June 2010

Marlins in a state of limbo while seeking a spark

MIAMI — It’s tough to be a Marlins player nowadays. Losing four straight and continuing to slide in an ultra competitive National League East is one thing. But trying to find a badly needed spark is even tougher when not even knowing who the long-term manager will be. 

The Marlins dismissed Fredi Gonzalez on Wednesday and named Edwin Rodriguez their interim skipper while seeking the services of Bobby Valentine. Former third-base coach Bo Porter had a face-to-face interview with the Marlins’ brass on Friday, and Rodriguez followed up on Saturday. Valentine, meanwhile, was supposed to interview Friday, but he never did. Then, on Sunday, the man deemed the favorite ever since the Marlins’ change in manager was reportedly out of the running
So, what started out with president David Samson saying the team would move swiftly in its search continued with Jeffrey Loria (pictured) describing the situation as “a process.” Now, who knows when arguably the most important spot on a big league roster will be finalized. 
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Ask the players, and they’ll say it’s up to them — and them only — to get a spark going. But it can’t be easy when you don’t know who your leader is. 
“I’m in here every day wondering if today is the day they’re going to announce it,” outfielder Cody Ross said. 
“I’ve never been in that situation before in the middle of a season, where you bring someone in [Rodriguez] and nobody has played with him or knows him. I don’t know if it’s going to take a month for him to figure out what we’re all about, a month for us to figure out what he’s all about or the whole rest of the season.”
Asked Sunday morning if there’s a desire to get this process over with as soon as possible, Loria said, “We have to do what we have to do, and that’s a process.” Rodriguez will be managing in his native land, Puerto Rico, probably through the whole three-game series against the Mets. And if the news that Valentine is out of the managerial race holds true, that could be the case all year.
Regardless of who it is, the quicker the Marlins could remove the interim tag, the better. 
Here’s what Rodriguez said when I asked him about the difficulties he faces with putting his own imprint on a club he doesn’t know how long he’ll lead: “There’s a tendency to not do so much with the way they were playing, because I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. I don’t want to try to change the style or something that I see on the team and, then again, a week from now, somebody else is going to be here, and they’re going to try to change again. I don’t think that’s going to be good for the team. So, so far, I’ve been trying to play the game that they’ve been playing. Here and there, I’ve been trying to put more runners in motion. But it’s not a big change. And then after they make the decision … hopefully [whoever gets the job] will be in a position to make a more consistent or more permanent change of the team.”
The sooner that can happen, the sooner the Marlins can get going.
— Alden Gonzalez 

Rays, Marlins, umps agree: Vuvuzelas out of place

MIAMI — The concept seemed like almost a no-brainer for the Marlins’ marketing department: Schedule a noise-making giveaway in June as part of their Super Saturday Concert series that would tie into the World Cup. 

But after 11 innings of a 4 1/2-hour game on Saturday, it was hard to find supporters in either clubhouse regarding the miniature vuvuzelas (pictured; The Associated Press) handed out to the first 15,000 fans at Sun Life Stadium.
In fact, after his club’s wild 9-8 victory, Rays manager Joe Maddon said those blowing horns that created a deafening moaning sound at the ballpark all game long “should be banned from Major League Baseball.”
The next morning, he wasn’t softening his stance.
“They’re annoying,” he said. “I mean, there’s cool things and there’s very non-cool things. That’s a non-cool thing. … It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, in particular, was sporting earplugs. So was Rays third-base coach Tom Foley. And so did the umpiring crew.
“I couldn’t really hear myself talk,” Rays right-hander James Shields said.
“When you’re in the game, you don’t hear it, but it was loud on the bench sitting there,” Rays Saturday starter Jeff Niemann added. “I definitely noticed it, for sure.”
The vuvuzelas — made popular by World Cup soccer fans in South Africa — may have also caused confusion, an out and an ejection in one strange play in the bottom of the ninth. 
In a 5-5 tie, Marlins reserve infielder Brian Barden led off with a walk. But while he was trotting to first base, Maddon approached home-plate umpire Lance Barksdale and pointed out that the Marlins were batting out of order.
Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez pleaded his case before getting thrown out, and afterward said it was Barksdale who “screwed it up.” Perhaps the droning moans of the vuvuzelas that reverberated from the announced crowd of 23,242 caused a miscommunication. 
“It could have,” Barksdale said. “It was the most uncomfortable baseball I’ve been a part of in a long time because of that. Whether that had anything to do with it, I don’t know, but it could have. When’s the last time you heard something like that at a baseball game? Never.”
The Marlins disallowed vuvuzelas in their Sunday game because noise-making items are never allowed to be brought into the ballpark. 
Here’s how Marlins vice president of marketing Sean Flynn explained the decision to give away vuvuzelas: “The air horns are part of our regular pregame interactive giveaway for Super Saturdays. We try to create either a sound or visual giveaway. … We also looked at the timing and knew this would be in the heart of the World Cup. We knew the vuvuzela would be a pig part of the World Cup in South Africa.”
But the home team wasn’t happy with the giveaway, either.
“This isn’t soccer,” Uggla said. “I know the World Cup is going on, but this is baseball. We don’t want to hear horns or anything like that. We want to hear the crowd cheering. We want to hear the crowd getting behind us, not horns.”
— Alden Gonzalez

No stopping yet for Rauuuul

MIAMI — Raul Ibanez still wakes up every morning loving his job. (And, really, why wouldn’t he?) He still feels like he’s in tip-top physical shape. And when seasons end, Ibanez still hasn’t reached the point when he’s analyzing about what life after baseball will bring.

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“I analyze how I can get better,” Ibanez told me last weekend in Sun Life Stadium, where his Phillies were taking part in a three-game series against the Marlins. “When the offseason hits, I’m mostly thinking about how I can get better — how I can become a better player.” 
That’s a good sign. It means Ibanez, 38 and in his 15th season in the Majors, still doesn’t feel like the end is near and still feels good enough to stick around. After this season, he’ll have another year left on his three-year, $31.5 million contract. 
As for retirement?
“I don’t think about it much,” Ibanez said. “I give it thought from time to time — the thought will pop in from time to time. But you’re so busy every day trying to be the best player you can be that you don’t really have time to think about that. If you focus on anything other than this job, then you can have some rough days. So, I really don’t look ahead. But I do love the game, and I love everything about the game.”
During the series, Ibanez (pictured) was making his return to Miami, which is where he grew up, fought through the system the hard way — he took the community-college route to the Draft — and went from being the 1,006th overall selection in 1992 to one of the most productive outfielders in baseball. 
“It’s always nice to come back,” he said.
Many say Ibanez, who didn’t make his first All-Star team until last year (at age 37), was a late bloomer. Perhaps that’s why the the lefty-hitting left fielder doesn’t feel restricted by age.
“The age thing that people talk about, I don’t buy that,” said Ibanez, batting .242 with three homers and 21 RBIs through his first 51 games. “I feel physically as good as I did eight years ago or seve years ago, whatever. So, I think if you take care of yourself, if you take care of your body, your mind, then who’s to say how long you can play and be productive?”
Perfecto …
I got to experience something very cool and very rare (and very taxing) that Saturday night, when Roy Halladay became the 20th pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game. Sure, his teammates were thrilled, but Halladay maintained an all-business approach and deflected a lot of the praise to his catcher. Interestingly enough, Halladay’s previous start was his worst of the season, and he bounced back in a big way
A heartfelt goodbye to my favorite player ever, Ken Griffey Jr. Like Mickey Mantle was to my father’s generation, Ken Griffey Jr. is to mine, in my mind. He was incredibly talented, a thrill to watch and a class act. Every time I sign something, the final ‘z’ on my last name curves over top, and I write the No. 24 on it, in honor of the man who first made me love baseball. Happy retirement, ‘Kid.’

— Alden Gonzalez
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