- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

So why haven't baseball fans in Florida embraced the Marlins and Devil Rays? There are lots of reasons, but as someone who lived in Miami for five years, I can tell you the biggest one:
It's just too much trouble.
When the Marlins were granted a National League expansion franchise for the 1993 season, the fans in our family rejoiced although we hadn't lived in Miami for better than a decade. At last, we said, another team we can call our own along with the Orioles to help make up for the absence of one in Washington.
We rejoiced again when the 4-year-old Marlins, stocked with free agents with salaries almost as big as their egos, won the World Series in 1997 something the lamented Senators last did in 1924 and the Orioles in 1983. But when owner Wayne Huizenga began breaking up his ballclub practically before the last bottle of bubbly had been uncorked in the clubhouse, there was great disillusionment although we lived 1,100 miles away from the scene of the crime.
Imagine how fans in South Florida felt. Thousands, I imagine, vowed never to rent a tape from Blockbuster again. In fact, some probably even trashed their VCRs.
Five long years later, there is absolutely no rational reason to spend good money to see the Marlins play, even though the team has rebounded respectably on the arms of some talented young pitchers.
Like we said, it's just too much trouble.
Let's pretend that you live in South Florida and like baseball. First of all, why would you spend a couple hundred bucks to take the kids to Pro Player Stadium when it's likely to rain and certain to be in the humid 90s every night? Besides the stadium known as Semipro Player Stadium when the stripped-down Marlins were godawful a few years ago is a horrible baseball facility in an unfortunate location.
The facility, known originally as Joe Robbie Stadium after the Dolphins' long-time owner, was built specifically for football and as we have come to realize, no place can serve both sports equally. Football does fine in a hulking bowl with 70,000 or 80,000 seats surrounding the field. Baseball needs a cozier, Camden Yards-type environment that has the retro feel of a 1940s ballpark with perhaps 40,000 seats plus luxury boxes. The two concepts are mutually exclusive.
After building arenas for the NBA's Miami Heat and NHL's Florida Panthers, city and state officials had no taste for spending anew for a ballpark, so the Marlins and new owner Jeffrey Loria are stuck with Pro Player unless Bud Selig brings his evil dream of contraction to fruition.
Although a lot of people forgot about this before the Marlins sprang into being, South Florida just isn't a good area for major league baseball. The thinking a decade ago was that the region was home to untold numbers of Cubans and other Hispanics who love baseball. What people ignored is that the stadium, perched 15 miles north of downtown Miami on the Dade-Broward county line, is inaccessible to many Cuban fans and many can't afford Marlins tickets anyway.
Besides, Greater Miami is divided neatly into two demographic areas: Dade County, where most Hispanics live, or Broward and Palm Beach counties, which are whiter than snow. And rarely, if ever, do the twain meet.
So South Floridians, whatever their ethnic persuasions, have a lot of entertainment options. They can go to one of the numerous beaches, frequent the dog tracks and jai-alai frontons or simply stay inside and cool. Baseball, what's that? Besides, with cable TV, true believers can watch the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Orioles or whomever at a fraction of the cost of going to a game. In Miami, like Washington, nearly everybody is from somewhere else. Who cares about the Marlins if you're a converted Noo Yawker who has lived and died with the Yankees all your life?
When I lived in Miami during the early 1980s, we got along fine without major league baseball. Relatively few people went to see the Class A Miami Marlins, who played in ramshackle Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium just a foul ball from one of the city's seamier areas. But it was a sheer delight to go see the University of Miami Hurricanes play at gorgeous little Mark Light Stadium in Coral Gables and you could do so, unbelievable to a northerner, in January and February.
I don't buy the theory that the Marlins and Devil Rays are dying at the gate because fans get their fill of baseball during spring training if you're any kind of a fan, an exhibition game in spring can never replace the real thing from April through October. But there are so many genuine obstacles that I doubt whether major league baseball, as presently constituted and offered, will ever succeed in Florida.
I'd like to be more sympathetic, but we've got our own problems when it comes to rounders, or the lack thereof.


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