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34 posts from September 2011

September 26, 2011

With three games to go, Marlins already packing up, preparing to move out of Sun Life

SUN LIFE STADIUM -- The Marlins returned home Monday from Milwaukee and got busy cleaning out their lockers at Sun Life Stadium.

Although the season won't end until Wednesday, the moving process will be completed before then. Monday, players began boxing up their personal belongings, tossing out garbage and autographing jerseys, shoes and other memorabilia that will be sold or given away by the team in the coming months.

Next year when the team moves into the new stadium, they'll also have new uniforms, new colors, a new logo and be known as the Miami Marlins.

So is the team really going to miss this place? Aside from the two World Series championships and a few other memories -- no, not exactly.

"I've got a lot of fond memories as a kid," said All-Star first baseman Gaby Sanchez, who grew up in Miami. "I came here for a World Series game. That was a lot of fun seeing 60,000 people rooting for us. I was actually here when Anibal [Sanchez] threw his no-hitter [2006]. I was in the stands watching that. And I was here when [former Braves first baseman] Andres Galarraga almost hit it out of the stadium. Those are the memories I'll take with me.

"But as a baseball player I'm definitely not going to miss playing in a football stadium. It's going to be nice to be able to play in a baseball stadium, under cover, not having to worry about rain."

Despite going 30-45 at home this season, the Marlins are 775-718 all-time at the building that come to be known as Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, LandShark Stadium and now Sun Life Stadium over 19 years.

While the Marlins remain the only local team to win a championship here, it hasn't exactly been a great home field advantage. The Marlins have ranked last in attendance in the National League every year since 2006. But many players believe the new stadium will produce better results.

Monday, stadium workers at Sun Life already began painting walls and preparing the stadium for a full conversion to football. They even tested out the fire alarm system as the Marlins were getting dressed in the clubhouse, prompting some players to joke 'man they really want us out of here.'

"I have a buddy who plays for the Twins. When they got out of a football stadium and into their baseball stadium he said it was awesome, like going from C-class to A-plus class," reliever Burke Badenhop said. "We're definitely looking forward to it. My four years here we've been getting cheered against at home and on the road.

"I'm just wondering if they're going to cement the dugout right after that last out Wednesday, seal it up and do away with it. But no, it's going to be nice to see that last number get torn down."

To commemorate their 19 seasons as the Florida Marlins, the club will host a special post-game on field ceremony Wednesday and reveal the Florida Marlins All-Time team as well as the Top 10 Memories in club history, as voted by the fans.

Jack McKeon retiring, 'but still on call'

SUN LIFE STADIUM -- If Jack McKeon gets the chance one day in 2018 to pass Connie Mack as the oldest manager in Major League history, he's going to take it. But in the meantime the 80-year old skipper plans to enjoy retirement back home in North Carolina with his wife Carol and his dog Yogi.

Jack McKeon McKeon made his retirement announcement Monday before the start of the Marlins' final home series at Sun Life Stadium, a decision that doesn't surprise many considering the team has already begun the search for its next manager.

McKeon became the second-oldest manager in baseball history when he took over for Edwin Rodriguez, who abruptly resigned on June 19. Only Mack was older at 87 when he skippered the team he owned -- the Philadelphia Athletics -- in his last season of 1950.

"I hate it," McKeon said of retiring. "But I'll still be on call... Hopefully in 2017 or '18 I'll be back."

To pass Mack? "That would be a big motivation," McKeon said. "I'm No. 2 now. I hope the good lord gives me enough good health to last about seven or more eight years so I can do it again."

McKeon, who figures to remain as a consultant for the Marlins, took over a team that had lost 10 straight games under Rodriguez and fell from second place into the NL East basement at 32-40. The Marlins eventually got back to .500 on Aug. 2 in New York, but lost second baseman Omar Infante and shortstop Hanley Ramirez to injuries "and the season went downhill from there," McKeon said.

"It's been a great run," said McKeon, who has led the Marlins to a 39-48 mark heading into Monday's game. "I'm disappointed I couldn't work the magic we had in '03 here. But I think you guys understand the circumstances."

The Marlins, which will debut in a new stadium and under the name Miami Marlins in 2012, clinched last place in the division when they were swept by the Brewers over the weekend.

Monday, team owner Jeffrey Loria met with current third base coach Jose Espada for an interview. Former third base coach Bo Porter, now with the Nationals, was also reportedly supposed to be interviewed. The top target is believed to be White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, an assistant of McKeon's when the Marlins last won the World Series in 2003.

McKeon said he's "staying out" of the coaching search. But he believes whoever the Marlins make their fourth manager since 2010 will inherit a talented team.

"We're just a little bit away from putting it all together," McKeon said "Hopefully, we go out and get some players to add to what we do have and make it fun again going into the new stadium. I think they're going to be good. I think they're going to be much better than they were this year. No question about that. I just hope the fans will be patient and we'll get the right pieces together and have a re-run of 2003.

"I know back in 2003 we saw crowds of 10,000 to 20,000 to 30,000 to 60,000. You might say they were the 10th man in our success in 2003. They gave us a lot of energy."

The Marlins had winning records in each of McKeon's first three seasons at the helm.

After taking over during the 2003 campaign, he led the team to a 75-49 record, a wild card berth and the World Series title with a win over the Yankees. He was named the NL Manager of the Year that season, marking his second such honor as he also won the award in 1999 with Cincinnati.

The Marlins were 83-79 in each of McKeon's subsequent two years. He called it quits following the 2005 season.

After coming back as interim manager, he passed Fredi Gonzalez (276-279) for the most wins by a manager in club history. McKeon's overall record as Marlins' skipper: 280-255.

"I'll miss the camaraderie with you guys everyday and the great reception I received from the fans here," McKeon told reporters. "It's remarkable. They asked one of the coaches when I first got back here. He said 'The fans seem to like Jack. He's the only guy I ever saw get a standing ovation when he takes a pitcher out.' That's what made it so enjoyable -- the reception and respect they had for me."

September 24, 2011

Dying father's final wish for "Leo Nunez": Reclaim your identity

       MILWAUKEE -- For more than 10 years, major leaguer Juan Carlos Oviedo pitched under the name of Leo Nunez. But, earlier this year, when Oviedo was at home in the Dominican Republic and preparing to head to Jupiter for the start of spring training with the Marlins, his dying father's final request was for him to come clean and regain his true identity.

       Oviedo honored his late father's wish when he turned himself into authorities earlier this month, confessing that he had assumed the name and age of a boyhood friend in order to improve his marketability as a young baseball prospect. The pitcher formerly known as Nunez -- the Marlins' closer -- could now face criminal charges in his home country and has been placed on Major League Baseball's restricted list.

       Reliever Edward Mujica said he spoke by phone late Friday night with Oviedo, who told him the story about his father, asked the pitcher to pass along his apologies to his Marlins teammates for what had happened, and playfully suggested that his old nickname -- "Nuny" -- no longer be used.

       "Last night, when he called me, he goes 'Hey Mujica, how you doing?'" Mujica said. "And I say, 'What's up Nuny?' He told me, 'Hey man, I'm not Nuny anymore.'"

       Mujica said most of their 5- to 10-minute conversation, however, was serious. He said that Oviedo was emphatic in wanting Mujica to pass along his apologies to teammates. Oviedo had pitched Wednesday in South Florida. On Thursday, as the Marlins were preparing to board their charter flight for Milwaukee, Oviedo was on his way back to the Dominican to meet with government officials and come clean about his identity.

      Mujica said Oviedo told him that had been his father's desire.

      "His father, he was pretty sick, he told him 'Get your real name back. Just get your real name,'" Mujica said.

      When Oviedo's father died during spring training, the pitcher left the team for a few days and flew home to the Dominican to attend the funeral. The Marlins learned of Oviedo's identity issue a few months ago. On Sept. 7, Oviedo called the Dominican consulate in Miami and told them his secret.

      "He said 'I had to do that for my dad,'" Mujica said. "That's why he did it."

      Mujica said he has a new nickname for his friend and teammate.

      "J.C.," Mujica said with a smile.


       The Marlins are expected to confer with officials from Major League Baseball to plot a course of action with Oviedo as it relates to his salary arbitration status. Oviedo would have been eligible for his fourth and final season of arbitration and could have expected to receive a 2012 salary of around $6 million.

       But all of that is now in limbo while the pitcher deals with his legal problems in the Dominican.

       The Marlins don't yet know whether they have until the Dec. 2 deadline to tender Oviedo a contract, or whether they need to wait to see how his legal situation plays out before doing so. Though he is not on their 40-man roster, he remains in team control.


September 23, 2011

Were the Marlins' hands tied with Leo Nunez at trading deadline?

    MILWAUKEE -- There's growing reason to believe the Marlins had no choice but to keep Leo Nunez at the July 31 trade deadline, what with revelations the team knew of his uncertain identity issues for months. The team's closer was placed on the restricted list on Thursday and returned to the Dominican Republic to answer charges he has been playing under an assumed name for years.

    "A reasonable assumption," a league source told me this morning when I asked whether it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to trade Nunez at the deadline.

    If the Marlins knew, it's safe to assume Major League Baseball knew as well. And if that's the case, the Marlins were likely either told they couldn't trade Nunez until the matter was resolved, or they would have to provide full disclosure about the situation to any team interested in the pitcher, which would have effectively killed any deal. In fact, Herald colleague Dan LeBatard is reporting on 790-The Ticket that the Marlins had a trade worked out for Nunez, but MLB put the kabosh on it.

     MLB sent a memorandum out in March of 2008 informing all foreign-born players -- in the majors and minors -- that they would be granted immunity from penalty if they came forward before May 1 of that year and revealed any false information contained in their visas.

September 20, 2011

New Marlins Logo?

      Check out this logo, which has been floating around on the internet and is rumored to be the Miami Marlins' new logo. It certainly contains all the colors that the team has been using lately in promotional material.

       "Official unveiling 11/11 (Nov. 11)," texted Marlins president David Samson. "No other comment."



September 19, 2011

Stanton on home run pace with Mays, Pujols

SUN LIFE STADIUM -- Omar Infante was the hero Monday night for the Marlins.

Mike Stanton remains the story.

Mike Stanton The 21-year old had his fourth career multi-homer game and second of the season. And the ones tonight were mammoth.

His first big bop -- a solo home run which gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first -- landed in section 411, about 10 rows up, between the Dolphins' Ring of Honor memorials for Jim Langer and Paul Warfield in left field. By most observers estimations, the only guy who has hit one deeper into the upper deck here was Andres Galarraga -- a 529-foot shot -- back on May 31, 1997.

Stanton's second home run -- another solo shot that made it 2-0 Marlins in the third inning -- caromed off the teal seats in section 216, just to left of center field, the deepest part of the park.

With 34 home runs, Stanton is now tied with Miguel Cabrera (2007) for the second-most home runs in a season by a Marlin -- eight behind Gary Sheffield (1996) for the franchise record.

On a bigger scale, he's just the seventh player in major league history 21 or younger to have at least 34 homers in a season. The others: Eddie Mathews (47), Mel Ott (42), Frank Robinson (38), Albert Pujols (37), Alex Rodriguez (36) and Hal Trosky (35).

In 242 career games, Stanton has 56 homers. That's the same amount Willie Mays and Pujols had to start their careers too.

"He is different," catcher John Buck said after Monday's win. "From the first day I saw him take batting practice I've never seen anything like it. We have how many days left in the season, eight? He just impressed me again."

Marlins reliever Chris Hatcher receives surprise package from overseas

From the that's a pretty cool story department:

Chris Hatcher Marlins reliever Chris Hatcher received a surprise package in the mail Monday at Sun Life Stadium. Inside the package: an American flag, a picture and a letter from a soldier serving overseas who felt compelled to thank Hatcher for tossing his 13-year old son a baseball at Wrigley Field right before he was shipped off to Kuwait.

"This is actually pretty cool," said Hatcher, whose father's father died serving the country. "I opened it up and said what is this?

"I'm going to hang it proudly. What else can I do? What those guys are doing for us -- they're giving us freedom. We're worried about strikeouts. They're worried about ducking and covering."

Joseph Hjelmstad of Battle Lake, Minnesota, a First Sargeant serving at Camp Buehring, a staging post for U.S. troops in the northwest region of Kuwait, sent Hatcher a picture of his son Joey holding the baseball at the game with a big smile on his face. The flag came with a certificate of authenticity that said it had been taken on patrol covering 780 miles in Iraq from Aug. 27-30 with stopovers at three different U.S. military bases.

"I remember him giving me the rundown [at the game]," Hatcher said. "He told me he was about to get sent back over. I said 'Are you serious? I've heard that before.' He said, 'When you asked it showed you actually cared about the troops.' So, I flipped his son a ball. Then this showed up today.

"Pretty nice gesture on his part. The least I could do was flip a ball to whose dad was about to go do dodge bullets."

The Marlins have gone overseas the last two off-seasons to visit troops. Hatcher said if the Marlins plan another trip this coming off-season, he'd "go in a heartbeat, no questions asked."

Hatcher said he plans on sending Hjelmstad an email thanking him for the flag and photo.

JOHNSON WILL THROW SIMULATED GAME THURSDAY: Since Josh Johnson went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation May 17, the Marlins have treaded carefully to return him to full health -- just for peace of mind over the winter.

Monday, Johnson took another step forward when he threw a 50-pitch bullpen session at Sun Life Stadium, mixing in fastballs, change-ups and sliders. Next up: his first simulated game since going down. He'll throw to up in Jupiter, one on Thursday, followed by another on Sept. 27.

"After that, we'll shut it down, go into off-season mode, take a couple weeks off and go back to what I've been doing," said Johnson, who has been throwing bullpen sessions every three days.

Johnson said he "definitely" envisions himself pitching Opening Day at the Marlins new ballpark in April.

But does he feel like he's in the clear totally yet? Doesn't sound like it. "I'd like to see hitters. It is different when you see hitters. The adrenaline starts to flow and you start to put a little more on even when you don't feel like you're putting more on it.

BRAD HAND WILL NOT START AGAIN: Sunday's four-inning performance in a 4-3 loss at Washington turned out to be the last scheduled start for Brad Hand this season.

Marlins manager Jack McKeon said the team will give right-hander Alex Sanabia the ball in Hand's place in the rotation Saturday in Milwaukee.

Hand (1-8 with a 4.20 ERA) has thrown a career-high 173 2/3 innings (60 with the Marlins) this season. Hand said his arm feels fine, "good enough to go at least one more time." McKeon said Hand isn't necessarily done for the season.

"We just one more start left and we're going to see the other kid," McKeon said. "We're not going to send him to the woodshed or send him home. He'll be here. But he just won't start."

Sanabia, injured at the start of the season, gave the Marlins six solid innings against the Phillies in the second game of a double-header last Thursday.

September 15, 2011

Hanley Ramirez undergoes "open repair" of shoulder

   PHILADELPHIA -- Just received word from the Marlins that Dr. James Andrews performed an "open" surgical repair of Hanley Ramirez's left shoulder, which was not unexpected. But it does mean his healing period could be anywhere from four to eight months.

   The Marlins are still saying they expect Ramirez to be ready by Opening Day (April 4), though it's possible he might not be ready for the start of spring training.

   Former Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who is now with the Braves, underwent a similar procedure in the summer of 2002 and said he was ready to play within months. As it turned out, Gonzalez was good to go on Opening Day in 2003 and enjoyed one of his top offensive seasons.

   Ramirez had arthroscopic surgery on the left shoulder following the 2007 season. But doctors opted for a more invasive procedure on Thursday.

Matt Dominguez is one slow dude

    PHILADELPHIA -- Before we get to the headline topic, a reminder that shortstop Hanley Ramirez is in Alabama today having shoulder surgery. We'll update you on that as soon as the information becomes available......

    Now, onto the matter at hand: Matt Dominguez's lack of speed.

    It's hardly a secret that the rookie is a tortoise, but never was that more glaring than in the Atlanta series when Dominguez twice was thrown out at first on ground balls that pretty much anyone else in a Marlins uniform -- including 80-year-old manager Jack McKeon and gimpy first base coach Perry Hill -- probably would have beaten out.

    The first instance came Monday when Dominguez hit a ball up the middle that deflected off the pitcher's glove and rolled between the mound and first. As Dominguez was chugging down the line, first baseman Freddie Freeman went to get the ball while the pitcher, after hesitating a moment, raced to cover first. McKeon was so certain that Dominguez would beat it out that he said he began calling out in the dugout for Javier Vazquez to grab a bat and go in to bunt.Dominguez

     "I'm hollaring, 'Vazquez, get up here!,'" McKeon recalled. "Then I look up and the guy's calling him out. I said, 'What the heck? That's an easy base hit."

     One night later, Dominguez hit a ball deep into the hole on the left side that Alex Gonzalez barely managed to backhand before turning and throwing to first and nailing Dominguez. Gonzalez's momentum carried him past the left field foul line and, yet, it wasn't close.

     Also during the Atlanta series, Dominguez was unable to score from second on a base hit and had to hold at third on a fly ball with less than two outs.

     "Never been able to run, I don't know why," Dominguez said. "I'm never going to be a super fast guy."

     Dominguez is already an exceptional fielder and the Marlins are hoping he'll develop into a decent hitter with additional time and seasoning. But nothing is ever going to make Dominguez any faster, and it's an issue they're going to have to live with. Dominguez will save runs for the Marlins over the years with his hands, but he'll cost them with his legs.

     As Dominguez said: "It's more of a God-given gift to be fast. You just can't make yourself into a track athlete if you're a slow guy."


     Doubleheader today at Citizens Bank Park, with the first game scheduled to start at 2:30 and the second set for 7:35. A front is headed this way, the temperature is expected to plunge into the upper 40s tonight, and rain could fall toward the later part of the afternoon.

     McKeon needs one win to become the Marlins' all-time winningest manager. The Marlins are one defeat away from ensuring their 13th losing season.

September 14, 2011

Marlins, Red Sox hook up twice in 2012

    Get ready for the Boston Red Sox. Not once, but twice.

     In an unusual twist, the Marlins will twice face the Red Sox in interleague play next season, at their new ballpark on June 11-13 and at Fenway Park on June 19-21.

     "The strength of schedule is going to get harder," said Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez, who has never played at Fenway but took batting practice there once when he was in the Cape Cod League.

     As previously reported, the Marlins will open their yet unnamed ballpark on April 4 in a one-game series against the Cardinals. They'll hit the road for six games before returning home to face the Astros (April 13-15) and Cubs.

     In addition to the Red Sox, the Marlins will also face the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays in interleague play at home. The Marlins' road foes in interleague play: the Red Sox, Rays and Cleveland Indians.