MIAMI (CBS4) – So what does the latest manager for the Florida Marlins envision for next year? A boisterous crowd packed in a brand new stadium with a one-sided outcome which sends them home happy.
On Friday he’s off to Spain to see the bullfights. When he returns from vacation with his wife, Ozzie Guillen will start his new job as manager of the Florida Marlins. Again the idea will be to entertain fans and produce results that keep them coming back.
Animated and provocative, Guillen enlivens a franchise that has long been the NL’s toughest sell.
As he makes headlines, he hopes to make Miami a baseball town.
“I want people to be proud to wear the Marlins jersey, for kids to say, ‘I’m a Marlins fan,'” Guillen said.
This season the Marlins finished last in the league in attendance for the seventh consecutive year. That’s about to change because the franchise moves next year into a new ballpark, and season-ticket sales ensure big crowds throughout 2012.
But after that?
“Historically any team going into a new stadium seems to prosper that first year,” outgoing manager Jack McKeon said. “But there are a lot of first-year stadiums that went down the tubes the second year.”
That’s where Guillen comes in. This week he left the Chicago White Sox after eight seasons, and 24 hours later he sealed a four-year deal with the Marlins, where he was a third-base coach for the 2003 World Series championship team.
“I feel like I’m back home,” he said.
In Chicago, Guillen worked for a team long overshadowed by the Cubs, Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks. He made the White Sox front-page news and led them to the 2005 World Series title.
In Miami, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall are competition for attention.
Guillen said fans shouldn’t buy tickets because of him.
“I don’t want them to say, ‘Let’s watch Ozzie manage and throw stuff out of the dugout, or Ozzie arguing with umpires.’ No. How about, ‘Let’s go watch those guys perform’?” he said. “My goal is that when the fans leave the ballpark, they want to come back to watch this club.”
Now that the Marlins have their fourth new manager since early 2010, the goal is to make the team more watchable. This year they were bad and boring: last in the NL East at 72-90, with a .247 batting average that was the lowest in franchise history.
“We wanted to build momentum heading into the new ballpark. I don’t think it happened,” president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. “So we have some work to do. The ballpark is going to be a big attraction, but we want the product on the field to be right there with it. We want to get back to playing in October.”
In their 19 seasons, the Marlins have reached the postseason only twice, as wild-card teams in 1997 and 2003. Both times they won the World Series.
Before the final game of the season Wednesday, Guillen paid a visit to the clubhouse scouting for championship material.
“I walk around here, I don’t even know who are the players,” he said. “I’ve got to look at the lockers to see their names. It’s a lot of young kids.”
Not that the roster’s bereft of talent. The Marlins believe they can build a winner around a youthful foundation that includes 21-year-old Mike Stanton (34 homers), 24-year-old Logan Morrison (23 homers) and 26-year-old Emilio Bonifacio (.296, 40 steals).
But they need more from their two best players, whose seasons were curtailed by shoulder injuries. Ace Josh Johnson made only nine starts before being sidelined for the year, while shortstop Hanley Ramirez endured a long slump, sat out the final two months and required surgery.
Starters Ricky Nolasco (10-12), Anibal Sanchez (8-9) and Chris Volstad (5-13) all had disappointing seasons, and pitching will be at the top of the Marlins’ shopping list this offseason. With revenue on the rise because of the new ballpark, owner Jeffrey Loria has pledged to increase the Marlins’ perennially modest payroll, which was $57 million this year.
“What we’ve got to do is certainly improve the pitching,” McKeon said. “You’re up against the Phillies and the Braves, who have outstanding pitching, and that’s the name of the game.”
The Marlins are always playing catchup in the NL East. They’ve never won a division title, which helps explain the chronic fan apathy. Guillen anticipates more wins and more fans.
Miami native Alex Fernandez was Guillen’s teammate when both played for the White Sox. Fernandez also pitched for the Marlins in 1997, when crowds swelled as the team marched toward the title.
“I do know this market,” Fernandez said. “You bring a winner, it’s going to be packed. You’re starting in the right direction by getting Ozzie.”
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