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September 26 2005: Go Fish (Wild card/pennant races)

cat-fishBob Costas is a smart man, but he was wrong about one thing. When the Wild Card was introduced to baseball, he said it would make down-to-the-wire pennant races like the ones he enjoyed in his youth a thing of the past. Well, try telling that to the Red Sox and Yankees, the Indians and White Sox, and the host of teams in the NL East who keep knocking each other back as they claw within striking distance. Heck, even the A’s have a chance to unseat the Angels from atop the AL West this week.

There are pennant races all around and exciting baseball to be seen in many corners of the country. I took a little jaunt to Florida recently, and after basking in the reflected glory of a Yankee sweep of Tampa Bay, headed to Miami to see something I’d never seen before: the former Joe Robbe, then ProPlayer and now Dolphins Stadium, to see the Marlins play the Phillies.

When we bought our tickets for the Marlins game, it was weeks ahead of time and we didn’t know how would be pitching, but I had hoped it would be Dontrelle Willis, who I like a lot. I’ve never seen him pitch in person and with the run he’s been on, it would have been exciting.

Instead, D-Train pitched on the day before we went, and ended up the loser in a game that was close, 2-0, going into the ninth inning, when Philadelphia suddenly erupted for ten runs helped by two bad Marlins errors. Ouch. So it was that on Sunday, before the 8pm-starting ESPN game, the word on most fans lips was “We must win this one or we’re done.”

I am not as invested in the fate of the Fish as I am in, say, the AL East, but I like them better than the Phillies, so I fully intended to root for Florida. Plus, it was jipijapa hat night (Panama hat night), so as we entered the stadium corwin and I were given free Florida Marlins straw hats to wear. (I was still wearing a Yankees T-shirt, though.) I had a few feelings of conflict, though, as the pitcher for the Marlins that night would be Josh Beckett, and I still harbor some resentment against him because of the way the rotten punk ran his mouth in the 2003 World Series.

But still, I was resolved to root for the Marlins, who I still like overall as a team, good old Jack McKeon, and hey, a rematch in the World Series would be cool, too.

We had arrived early not only to get our hats but to check out the food and ballpark. The first thing we noticed about Dolphins Stadium is that they don’t seem to have bothered to repaint the giant PROPLAYER STADIUM sign that looms over the upper deck at the 50 yard line.

Once we got inside, we saw that they also hadn’t bothered to repaint the tops of the dugouts which still read “WORLD CHAMPIONS.” Wow, talk about living in the past… not only that, but the collectible drink cups for soft drinks ALSO say “2003 World Series” on them! Man, I know their attendance isn’t that great, but what, did they get a great deal on buying two million cups and they still haven’t used them up? Wow. I was strangely affronted by this. That and the fact that they are still selling Al Leiter’s number jersey and T-shirts for full price. Hello!! He’s not a Marlin anymore! Who do you think is going to buy that thing now?

I was also affronted by the cheerleaders. Yes, an all-female dance and pep squad who did various routines throughout the evening and led cheers with pom poms and everything. They call them the Marlins Mermaids. I wonder if they do double duty as Dolphins Darlings or something? Ugh. Sorry to be such a purist about this but I found them a distraction and inappropriate for families and mixed company. I mean, really–close to half the fans in attendance were women and there were lots of kids, as usual at a baseball game. Did we really go there to see MTV-style hotties shake their tits and asses? I’m sure they are very nice girls and they certainly seemed to be good at what they do, but you know, I’d pick the Blue Jays faux-urban co-ed break-dancing “fan activation team,” the J-Force, any day over these “mermaids.”

Robbe-Pro-Dolphin Stadium is a football stadium, that much is clear, but I found with this place as with most of the other parks I have been to, what makes it good or bad for baseball is not the layout of the seats or the size of the scoreboard. It’s the fans.

There were over 20,000 there that night, cheering, chanting, rooting and singing, probably half hispanic and half not, and yet because the place is so huge, it felt a bit empty, especially in the sparsely populated upper deck. These fans did not need any cheerleaders to get them involved. (In fact, there were times when the cheerleaders tried to get the ‘Let’s Go Marlins’ chant started, and were ignored, only to have it break out loudly and spontaneously a few minutes later.) People were decked out in their Marlins gear, carrying homemade signs and everyone looking festive in their panama hats.

The hispanic-heavy crowd probably accounted for why we could find so many interesting food options, though: cuban style stuffed potatoes, empanadas, fritters of sweet corn with cheese inside. At one stand they had rice and beans. It also meant a bilingual rooting experience for some fans.

A few rows behind us a nice, young, white woman had a few beers and then decided the crowd was too quiet for her. She tried to get everyone in our section yelling to the players — which given we were in the upper deck behind home plate meant they didn’t have a hope in hell of hearing us. It might have worked except the things she wanted people to yell didn’t always make sense. Like when Mike Lowell stepped to the plate, she hollered out, “Come on , everybody, his mother’s name is Beatrice!” and then proceeded to shout “Do it for Beatrice!!” repeatedly until Lowell made out.

She was also fond of putting down the opposing players. When Chase Utley came to the plate, she changed Utley to Ugly. And when a new pitcher for the Phillies came in she shouted “He’s a Pee Wee! I know! I’ve slept with him!” Which got quite the chuckle from our section.

She also attempted to put down some of the Phillies in Spanish, which provoked more laughs from us, sometimes because she mangled it so badly and sometimes because she picked some of the most graphic and dirty street Spanish you can imagine. All delivered in her high-pitched Anglo-accent, at the top of her lungs.

Another plus for the ballpark experience: a sly organist. Every time Pat Burrell came to the plate, he would play a little snippet of music, which was maddeningly familiar. I finally figured it out: “Holly Jolly Christmas,” by Burl Ives. The organist’s name, I found out from the Marlins web site, is Lowery Ballew, and a few other baseball blogs mention his knack for coming up with tangentially appropriate songs for opposing players. Keep it up, Mr. Ballew! And is it a coincidence your name is Lowery? (A famous brand of organ is “Lowrey.”)

As for the game itself, well, the Marlins must have been pretty upset about the way things went the night before. After the Phillies put two on in the first but failed to score when Beckett struck out Holly Jolly Burrell looking to end the inning, Luis Castillo opened the Fish half of the frame with a leadoff triple. Jeff Conine then walked on four pitches while Eude Brito got himself back together. He got a double play next out of Miguel Cabrera, but Castillo scored and the Marlins lead for the first time in two days.

They loaded the bases in the second but did not score. But you hd the feeling that Brito would not be able to escape that kind of jam unscathed too many more times. He didn’t. In the third they got two more runs, and knocked him out of the game. On came Geoff Geary, but the Marlins didn’t seem to notice the change. They hit four straight singles for two more. The Phillies managed one feeble run in the top of the fifth to make it 5-1 Fish.

In the bottom of the fifth it was Robinson Tejeda on the mound, and he didn’t even retire a single man, giving up two walks, two singles and then being replaced by Aquilino Lopez who let the other two men Tejeda had put on score. 9-1 Fish. Beckett gave up one more in the sixth, but the Marlins continued to run away with it–or would that be swim away with it? Each time they loaded the bases, the scoreboard would show a picture of what resembled Goldfish crackers and the words “Fish On The Pond.” They got two more in the seventh.

The wheels (fins?) came off a little for the Fish in the top eight, with two errors, but the result was only three Phillies runs this time, not ten, and the Fish got them right back, including a home run by the struggling Mike Lowell. Final score: 14-6. Maybe he did it for Beatrice.

Unfortunately, the Fish didn’t go on a tear after that, and with seven days left in the season, they are now 5 games back in the Wild Card hunt, with Philly only one game back of Houston. Now I’m rooting for Houston, and, of course, the Yankees.

My cat, Tai Gau, stares at our postseason tickets and contemplates the matchups he'd like to see...

My cat, Tai Gau, stares at our postseason tickets and contemplates the matchups he’d like to see…

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