A super-quick astronomy note? (It’s pertinent. Trust me.)
Just as this baseball season was beginning in April, Venus passed through the Pleiades star cluster — notable and exciting to sky-gazers as a once-in-every-eight-years occurrence.
The Miami Marlins reaching the MLB postseason also tends to be an octennial phenomenon. If they make this time it will be four playoffs in 31 franchise seasons.
But here’s the thing.
What the Marlins are doing right now — a full-blown, hold-your-breath, to-the-very-finish playoff chase (despite Friday night) — is unprecedented in this club’s history.
It is also this:
Overshadowed. Largely unseen. Grossly underappreciated.
It speaks, no, shouts, to baseball’s lagging place in this crowded, better-than-ever sports market.
If this is playoff fever, it’s as if Marlins fans are taking aspirin to get rid of it.
Yeah, in Greater Miami you need to be a lot better than pretty good to have our attention. To get it, let alone keep it. Especially if you are the franchise that made Jeffrey Loria a public enemy, that even Derek Jeter couldn’t save.
The Marlins, literally fighting for a wild-card spot, tied for the last of three in the NL entering Friday night, opened the crucial, final three-game homestand of the regular season against the very good Milwaukee Brewers and the crowd was ...
... how blunt do I want to be?
It was pretty awful, OK? Embarrassing for a playoff race. It was the crowd the lame-duck, dead-worst Oakland A’s draw on a Wednesday. In the midst of a lightning storm.
The Marlins would preposterously lose, 16-1, their worst defeat of the season, with many in the generously announced crowd of 15,884 booing during a ridiculous 12-run second inning. The defeat left Miami 1 game behind in the NL wild-card chase -- each loss now seeming magnified.
Miami rebounded to beat the Brewers 5-4 Saturday before a better crowd of 23,000 to remain 1 game back in the playoff chase.
The upside of the aberrant performance Friday? Counted the same as a one-run loss. Miami remains well in playoff contention with seven games left.
And, despite Friday night, this is a team and a season that has come back before — and deserves better than it is getting from home crowds so sparse.
The Marlins finished 32 games behind in the NL East last season. Nobody expected this year. Not just the winning. The fun. The fight.
Luis Arraez, leading the majors in batting. Jorge Soler, 36 homers. Jake Burger and Josh Bell, big, strategic adds. And all of this despite Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara’s off year. Despite an 0-8 start after the All-Star break. Despite too many big losses like Friday’s. Yet here they are, still.
Skip Schumaker should be in manager of the year talk in his first year in the role. General Manager Kim Ng could be the first woman and first Asian GM to lead a team to the postseason.
“If you told us [in the spring] we’d be in the thick of it, wouldn’t we be happy? Definitely. And here we are,” she said, rightly. “It’s going to be a dogfight to the end. That’s what’s great and that’s what makes it exciting.”
Said Schumaker: “It’s really good for our guys to come in and and play in this environment.”
Wait. Oops. He said that recently in Philadelphia, where the crowds were 40,000-plus to cheer the Phillies, also in the playoff fight.
No such “environment” at the ballpark in Little Havana, even now, amid supposed “playoff fever.”
Miami entered Friday 29th of 30 in MLB home attendance (ahead of only Oakland), averaging 14,173 per game. That’s not quite 3,000 better than last year, but, sorry, no bonus points for barely improved crowds in a still-one-third-filled stadium, for a fun, playoff-chasing team.
The state of the Marlins, meaning the support for the team, should really worry the folks who own and run the club.
Because now they know that competitiveness, winning, is neither a panacea nor magic elixir.
And in this tough sports market where the Miami Heat are opening preseason camp coming off an NBA Finals season, and the Florida Panthers are doing the same after making the Stanley Cup Final. Where the Dolphins are the most exciting they’ve been in a long time, and Hurricanes football is ranked.
And where Lionel Messi’s arrival has made Inter Miami soccer, sharing the calendar with baseball, instantly a bigger, hotter, sexier (or at least trendier) attraction than the Marlins.
The Marlins are 10th in MLB in road attendance, averaging almost 30,000. There is a lot to like.
Yet at home, it evidently takes more than a dramatic playoff chase such as we have never had.
When Miami made the playoffs as a wild-card team in 1997 and 2003, winning the World Series both times, they advanced by a four-game margin each time. Wasn’t a final-days dogfight like this.
The pandemic playoffs in 2020 came in a shortened season with no crowds and expanded playoffs — the asterisk season. Even then, Miami secured the second of five NL wild cards. It wasn’t like this.
The Marlins have finished at least 10 games out in the division race 25 times in 31 seasons, and at least 20 games out 14 times. We are accustomed to anti-climactic finishes, seasons slowly fizzling.
Being in the hunt this closely, this late, is a shiny new toy.
But even this isn’t enough to fill the expanse of empty blue seats with baseball fans.
The Marlins are in a fight to reach the postseason, but it’s as if they’re alone.
There is no semblance of recognizable playoff fever to help lift them.