In the years since he hit .346 in a World Series his New York Yankees lost, which can happen, Derek Jeter, let’s see, played another 11 big-league seasons, won a fifth championship, played in nine more All-Star Games, banged out another 1,919 hits, retired, got married, had two daughters, was elected into the Hall of Fame, bought into the purchase of a major-league franchise and became its CEO.
The Miami Marlins, across the same 17 years — so since beating the New York Yankees in that World Series — have, doing the math here, hired Derek Jeter as their CEO.
There might have been some other stuff, but they’re about to play their first playoff game since their CEO was 29 and still in his athletic prime, so you can assume most of it wasn’t great.
As Jeter was becoming baseball royalty, the Marlins were finding fresh ways to bleed a community of its love for the organization and its game, among other more appraisable holdings. Years passed. There’d be hope in South Florida, then demolition, then hope, then surrender, then hope, then last place again, then hope, then lawsuits and then a post office box in the British Virgin Islands and then another season with the lowest attendance in the National League and then accusations of misappropriated revenue sharing millions and then and then and then.
It wasn’t a model franchise.
So, in the hours before they will play the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card Series, pondering whether it is safe to be a Marlins fan again is to presuppose it was ever safe. If what there is to believe in is two lightning-strike championships surrounded by memories of those championships and promises for something better, you know, trust us. If what a franchise offers is a little of yesterday and a lot of tomorrow, but nothing for today, not ever, not unless your todays are satisfied by pastel-flavored con jobs.
Into that history stroll the 2020 Marlins, pieced together by the shadows of Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon and J.T. Realmuto, routed by COVID-19, and second place in the National League East. They were 31-29. They were outscored by 41 runs. They are the most anonymous of 16 postseason qualifiers.
And, three years into the regime of owner Bruce Sherman and CEO Derek Jeter, they’re actually pretty good. Thirty-one wins isn’t a juggernaut, but what about 31 wins when 18 roster spots were changed out between games three and four? What about 31 wins when the Philadelphia Phillies had 28, and the New York Mets and Washington Nationals had 26? There’s something about showing up and playing hard, about finding a few wins where others are finding alibis, about taking the first wobbly steps toward turning the course — and reputation — of a franchise that only recently became deserving of that sort of effort.
So, on the sixth anniversary of a day he was the designated hitter in Boston and did not play shortstop and legged out an infield single and was pinch run for by a catcher and then never played again, Derek Jeter was on a Zoom call — audio only — explaining that it has been a long road, that there might be something good out there, that this alone — a best-of-three in Chicago starting Wednesday afternoon — ain’t it. Then, after the first two years of his CEO-ship ended in last place (by a lot), there’d be nothing awfully wrong with second place either.
“When we first got here, look, from the outside looking in, and I lived on the other side of Florida for 20-plus years, you heard stories about the fanbase here and the lack of trust,” he said. “When I got here, I said, listen, we’re here to listen to you. I can’t tell you I’m going to make your experience better if I don’t know what your experience has been. I can’t expect you to trust me if you don’t know me. We have to earn your trust. And I think slowly but surely we’re starting to earn the trust. But we still have a long way to go.
“So, I think we as an organization, we get a lot more inbound calls than we used to, when we first got here. I think that’s a good sign. It is kind of tough because there are no fans in the ballpark. But I would like to think that the way our team performed this year that we would have had more fans at the ballpark. Look, we still have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do on the field. We have a lot of work to do off the field. But I think we are making progress.”
It might be fair to wonder if the community has — or will — come to be proud of the Marlins, for how they fought and won a little more often than they lost. If one season will do. If it would take two or four or 10 seasons. If a famous CEO who once was a good player will have any bearing. Already, the business side of the organization has sensed a warming. Its two largest sponsorship partners — UHealth and Ocean Bank — are local. General Mills has bought in. Local athletes have been spotted wearing Marlins gear. On Monday’s Zoom call with reporters, Dolphins coach Brian Flores wore a Marlins cap. Baby steps.
Brian Flores sports a Miami Marlins hat and congratulates the Marlins and Heat to open his news conference. pic.twitter.com/cw7gAUt936— Al Butler (@ALaboutSports) September 28, 2020
On Monday, Jeter fielded a dozen or so questions, most from local reporters, one of which led with, “Hi Derek, obviously you’ve been very good at everything you’ve done in life …”
To which, through what surely was a crooked grin, he replied, “Well, first of all, I have not been good at everything. Let me clarify that right from the get-go.”
Another asked him how familiar he was with the concept of The Jeter Effect, which presumably had something to do with turning the Marlins into something presentable.
“Yeah, well, um,” he tried, “I haven’t heard The Jeter Effect one. That’s the first one for me.”
The Marlins, finally, are a team with at least a couple todays straight ahead. Those would be Wednesday and Thursday. The rest, in the near future anyway, depends on what happens then. And so it won’t be about how much money Bruce Sherman will spend or how Derek Jeter will spend it (or not) or if this is real momentum or a 60-game mirage. Instead, 28 guys wearing Marlins uniforms will play into October, in Chicago, same as they did 17 years ago. That team had a lot of talent, some well-timed good fortune and another couple weeks in it, and that was all.
This one has a chance, like the other 15, and maybe a few fans it didn’t have two months ago. This one is still playing baseball.
“I understand that taking over this job and taking over this organization is not an easy task,” Jeter said. “We had a lot of things that we needed to change and a lot of things we needed to do better as an organization. I understood that that took time. I said from day one we’re all going to have to be patient. And I’m not the most patient person. But you have to look at the little wins along the way.”
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