Something Fishy

If the home opener is any indication, the Florida Marlins will have a hard time hooking South Florida's disillusioned fans

"Hey, fellas!" exclaims a man in a wheelchair, who, like Hal, is thinking back to happier days. "Remember the film of the '97 World Series? Right before Bobby Bonilla came up to bat in the seventh inning, you see some guy in a wheelchair saying, 'I hope he doesn't hit it on the ground, because I can run to first faster than he can'? That was me." He grins. "I saw all four [home] games of that World Series from this very spot."

Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett retires the Expos in order in the first inning, and the crowd, what there is of it, responds with a loud cheer. "It's like everything else," observes Hal. "If they put a good team on the field, people will come."

On this evening, the Marlins manage to put a good team on the field -- for the first three innings. In the top of the fourth, Burnett and the Marlins surrender three runs to the opposition. "C'mon, let's hear it for the home team," Stanley exhorts his section between innings. "We can come back." For a minute, it looks as if he may be right. In the bottom of the fourth, with two men on base, Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell hits a pitch down the left-field line, over the wall, for a home run. Except that, after Lowell has already rounded the bases, seemingly tying the game, the umpires rule that it isn't a home run but a foul ball. Marlins skipper Jeff Torborg argues the call and is promptly thrown out of the game by the umps. The crowd rushes to his defense or, perhaps, just takes the opportunity to vent its frustration at what may just be the saddest opening day anyone could have imagined, by hurling everything from Marlins refrigerator magnets -- handed out as a premium before the game -- to plastic beer bottles. It's an ugly and dangerous scene. Play is suspended for roughly ten minutes while ballplayers scurry for cover and ground crews clear garbage from the field.

When the game resumes, Lowell completes his at-bat, grounding into an inning-ending, and rally-killing, double play. The Marlins will go on to lose big, 10-2. Stanley, who has seen it all before, is philosophical, if a little biased. "You know," he says, still thinking about Lowell's home-run bid, "it looked good to me."

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