The '98 Marlins, a Decade Later
You always hold a special place in your heart for your first. My first - baseball beat, that is - was the 1998 Florida Marlins. Yes, that was the year after. It was the infamous year Wayne Huizenga tore down his World Series champs and fielded a glorified Double-A team--still managed by Jim Leyland, mind you--because Huizenga was dismayed by the fact his team still lost money during the World Series year.
The 1998 Marlins, whom I covered for The Miami Herald, lost 108 games, but it remains the most fun I ever had covering baseball. Partly, that was because I frequently witnessed things I never thought I'd see in baseball. (One thing that comes immediately to mind was how, one night in Houston, a Marlins pitcher named Brian Meadows put the team behind 5-0 after seven pitches. Afterwards, Leyland seemed almost in awe. "That's gotta be some kind of record," he said. "That's hard to do.")
Mostly, though, I loved that year because the clubhouse was populated, for the most part, by a bunch of hungry, personable 22-year-old guys who were simply thrilled to be in the majors. It was a culture shock for me to move from that gig to my next--the 1999 Baltimore Orioles, featuring Albert Belle, Scott Erickson, Will Clark and some other not-quite-so-personable guys.
Throughout my career, the '98 Marlins have been the gift that has kept on giving, because those players have wound up scattered across rosters far and wide, frequently providing a friendly face in an otherwise strange clubhouse--or, in the case of Cubs pitcher (and '98 Marlins alum) Ryan Dempster, a good sport who doesn't mind my tagging along during his walk home from Wrigley Field a couple of weeks ago, for the purposes of a story I wanted to write about the wild scene around the stadium.
I've been thinking of the '98 Marlins a lot lately because those guys (now crusty veterans, like myself), are scattered all over this postseason -- for the Brewers (Craig Counsell), Rays (Cliff Floyd), Red Sox (Mark Kotsay), Angels (Justin Speier, left off the playoff roster in the first round), Phillies (pitching coach Rich Dubee, who had the same job for the '98 Marlins) and Cubs (Dempster and Derrek Lee).
We knew each other when we were all rookies getting our brains beat in on a nightly basis--the players by the opposing team, myself by the competition at the Sun-Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post. And we all have had to live with the emotional scars created by having seen Leyland too many times in nothing but a pair of underwear.
But somehow, we all survived. Some of those players because stars. Some became cult heroes. Some became football players. Some faded into obscurity. But I'm grateful for the ones who are still around, and I wish they could all get to the World Series.
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