- Associated Press - Friday, April 13, 2012

MIAMI (AP) - Havana-born Isabel Diaz arrived at the Miami Marlins’ ballpark two hours before the first pitch Friday, ready to root for the home team but not quite prepared to forget Ozzie Guillen’s remarks about Fidel Castro.

“I’m here to support the players,” Diaz said, “and to support all the workers at the stadium who are not at fault for what one ignorant person said.”

For the first time since the furor enveloping their manager began, the Marlins took the field in their new ballpark in Little Havana, opening a six-game homestand against Houston.

Arriving fans were greeted with salsa music and samples of mango smoothies. There was no sign of any group demonstrations, but some fans may have protested simply by staying away.

The 36,442-seat ballpark was only half full when the game started but perhaps two-thirds full by the middle innings. Announced attendance was 30,169.

But some came reluctantly, still angry that Guillen had said he loved and admired Castro. Nancy Azcuy, who came to the United States from Cuba 43 years ago, said she’ll give up her season tickets if Guillen is back as manager next season.

“He earns a lot of money to be talking so much trash,” she said. “A public figure has to think about what he says.”

Among those absent from the ballpark was Guillen, serving a five-game suspension for his remarks. He offered an emotional apology at a news conference Tuesday, but some local leaders, Cuban Americans and even Marlins fans thought he should have been fired.

One was Lazaro Diaz, a lone protester standing outside the ballpark shortly before the game. He drove three hours from his home in Fort Myers with his teenage son to express his frustration over Guillen’s comments.

“I came here to express that I am against him and that they need to kick him out,” Diaz said. “He has every right to the freedom of speech, but he shouldn’t have said what he did to this community.”

Diaz, who wore a T-shirt that read, “Cuba, Si. Castro, No,” said two of his uncles were executed in the early years of the revolution.

Edwin Rojas and his 10-year-old son sold shirts that said, “Cuba, Si! Ozzie, No! Marlins Forever.” Rojas, a season-ticket holder, said he would keep attending games but understood why people were upset.

“I can definitely sympathize with what my parents went through and what this means to them,” he said.

The new retractable roof was closed because of drizzly weather, but even with protection from the inclement weather, empty seats Friday might not be a fair gauge of any lingering animosity.

The Astros aren’t a big draw, and it was a busy night on the Miami sports calendar. The Heat and Florida Panthers both had home games, with the hockey team playing its first postseason game in 12 years.

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