The man asked if he was embarrassed by the money, he being Giancarlo Stanton, who at that moment sat at the left shoulder of Jeffrey Loria. Still, the man in the audience remained laser-focused on Stanton and not Loria.
Embarrassed, he said, as though Loria had panhandled $325 million on a street corner in South Beach, which, OK, he sort of did, but he didn’t have to. That was Loria’s choice. And that was Miami’s choice. If not the residents, then the city leaders, and now the city has an honest-to-goodness “generational player” (unless, disgusted, he were to leave) to go along with a lovely ballpark the taxpayers carried in on their backs.
The game is rich. The owners – this one, in particular – are rich. And the man asked Giancarlo Stanton, someone who actually hits the home runs and catches the gappers, if this weren’t all so embarrassing. To, you know, Giancarlo Stanton. Personally.
To which Stanton opened his eyes wide, confirming that that fastball had indeed missed his eye socket, and he smiled, showing teeth still connected to his gums in spite of that fastball.
“Embarrassing to me?” Stanton didn’t so much ask as hold at arm’s length between his thumb and forefinger. “Nah, not exactly.”
Maybe some day, only not for the money that he clearly has coming, but for the trust he put in the man sitting at his right shoulder, a relationship and business arrangement and, yes, a partnership that apparently only they really believe will end well. And, considering the opt-out clause coming when Stanton is 30, an age at which he could still make up the money he’d leave behind, the relationship does look a little like a one-man trust fall.
Only not on Wednesday, with a crowded dais and a news conference that began with Loria clearing his throat and eventually got to him defending his past practices and, dammit people, don’t you get that he just wants to win for you? If that wasn’t clear, the chatty little guy on the end was happy to confirm it.
Really, that’s what this is all about, right? That is, what’s next? The winning? They already had Stanton. They already had a young, talented, inexpensive ballclub, one that finished with 77 wins and in fourth place in the NL East. We’re probably looking at Jose Fernandez in July. They still need good players. Maybe that means Adam LaRoche or James Shields or, why not, Max Scherzer, though as likeable as Giancarlo Stanton is, he can’t completely erase a past that made last season’s 77 wins look like progress.
Michael Hill, Dan Jennings and Mike Redmond are impressive men. The guess here is Stanton is betting on them, their ability to manage up as well as down, their ability to create a ball club that one day might hang with the Washington Nationals and their ability to overcome you know who. He’s also betting on himself, his ability to get better, to lead and to play through the trauma of a ferocious beaning. He’s betting on teammates, too, and the city warming to a franchise that is a reflection of the 25 men on the field rather than, well, you know who.
That’s a lot that has to go right. That’s a lot to prove. The Marlins were somewhat relevant through most of the summer, and the ballpark really is great, and Stanton was worth the price of a ticket by himself, and no National League team drew fewer people. So, in the community and, perhaps, to potential local television partners, the Marlins started Wednesday at zero. One happy news conference (one in which a few questions in and Loria was asked about how despised he is in his own town) and one massive contract do not change that.
An inch at a time. A proper decision at a time. A good deed at a time. A win at a time. That’s what the Marlins have ahead of them. Or, not. And then Stanton will walk and the Marlins will have had him for six years and $107 million, which is way under market value, and we’ll look back and smile at the sham that was this plan and this news conference and our own naivety.
So, embarrassing? Really? Bless Stanton, he’s willing to believe. He’s willing to pick up the pieces of a disaster that wasn’t of his own making, and glue them all back together, and stand out in front of whatever comes of it. Not for free, of course. For a good living. At the end of the day, however, it’s just money.
“You guys can think whatever you want, but it was not the money fueling this,” he said. “This was the toughest decision of my life. This is 13 years. I didn’t even go to school for 13 years. I wanted to really make sure this was what I wanted to do, in terms of … changing things around here.
“This isn’t like a lottery ticket and, ‘Peace out.’ … This is the start of new work and a new job for this city. It’s a huge responsibility and one I’m willing to take.”
So, here he is. A crowded dais emptied. The lights flickered out. The people pulled out of the parking lot, going home. His decision behind him, and yet stretching out in front of him, every day for as long as he still believes.
“Winning is everything I was thinking about,” he’d said. “The tough part of my decision was the uncertainty of the past. But you can’t always think about the past. You gotta look at what’s with you and what can be ahead of you. And it looks good. From my eyes, from my conclusions, it looks good.”
We’ll all find out together. He might know first.
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