The Manatees, Baseball's Premier Fat-Guy Dance Squad, Shake Two Tons of Booty for Marlins Fans | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


The Manatees, Baseball's Premier Fat-Guy Dance Squad, Shake Two Tons of Booty for Marlins Fans

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When the Yankees came to town this year, Derek Jeter spotted the troupe making its way to a tunnel exit just before a performance. He called over Tiny by name. "I've seen you on TV in New York — I like your stuff," Tiny says the superstar told him. "Go do your thing!"

And after an August game against the Cubs, a visiting player even tracked down the Manatees in their locker room. Veteran outfielder Alfonso Soriano showed up in full Chicago uniform, shaking hands and expressing his fandom for their shtick. But he had an ulterior motive: The Dominican native, banished to a chilly land of kielbasa and pierogi, cornered a few of the Spanish-speaking Manatees and interrogated them about the best places to get more familiar fare in Miami.

"We probably talked about food for half an hour," says 340-pound Jose "Cuban Pete" Marquez. The Manatees sent the uniformed millionaire off with a list of Latin restaurants. "He definitely knew the right guys to ask."

A Manatee never dances on an empty stomach. Just before a Saturday-night game against the Houston Astros, the tin foil comes off a buffet table in the troupe's wood-trimmed locker room. Thick lasagna, boxes of pizza, and a salad dressed in oil: The men, in varying stages of undress and costume, attack it with the gory relish one might expect. They often get the same spreads as the players, a fact that gives the Manatees a sort of pride. But it's doubtful Hanley Ramirez has ever stacked a paper plate like Cuban Pete does now: a precarious skyscraper of cheese and starch that spans the vertical distance from the top of his gut to his bearded chin.

The Manatees change in what is essentially the hangout and warm-up spot for all of the Marlins' sideshow entertainers. The Mermaids, the team's svelte female cheerleaders, periodically skip in and out of the locker room like a giddy army, kicking to the sound of their coach's Richard Simmons-like shrieks: "Five, six, seven, eight — boom, hop, one, two!" Wearing gigantic black shoes and costume pants held up by suspenders, a dwarf wanders in. He's Lil' Billy, the miniature sidekick of the Marlins' fish mascot, and he's here for pizza. Chocolate Thunder, the formally trained Manatee, sleeps face-down on the carpeted floor, as is his preperformance ritual.

But it seems unlikely there will be a performance tonight. A torrential downpour is battering the stadium, and flat screens in the locker room show stands dotted with hapless people in plastic hoods. The news is eventually bellowed throughout the stadium tunnels: The game has been canceled. The Manatees moan as they pack up. The routine they had prepared for tonight, which included some especially complicated booty-quaking, had already been put off after a rain cancellation earlier in the season. It comes with the territory for the Marlins, who are among the league leaders in weather postponements every summer.

These days, each scrapped game is a reminder of the team's retractable-roof stadium, slated to open in 2012. And, if the hype is to be believed, it will finally give Miami a true big-league identity. Which begs the question: Will the Marlins need goofy behemoths tramping on the field in the new, top-dollar palace? The front office so far has stayed mum.

"I don't know if they're going to want us," Mr. Mantastic says before adding, somewhat cryptically, "It doesn't matter. Either way, we'll be there."

As he prepares to exit into the downpour, the tallest Manatee — six-foot-eight-inch Coach, by day a Miami-Dade physical education teacher — somberly leans into his Hawaiian colleague, Big Kahuna. He has an urgent query regarding the rain cancellation: "We still get paid, right?"

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Gus Garcia-Roberts

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