MIAMI – Meet Dave Argenti. He's a Miami Marlins fan. And he's really, really mad.
When approached during Monday night's home opener and asked for a few minutes, here was his reply:
"About season tickets? Are you kidding me? Your boss is an [expletive]!"
Argenti calmed down when informed he wasn't getting a team sales pitch. He was then happy to share his feelings.
"Twenty years, I've been coming to games," he said. "I've been to every opening day. I'm not doing it no more. It's criminal what they've done to the fans."
And yet he came.
Argenti insists he refuses to give owner Jeffrey Loria his money, so he's saving up to travel to other cities so he can support his team, yet he came. Tens of thousands of fans did on Monday. A crowd that was weak by most opening day standards was actually respectable considering Loria gutted the team last year.
The Marlins listed the attendance at 34,439. That's likely a fish story (Hello, Groupon!). But on a beautiful night in South Florida, a majority of the seats at Marlins Park were filled.
"I love baseball," Argenti said with a sigh. "I love the players. I want to see 'em play ball. I just don't want to give the owner my money."
You've heard of the die-hard fan. Perhaps you consider yourself one. Perhaps you think there is no such thing as a die-hard fan in this live-easy city. On Monday night, there were some serious die-hards at Marlins Park.
Like Tim Cohen. He says he was at the first Marlins game in 1993 and saw Charlie Hough throw the very first Marlins pitch. He came Monday, even though he works at a treatment center for drug and alcohol addicts and had to report for an overnight shift at 10 p.m.
"I love the Marlins," he said.
He was then asked: Do the Marlins love you?
"No. They don't care about the fans at all. We have the worst owner in the league by far."
Cohen wouldn't mention Loria by name. He said some things shouldn't be said in a family publication. Then he cut the interview short. He didn't want to miss the first pitch.
Some Marlins fans couldn't even explain why they came. "I wish I had something good to say," said Alicia Bodnar, from West Palm Beach. "But I don't."
She too has been a fan from the start. She too has been coming to games since '93, when she was 8 years old. She even has a Marlin tattooed on her lower back. "It took three-and-a-half hours," she said and sighed. Bodnar explained that she's dedicated to the old logo – the logo that represents baseball success. As for this team?
"This is the least excited I've been in a long time," she said.
Yet she came. She drove 90 minutes, with a Braves fan, to see her team.
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The Marlins didn't score for those who showed. They lost to Atlanta, 2-0. And, let's face it, certain circumstances inflated the attendance. The weather was perfect. There were a fair amount of Braves fans. There were deals on tickets. And to the Marlins' credit, they offered free tickets to first-responders and servicemen on Monday night. Michael Gray, a local firefighter, came for that reason. But he didn't renew his season tickets and he refuses to "until I see some growth."
The players themselves seemed buoyed by the turnout. Placido Polanco called the attendance "a good sign." Starting pitcher Kevin Slowey said, "The crowd was amazing, for all the turmoil. A lot of people love baseball here."
Further questions to players were shut down by Marlins media relations official Matt Roebuck who escorted this reporter out of the clubhouse.
Not all the fans were upset. A search of the concourse uncovered a long-time backer who agreed with Loria's decision to overhaul the roster. Claudia Emanuels, a model from Venezuela, has been coming to Marlins games since she was 5.
"I was OK with getting rid of everybody," she said. "They weren't playing their hearts out. These guys do."
Most expect Marlins Park to be mostly empty after Monday. But Emanuels will be here just as often as she has been for all the seasons that came before.
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"Baseball, to me, goes deeper that what any front office can do," she said.
She and the others should keep their ticket stubs. One day, maybe, the Marlins will be good again. The house will be packed again. And there will be 34,439 people – give or take eight thousand or so – who can rightfully say they were there through everything.
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