Marlins add needed ray of sunshine to Series

October 18, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

NEW YORK - Wait, didn't the Marlins already do this? Did they not already cause wincing, snide asides and jealous scowls at the sight of their brash, impervious youthfulness charging headlong into territory few of the established elders in this sometimes musty and ghost-riddled sport could stomach?

Uninvited guests. Impostors. Mercenaries.

Yes. Yes. Yes. And hallelujah, because this time, six years after the Marlins played in their first World Series five years into their existence, here they are again.

Like a breath of fresh air they arrive. The outcasts, the outsiders, that nouveau pseudo-franchise with all the history of a Britney Spears CD catalog or a tract home.

The Fish have served baseball 11 years as an obliging punch line and punching bag, one of those new-era teams designated to an amorphous, freeway-laden region, not a real place, not a real city.

When anyone could remember they even existed, Team Teal has represented all that's ill about pro sports. Born out of expansion 11 years ago for the sake of lining the other baseball owners' pockets, the Marlins were plopped into South Florida, where a fan base is hard to dredge up since everyone who lives there is from somewhere else - transplanted New Yorkers, Dominicans, Cubans and snowbirds from Alberta and Ontario.

Their 1997 World Series title was an aberration, a mirage. They did what? After five years?

In the clubhouse after that victory, the mood was that of a haphazard celebration among strangers. The Marlins had bought their title with free agents, refugees and mercenaries like manager Jim Leyland, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Conine, Robb Nen and Kevin Brown. And before the champagne had dried, new-money owner Wayne Huizenga dismantled the club, saying that without a new stadium, the Marlins would be low-rent, threadbare, losers.

You could hear them snicker in Boston, Chicago, New York, Montreal and Minneapolis.

You want contraction, Bud Selig? Contract the Marlins.

Or how about this bit of unhappy business: The new Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria, is the old owner of the Montreal Expos, who got a sweetheart deal selling the Expos to major league baseball so he could buy the Marlins. The sale and Loria are still the subject of a lawsuit filed by Loria's former fellow minority-owner partners. The Expos can't be moved without an injunction. This is why they call it baseball.

Still, in this October, the Marlins are right on time. They are the answer to the question: When is it better to have no real baseball history than 85 or 95 years worth?

"We're creating our own history," Jeff Conine said.

The original Marlin got himself traded back to Florida from Baltimore after Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell broke his hand. What a stroke of luck. As he walked out onto the Yankee Stadium grass, Conine said he still can't believe what has happened or the way the Marlins are a good team peaking at the right time.

"It's like a dream," Conine said.

Personally speaking, the Marlins have done us a tremendous service. They've helped lift a terrible, great weight off these October proceedings. It's like a piano being pried off our chests. The collective bad karma of all those Fenway Faithful and dwellers of Wrigleyville has evaporated.

There are no more teams in the postseason for whom a World Series loss would spark an overload on suicide hotlines. Oh, the drama. Instead, we find ourselves with a World Series entry that asks nothing of us except to watch them have fun.

"We may not have the best team, but we have the best team to watch," said third base coach Ozzie Guillen, who thinks the Marlins' speed will be a joy and a challenge to the Yankees.

But mostly what the Marlins bring is freshness, youth and excitement.

"I've managed 13, 14 years in the big leagues. I've never had a team that I enjoyed more, that was more unselfish, more dedicated and had more fun than these guys right here," manager Jack McKeon said.

In an attempt to fumigate the bad vibes surrounding them, the Red Sox attempted to ply their "Cowboy Up" attitude as an antidote to all that angst and history. In the end, it was a little bit too much of a false construct. Manager Grady Little could only serve as a latter-day John McNamara. That Boston manager left Billy Buckner in too long, out of loyalty and the desire to allow Buckner to celebrate that 1986 World Series victory on the field. Buckner should not have been out there, just like Pedro Martinez was toast by the time the Yankees tagged him for three runs in the fateful eighth.

To which we say "Arrgghh. Enough. Out with these people who can't make good use of a free lane to baseball nirvana."

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