Everybody wants a piece of a marlin.
Longer than your front door, faster than your car, and with a sharpened spear for a face, it’s no wonder the beast is so frequently in the crosshairs of harpoon guns and nets. Their name comes from a “marlinspike,” a fisherman’s tool that is used for tying (or “marling”) knots, not epic battles with leviathans, like it sounds. Their meat is served only on the finest tables. They were the central antagonist in an Ernest Hemingway novel.
Probably because “marlin” is a more pleasant word than “scombridae,” they were chosen in 1993 as the icon of Florida’s first Major League Baseball team. Since then, stories, legends, and sorrows have come and gone–or lingered and toxified–and at the end of it all, the franchise has found itself in need of a redo. On Friday, they will get one. And it will be rainbow-colored.
But unlike their namesake, the Marlins of baseball have had a hard time attracting attention, even when they’ve hopped right into the boat. In the waters of a sportscape criticized intermittently for not enough interest or way too much, the Fish are evolving, and marling their hopes to a new stadium, a new uniform, a new manager, and the next era that will hopefully see them develop visibility.
Which makes you wonder. If something changes when nobody’s watching, does it actually change?
“I think the Marlins are serious about winning,” says Marlins blog I Want to Go to the Strip Club with Mike Stanton. “I just don’t think it’ll matter in the long run in regards to people showing up and maintaining interest. Especially for a city as broke and apathetic as Miami. I couldn’t imagine telling my girlfriend that I bought season tickets. ‘Yeah, honey, 81 games. Oh, dinner tonight? Sorry, I can’t, there’s a game. No, no, there’s one tomorrow, too. Yep, and the next night. Hey, I’ll just see you Thursday.’ Hell, sometimes I wonder how baseball fans can put this much effort into following one team. It takes some serious dedication.”
So it seems that the Fish have their work cut out for them, no matter how spritely they paint their uniforms or how stoic their namesake is portrayed by legendary authors. Enough has been done, or not done, in the small world of South Florida baseball that to not only keep the fans they already have, but attract new ones, is a daunting task. This is an organization in need of not just re-branding, but re-fanning.
Today, when the cover is pulled off the new Marlins uniforms and the small room explodes with polite applause and camera flashes, it marks a new era. Of course, you could argue that the hiring of Ozzie Guillen marked a new day, or even go so far as to point out that the true new day will be Opening Day, when baseball is actually played.
But you probably wouldn’t do that because in all likelihood, you do not care.
“Unless the Marlins are signing every possible free agent, then I’m pretty sure the rest of the country won’t be too concerned,” SCWS continues. “And they probably shouldn’t. Marlins fans, on the other hand, should absolutely care. Especially considering what the team seems to be doing.”
“A month ago, I would’ve said no, that Marlins fans should probably expect the same old results, just in an uglier jersey. But, spending money on a manager? Making serious efforts to land top free agents? If the Reyes deal winds up happening, I think we can all finally start opening ourselves up to the idea of being optimistic for once. At least until Hanley and Reyes both wind up on the DL together.”
The Marlins could emerge, depending on how free agency goes, as one of the more dominant teams in the league, but even that is no guarantee that their community would embrace them. When somebody catches a marlin, they’re elated–then they string it up and take its picture. In its most glorious moment, a marlin has been dead for some time.
It is an interesting scenario playing out; a young franchise, making aggressive moves, and a region yet to prove just what it takes for their consistent patronage. The Fish are trying everything, but this may be a definitive experiment in whose responsible for the empty seats–the team or the town.
“Are they trying to make themselves relevant by going after some of these guys? Of course,” says SCWS. “And I think they’re serious about winning, too. I just don’t think it’ll matter in the long run in regards to people showing up and maintaining interest. As fans, we kinda stink.”