in Miami, particularly the large crowds sporting their vibrantly colored Miami Marlins gear.

Over the next two days, the Marlins will welcome 25,000 and 30,000 fans into the new ballpark, respectively, as they face the 27-time World Series champion New York Yankees in trial runs before Wednesday’s opener.

Never before has the excitement been as palpable. The same goes for all the attention the organization has garnered during the offseason. Every media outlet from Sports Illustrated to ESPN Magazine to the New York Times has featured the franchise.

“I talked to the players,” Guillen said. “‘The next couple days are going to be a zoo. Stay away from the hype. Try to stay away from the situation at the ballpark and concentrate to play baseball.’ I know it’s a big deal for a lot of people, a big deal for the Marlins fans, owners, everyone involved in this organization. For me and the players it’s all about one thing: business. Win games.

“Our celebration is hopefully at the end of the game [when] we’re shaking people’s hands. Hopefully the players don’t get caught up in all this crazy thing. It’s fun. No doubt about it because I worked here before, I lived in Miami before. I know the enthusiasm, all the great stuff coming back to Miami. Hopefully we can keep it up and play good baseball.”

And to play good baseball, Guillen hopes he can get three at-bats from his starting pitchers — from Josh Johnson to Carlos Zambrano — because it “means we’re dancing.” In a division with plenty of talented arms, the Marlins want to prove their rotation sizes up with their rivals. Guillen believes his lineup will have no problem putting runs on the board.

On Wednesday night in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN, the Miami Marlins will play their first official game in their new ballpark in their new duds against the reigning World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

“It’s good news when Hanley [Ramirez] and [Jose] Reyes went to Miami for a photo shoot and they said when you step up in the ballpark, you get excited,” Guillen said. “And that’s something nice to hear from the players.

“Hanley played in the ****house before. A lot of people forget the ****house… I wish this ballpark brings a championship like the old ballpark did. That’s two championships [in 1997, 2003] in that many years; that’s pretty unique. Not that many people and teams can say that.”

After years of dreaming, the new beginning has finally come.

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