MIAMI The mood on the west plaza outside Marlins Park was festive rather than fiery Tuesday as manager Ozzie Guillen returned from suspension for remarks that offended many in the Cuban-American community.
A merengue band played in honor of Dominican Heritage Night. Here and there couples stopped to dance on their way into the ballpark.
The only hint of dissent was from Jay Fernandez, of Kendall, standing casually and alone on the corner across 16th Avenue. His protest sign rested against a bench, facing away so it could not be read.
The concealed message was: “No Apologies Fire Him Now.”
Fernandez displayed the sign along with about 100 others who demonstrated outside Marlins Park a week before while Guillen held a news conference to apologize and explain his comments about Fidel Castro in a Time magazine story.
“I didn’t come to protest. I brought my sign, but I’m just a citizen that doesn’t agree with what he said,” Fernandez said.
Asked if he was surprised more hadn’t returned to reiterate their outrage, he said: “The other day was just people reacting like myself, but I don’t think there’s any organization that is doing it. What we wanted to say was said the other day.”
Guillen was quoted as saying, “I love Castro,” which he amended to meaning that he admired the Cuban dictator for staying in power for more than 50 years.
Fernandez, 68, said he fled Cuba with his family when he was 18.
“It touches your heart because my wife’s family, she lost five people that [were] murdered by a Castro high-up in the army. There was not even an investigation. This guy was drunk out of his mind and killed five people. Nothing happened. … And those things are still happening now,” he said.
“To see a guy come in here and say he admires that guy, it’s hard to take.”
The Marlins plan to donate the salary Guillen surrendered during his five-game suspension, about $150,000, to human rights organizations. The recipients are being determined.
Guillen said prior to the game he understands that people like Fernandez will continue to harbor resentment toward him.
“When you hurt somebody’s feelings you don’t resolve that with money. I don’t expect to resolve this problem with money. I‘m going to resolve this problem with acts,” Guillen said, vowing to be active in community causes.
Fernandez had planned to attend Tuesday’s game. He said he and his brother-in-law had purchased a 20-game ticket plan.
“He’s going to try to return them. I doubt if he gets his money back. We’re not going to be buying anything as long as that guy is here,” he said. “I know a lot of people who tried to get refunds.”
Asked if there was anything Guillen could do to make amends, Fernandez said: “No, because he meant what he said. If you still believe in Santa Claus, then you can believe what he said. He was fearing for his job. He said what he said, but it was just a bunch of lies.”
It would be difficult to gauge the depth of resentment Guillen has stirred. No conclusions can be drawn from Marlins attendance on this homestand. The three games last weekend drew crowds of more than 30,000. Tuesday’s opener of a three-game series against the Cubs, the first weekday game since Opening Day, drew 24,544.
There was no reaction to Guillen’s return from the crowd in the ballpark. Outside, signs being displayed were offering parking spaces. One exception: a man walking a dog on the plaza held a sign that read: “John 3:16”
“It’s a shame that he was not given the same treatment that other public figures have been given [for] sticking their foot in their mouth, like Howard Cosell, Rush Limbaugh, Don Imus,” Fernandez said.
“But here the judge and jury is [Marlins President] David Samson. Even he said some very nasty things not too long ago. He said he didn’t say it, but everybody heard him saying it. Maybe they should change the name of the team to the Miami Misunderstoods.”
It was 45 minutes before first pitch. As fans streamed past on their way to the game, Fernandez picked up his sign, message still turned away from view, and headed for his car.