Last season, Marlins fans were treated to a 91-win regular season and three thrilling rounds of playoffs culminating in a star-studded World Series versus the damn Yankees. The cherry on top was a series-clinching game six masterpiece in Yankee Stadium by MVP Josh Beckett. Images from last year are still vibrant: Mike Lowell's torrid first half, a fresh-faced Dontrelle Willis emerging on the scene in May, an even fresher-faced Miguel Cabrera filling Lowell's shoes in July, the familiar face of Jeff Conine rejoining the team, and Pudge Rodriguez constantly coming up clutch down the stretch.
Well, Marlins fans, are you ready for another roller-coaster ride of emotions? The Florida Marlins open their 2004 spring training season March 3 against the University of Miami at 3:05 p.m. at Roger Dean Stadium (4751 Main St., Jupiter). Most fans will offer their support for the '04 campaign with one disclaimer: Before bestowing total devotion to this squad for another season, ownership must demonstrate fidelity. South Floridians are all too familiar with wholesale changes following championships.
So who has left for greener pastures this off-season? Surprisingly, not as many as one might assume. The team re-signed a number of key cogs, including third-baseman Mike Lowell, second-baseman Luis Castillo, and skipper Jack McKeon. Mike Mordecai, Lenny Harris, Michael Tejera, Ramon Castro, and Mike Redmond were also reupped. The two biggest losses have been Rodriguez and Derek Lee. Pudge took the money in Detroit, while Lee's gold glove at first base was sent to Chicago in exchange for first-baseman Hee Seop Choi and pitcher Mike Nannini. Outfielder Juan Encarnacion and pitcher Mark Redman were also traded away, and closer Braden Looper signed with the Mets.
So the off-season moves have not turned out to be the devastating piece-by-piece dismantling that some were dreading. Add to that A.J. Burnett's comeback from injury this season, in essence an addition considering his absence all of last year, and the prospects for another playoff run loom large.
Buckle up, because the ride starts Wednesday. Tickets range from $7 to $22. Call 561-775-1818. -- Russ Evans
How 'Bout It?
Let the Fists Fly
In the mood for a good fight? How about eight of them? Warrior Boxing Promotions presents "Night of the Gladiators" at 6 p.m. Saturday, February 28, at the Seminole Indian Casino (5550 NW 40th St., Coconut Creek). The eight-bout card features two main events, three NABA title fights, and two female bouts. Former heavyweight champ Ray "Merciless" Mercer (32-5-1, 24 KOs) faces Virginian Steve Pannell (33-7, 27 KOs) in one main event. In the other main bout, Robert "Armed and Dangerous" Allen (36-4, 27 KOs), who is ranked as the number-one middleweight contender by the International Boxing Federation, goes against a fighter still to be named.
Bouts on the undercard include Puerto Rican Ricky Quiles (34-6-3, 8 KOs) taking on Luis Villata (29-5-1, 24 KOs) for the NABA lightweight title. NABA flyweight champion Angel Priolo (29-1, 20 KOs) is making his first title defense against fellow Colombian John Molina (19-4-3, 13 KOs). And the NABA featherweight title will also be up for grabs, as Panamanian Whyber Garcia (13-1, 9 KOs) faces up-and-comer Robert Daniel Maldonado (13-0, 8 KOs). Tickets range from $30 to $150. Call 877-50-FIGHT. -- Russ Evans
Look, Ma, No Brakes!
There's no stopping these cyclists
There's nothing quite like the feeling of the wind blowing through your spandex. Especially when you're speeding around a 333-meter track at 40 miles per hour on a bike with no brakes. Yes, special brake-free bikes (braking might cause pileups) with superthin tires are a requirement for cycling in the Velodrome at Brian Piccolo Park (9501 Sheridan St., Cooper City). With a 30-degree incline and a speed-boosting surface, the Velodrome is the only facility of its kind in the Southeastern U.S. This weekend, world-class cyclists convene here for the 2004 U.S. Track Cycling World Cup Quarter Round One. They're angling for a piece of the $2,000 pot, advancement to the World Cup finals in Mexico, and a slot on the U.S. Olympic cycling team. Races take place from Thursday, February 26, through Saturday, February 28, and watching is free with the $1 park admission. Interested in taking a spin yourself? Sign up for a complimentary lesson with cycling coordinator and former Olympian Carlos Laborde. Call 954-437-2600. -- Deirdra Funcheon
You Deserve a Paddling
It's hard to live in Florida without taking part in some form of boating or water sport. With the myriad bodies of water in our fine state, boats, skis, and the like are a part of everyday leisure here. With that in mind, the Hollywood Rowing Club, the South Florida Outrigger Canoe Club, and the Florida Competitive Paddlers Association, in conjunction with various sponsors, present Paddlefest Broward from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at West Lake Park, 751 Sheridan St., Hollywood. Members of the public (that's you) can try out a variety of self-propelled boats. The list of seaworthy vessels available for use includes outrigger canoes, surf skis, kayaks, rowing shells, paddle boats, and dragon boats. Throughout the day, local vendors offer classes and lead discussions about subjects like kayak camping, basic navigation techniques, and how to choose a boat. Call 954-926-2480. -- Russ Evans