Against the backdrop of the rubble that once was the Orange Bowl stadium, the Marlins made what they hope is viewed as their boldest statement of commitment to South Florida to date: the “official” signing of shortstop Hanley Ramirez to a long-term contract.
On a hot and dusty field across the street from the OB site in Little Havana -- the scoreboard is all that remains standing from the 70-year-old former home of the Dolphins and Hurricanes – the Marlins held a choreographed announcement Saturday that included politicians, Little Leaguers, Billy the Marlin and even members of the Manatees, the team’s burly men’s dance troupe.
Ramirez, who signed a six-year, $70 million contract, arrived on a bus and was greeted with cheers and the ding of a cowbell. Marlins officials said all the right things about making a commitment to the community because a new stadium “will” be built.
They insisted the out of character move was about signing a “special” player who will be part of the Miami Marlins – which will become the team’s new name when it moves to a new ballpark, the team hopes in 2011. They do not have any other long term contracts in the works at the moment, however.
They say it had nothing to do with appeasing some politicians who have been expressing reservations about the deal the city and county approved in February to fund a $515 million ballpark and $94 million parking garage. Final stadium documents need the approval by July 1 of two-thirds of Miami-Dade County Commissioners (nine if 13 members are present), rather than a simple majority.
“It has to do with signing a player we want to be here when we open the stadium and we will open a stadium here,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said emphatically. “It has nothing to do with smoothing anything. We don’t run our business based on politics, we run our business based on the baseball department and our baseball people thinking what they think and making recommendations.”
But it was abundantly clear the Ramirez deal would not have come without a ballpark deal in hand.
“I think the stadium obviously changes the equation,” Loria said. “Clearly, the city have voted yes, the county has voted yes. And the leaders have made their statements and with the stadium coming on now, it does change the future. Clearly.”
The pols who did show – Miami Mayor Manny Diaz; City Commissioner Angel Gonzalez; City Manager Pete Hernandez; County Commission Chairman Bruno Barreiro; Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina – are all supporters of the stadium.
“I think clearly this does show the ownership is investing in the future of this ballclub,” Diaz said. “This is as big an investment as I can remember in the years that they’ve been around. It’s a huge investment and it’s an investment premaced on the fact there’s a new stadium that’s going to be built here and that with those additional revenues they’re going to reinvest to get the kind of quality players that we need to bring another World Series trophy home.”
There’s plenty more work to be done to ensure a ballpark is actually built. A suit filed against the plan by luxury auto dealer Norman Braman, still looms. But team and city officials are optimistic about a November ground-breaking.
“I’m hoping the message, first of all, is we all know we’re here to stay with the stadium coming on board now,” Loria said. “But the message is we’re going to build this team to where I want to have it again. It’s a great bunch of players, and as I said a couple of times now, we’re going to evaluate this and the baseball people will bring me their recommendations and we’ll sit down with them.”