That was the bonus Marlins story from the weekend, that following Friday’s game, the team announced Ali’s passing on the jumbotron- before any other outlet, and more to the point the family, had done so. But once the dust settled, and after seeing David Samson’s interview, it would seem the Marlins are of blameless of any action other than outscooping here. Apologies were made to the family, all the appropriate things were said, etc.
However, it does bring to mind what the root of that Marlins-Ali connection is, at least publicly: his participation in the 2012 Opening Day ceremony that inaugurated Marlins Park.
This was a move that met some mild criticism at the time, and is still occasionally blasted by the odd journalist when tallying up miscues from Samson or team owner Jeffrey Loria. It was an unexpected start to a season that went unexpectedly downhill. And there was a while there where I too agreed that perhaps they should have just played it safe and had Marino, Shula, or just about anyone else christen the new park.
Looking back on it now though, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As alluded to, I grew up with a special reverence for Ali. My father actually had two encounters with him, including an early memory of being taken by my grandfather to watch him train at the famed 5th Street Gym. If there was a documentary on that night, be it on that first Liston fight, the Thrilla in Manilla, or the Rumble in the Jungle, we watched it. If Mike Tyson had recently done something, well let’s just say Mike Tysonish, time was taken to discuss what boxing used to be like in the glory days.
And then as the growing up continued, as I sank deeper into job opportunity quagmire that is being a history major, I learned so much more about his social impact. That beyond being an amazing athlete, he was a profoundly influential person. Perhaps not without his faults, and certainly not a member of a faultless society. But impactful? There’s a reason Sports Illustrated recognizes him to the extent that they do.
And thanks to Jeffrey Loria, thanks to the Marlins, I’m able to say I was in his presence once. Was in the same room with him. Yes, I can say that because I paid a ridiculous amount of money to enter the building, out of esteem and support for them putting together a team that massively underwhelmed. But they could have picked Marino, or Shula, or many other famous Florida sports personages that I’d either seen already or didn’t grow up respecting nearly as much as the person they did pick to open that park in 2012.
So, at least for my part, I’m grateful for the opportunity. So, thanks Jeff.
Much more importantly though, thank you Muhammad. You’ll be missed, and remembered.