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 demonstrations as the crowd began to arrive, but some fans may have been protesting simply by staying away.
Others attended reluctantly, still angry that Guillen had said he loved and admired Castro. Nancy Azcuy, who came to the United States from Cuban 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 stadium 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.
Diaz was among them.
“I can’t believe that in this day and age there are still people who support heads of state who oppress their people the way Castro does,” she said. “We’re all very hurt.”
Outside the ballpark, 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 on a drizzly night, 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.
On the other hand, it was only the second game in the Marlins’ new $634 million home.
The Marlins have long struggled with poor attendance, and Guillen’s comments antagonized a large percentage of their fan base just as the franchise was enjoying a sense of rejuvenation thanks to the new ballpark.