The Marlins and giving thanks

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Good morning everyone, and Happy Thanksgiving to my friends and readers currently in the United States. Down here on the little island of Dominica, I do not get the time off to enjoy Thanksgiving like you all, but in my mind I am in the spirit of the holiday. As such, I’d like to discuss two topics regarding Thanksgiving, the Florida Marlins, and baseball as a whole. Right now, we’ll start with the Florida Marlins.

For those of you who read my bio, you know that I started off as a bandwagon Marlins fan, becoming a full-fledged fan during their 1997 run to the World Series. I am thankful for that run because it brought me into the world of baseball for the first time and really enthralled me. After watching Edgar Renteria slap that base hit into center field, plating Craig Counsell in extra innings to win Game 7 of the World Series over the Cleveland Indians, I was hooked. I could not get enough of Marlins baseball, and I am thankful that it happened early in my life because the memory was romanticized beyond its actual value. I may not remember much of my time as a second grader, but I do remember sitting on the floor, watching NBC and listening to that Bob Costas call for the game. It is forever etched in my mind, and because I romanticized it so much, my tie to baseball was forever sealed, regardless of what happened afterwards.

Of course, that was an important thing to establish, because my fanhood for the Fish would be tested over the next four seasons. The Marlins held the devastating 1998 fire sale directly after that World Series win, which led to two very difficult seasons to watch as a fan. The dismantled Marlins went 118-206 from 1998-1999, with some of the worst rosters ever assembled. The team was loaded with players too young to be solid contributors in the majors or guys who simply weren’t major-league players at all. That 1998 team may have been the most frightful thing I had ever witnessed. Halfway through the year, the Marlins surprisingly traded for Mike Piazza, only to embarrassingly trade him away ten days later for an unimpressive package of players. The team scored fewer than 700 runs and gave up more than 900. It was the worst team I had ever seen, and it followed a season full of elation.

The next season was equally difficult, and the long road back to respectability only began in 2000, as the pieces the Marlins had acquired began to mold into major-league caliber players. As guys like Derrek Lee, Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, and Mike Lowell began developing, the Marlins began improving before our eyes. But those four seasons were rough on the few Marlins fans that remained with the team after the fire sale. And yet I am thankful for those seasons as well, because they were the ones that made the 2003 year so much more magical.

When 2003 arrived, there was not a lot of optimism. Ivan Rodriguez had been signed in the offseason, and I had blasted the move, not understanding at the time that the Marlins were simply making a smart play for a great player. I watched the team struggle in the early part of the season and began to lose hope once more. When Jack McKeon took over, however, the Marlins made a huge run. They vaulted to the top of the standings, and midseason promotions such as Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera plugged holes in the team and got the fanbase excited once more. When the Marlins’ hot September run gave them the Wild Card, I was giddy with anticipation of a playoff run once again. When the Marlins delivered yet another impressive run, complete with an NLCS comeback from down 3-1 and taking down the New York Yankees in the World Series, I felt that genuine joy of being an ecstatic baseball fan once more. For the second time in five years, rising from the ashes of a devastating fire sale, the Marlins had won the World Series.

I am thankful for all of that 2003 season and everything that contributed to the Marlins’ World Series victory. I’m thankful for Josh Beckett flashing the dominance we all expected when he was drafted in 1999. I’m thankful for D-Train and his high leg kick, dominating performance, and big smile. I’m thankful for Steve Bartmann ruining the entire Chicago Cubs psyche in that faithful 8th inning. I’m thankful for McKeon and whatever he did to turn the team around. That season revitalized baseball in my heart, and it justified all those years of sticking with the toiling franchise.

Skip forward to 2006, after two underperforming seasons for the Fish. The Marlins were once again dismantled, and hopes were once again dashed. The Fish started off with a fresh batch of youngsters, and fears of 1998 all over again cropped up everywhere. And when the season started, it seemed like this year’s Marlins would go that way once more. However, around late May, the Marlins went on a ten-game winning streak and brought themselves from 11-31 to just ten games under .500. The club’s new players were exciting, headlined by the duo of Hanley Ramirez and rookie All-Star Dan Uggla. The quartet of young pitchers, led by Josh Johnson, was promising. And somehow, as the season wore on, the Marlins inched closer to respectability. On Sunday, September 3rd, 2006, the Marlins became the first team to ever climb from 20 games under .500 during a season to the .500 mark. The next day, they became the first team to climb over .500 after such a deficit. I am thankful for the 2006 Florida Marlins, because they salvaged what might have been a disaster following the fire sale and maintained the faith of some of us remaining fans.

Moving forward to today and looking forward to the 2011 season, there’s a lot to be thankful for with regards to the Marlins. I am thankful for the team opening up its wallets and signing Johnson and Ramirez to long-term deals; these two players should remain the faces of the franchise going into the new stadium. I am thankful for Uggla and all the home runs he provided us over the last five seasons; while the parting wasn’t the prettiest, he will always be a Marlin first and foremost in my mind. I wish him the best of luck going forward. And I’m thankful for having Hanley Ramirez on this team for the foreseeable future. Very few fans can claim to have one of the best players in baseball, playing for their team 162 times a year, for their viewing pleasure. Attitude or otherwise, Marlins fans are lucky to have such a talent on display in South Florida.

Finally, I’m thankful for having stuck with this team for 13 years. Sure, the relationship was always on-and-off. I wasn’t there for a few years as my life got busy, but the Marlins always had a hold on me and drew me back into their arms. Now that I have a blog and a readership to serve, my tie to the Marlins is stronger than ever. No matter what the franchise does, those memories will always have me in their grasp, and I could never abandon them and the team to which they are related. Even as my baseball mind grows more analytical and calculating, I’ll never forget that I am a fan first, and that the first thing that led me down this path of baseball fanhood was not a projection or a trade value analysis, but a simple bloop single off the glove of Charles Nagy that rolled into center field and caused an uproar at old Joe Robbie Stadium.

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