- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

That Shark Bites

Call it what you will, the facility in which the Florida Marlins play home games [1] maintains one undeniable Yogiesque tradition.

Nobody goes there — it's not crowded.

The fun of a Marlins home game is guessing the attendance, which one could probably do with aid of an abacus. The figure in the boxscore says Thursday's was 12,423. The AP account says fewer than 5,000 showed. Wayne Hagin said it was really about 1,500. When he presented the Defensive Play of the Game in the postgame show, I could make out the scattered applause of about three people. And the play was made by a Marlin.

We will have Land Shark Stadium in all its guises to kick around only through 2011 as that sign on its outfield wall indicates. The Marlins finally got somebody to ante up and build a new ballpark [2] for them: somewhere that isn't in the middle of nowhere, something with the retractable roof that's going to make midweek afternoons in August less unbearable, pending the combatants. The clinically dead 2009 Mets versus the modestly plausible 2009 Marlins might not draw a minyan to an air conditioned Taj Mahal. But let's not blame our potentially forever doomed Mets [3] for the attendance shortfall off the Florida Turnpike's beautiful Exit 2X. We always seem to turn out a fistful of dislocated New Yorkers to pump up the Marlins' numbers. Indeed, cries of “Let's Go Mets!” filled pockets of oppressive air hanging over what used to be known — no kidding — as Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium and Dolphin Stadium. If it weren't for Mets fans in South Florida, it regularly appears there'd be no fans in South Florida.

Nobody going to Marlins games is a cherished local custom. Once a year this time of year, you can look forward to the annual picture [4] of Whatever It's Called with nobody inside except for way down there on the field. A Major League Baseball game is in progress despite attracting the most minimal interest possible short of none. It's treated as news when clearly it's business as usual.

Tim Redding, supported lavishly by some suddenly hot and humid lumber, didn't mind the loneliness. He understood there were going to be more people on his club's Disabled List than there'd be in their opponent's grandstand. “This stadium has been empty for years,” he said after defeating the Fish [5]. “It's just sad. But it's 90 to 100 degrees here every day from the middle of May to the beginning of October. I wouldn't want to be out there sitting in the stands roasting, either.”

That is what is known in other endeavors as running down the product. “Hey kids! Don't come out and see me or my friends next time we're in town!” But can you blame Tim for being honest? Fran Healy wouldn't be able to hype a 90-degree August afternoon affair between two nowheresville teams at something whose very name begs you to disregard it. Fran used to promise that Shea would be rocking. What would he blather if hired by the Marlins — that Land Shark will be sweating?

There's no telling if South Florida can ultimately support a baseball club when it has a more readily accessible, retractable-roofed park to call its own. I used to think so. I also used to care [6]. I'd like to see the National Pastime succeed wherever it goes. Plus my parents long ago had a condo not all that far away from the eventual site of Joe Robbie And Such, so while I never developed any real attachment let alone affection for Miami-Fort Lauderdale, I did sort of know the area and thus felt the most microscopic fleck of proprietary interest in it having baseball.

But recently I rewatched the final game ever played at Shea Stadium, which you probably recall was a Marlin victory over the Mets at literally the worst possible time. It was the Marlins' job to play hard and try to win, just as it was a year earlier when they did the same thing. That's fine in and of itself. But the excitement they showed in having done nothing more than eliminating somebody else from postseason contention? Since I was at that game and my mind was in a dozen different places at once, I didn't quite focus on their uproarious celebration. Except for not donning NATIONAL LEAGUE SPOILER t-shirts and not dousing each other with non-alcoholic beer, you wouldn't have known the Marlins weren't going any deeper into autumn than the Mets were. As our friend and blolleague Dana Brand [7] puts it in his splendid new book [8], I hope they “languish unloved and unnoticed for a very long time to come”.

Let indifference be the eternal mark of the Florida Marlins. Let their infrequent paying customer come to be known as someone “disguised as a non-empty seat”. Let the ghosts of the Montreal Expos — who Jeffrey Loria raped and pillaged [9] en route to Miami — haunt the roof of the new ballpark so it leaks and creaks and remains wide open for every 6 o'clock thundershower. Let them find a more embarrassing corporate name than Land Shark Stadium. And let their whole outfit be devoured by real sharks.

Yeah, we suck this year and we may suck a while more. Or we may not. Nothing looks good when you're unexpectedly calculating a tragic number in late August (20 for the division, 21 for the Wild Card). Our ownership was fleeced, our GM's apparently overmatched [10], our erstwhile stalwarts disappear into infirmaries never to return, their replacements might not push the Atlantic Theater Company if they entered the Broadway Softball League [11] and the next 34 games loom as the baseball equivalent of Mao's Long March…except it'll probably be less fun and more treacherous. The Mets are 30-49 since June 1, which was when Beltran first started to ache in earnest. That's nearly half a season of getting our brains beat in and having nothing to shield our noggins except ever thicker copies of the DL. We're playing at 1979/1993 levels. Of course it appears all is lost and all is doomed forever.

But today we stuck it to the Marlins in front of essentially everybody who cares about them. So for one night in 2009, I feel good to be a Mets fan.

If you somehow missed AMAZIN' TUESDAY, the report from the press pool is here [12], with another perspective here [13]. If you haven't secured your copy of Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, you may do so here [14] or here [15], after which we invite you to discuss it and keep up to date on future events here [16].