New Marlins additions bring healthy dash of hometown flavor to Miami
MIAMI -- On April 5, 1993, 42,334 people attended the first game in Florida Marlins history at Joe Robbie Stadium.
Two of those fans -- Michael Morse and Mat Latos -- were formally introduced with fellow Floridian Dee Gordon as members of the 2015 Miami Marlins on Friday afternoon at Marlins Park.
General manager Dan Jennings called the trio the "Great Florida Trifecta," one that put a smile on the front office's face as deals came together. Jennings and president of baseball operations Michael Hill believe these additions will boost a club seeking its first postseason appearance since 2003.
"There's a common denominator here that all these guys are Florida guys, and there's a pride factor in that," Jennings said. "Each guy in their own way mentioned it. I think it speaks volumes to what they're wanting to accomplish."
Twenty-one years ago, Morse braved the sweltering heat in an upper-deck right-field seat for Florida's 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the inaugural game. Latos cheered near the home bullpen.
They represent the first generation of Marlins fans, guys who grew up with the organization in their backyard. As they decided to pursue baseball as a career, they continued to attend games and call certain players their favorites.
Latos can rattle off memories ranging from Jeff Conine's single to right-center field on Opening Day to chasing down David Weathers for an autograph as he left the player parking lot. Rick Renteria, a utility infielder for Florida in 1993, became Latos' coach with the San Diego Padres.
"I just remember, 'I can't wait to hopefully get to this point in my life where I can just play baseball," said Latos, who would attend 15-20 games and lived in Coconut Creek. "And to be able to play for the Marlins comes full circle. It's so surreal. It's awesome."
When Morse graduated from Davie's Nova High School in 2000, he signed with the Chicago White Sox after being drafted in the third round. During his early years as a professional baseball player, he began working with a local trainer on Red Road that had several Marlins greats as clients.
Cliff Floyd and Preston Wilson taught him how to hit. Pudge Rodriguez, who recently sent him a congratulatory text, also offered guidance. Morse got to pick Mike Lowell's and Charles Johnson's brains.
"The Marlins were my team," Morse said. "They were the team I grew up with. That's all I really knew until I started playing professional baseball. I've always said if there's one team I wish I could play for it would be the Florida Marlins. I never knew how it would be playing baseball at home, but every day I wake up now it gets sweeter and sweeter."
Though Gordon isn't from South Florida, he always made the trip south from his hometown in Central Florida to watch his dad, Tom "Flash" Gordon, play the Marlins during the 1990s and 2000s.
With his game-changing speed, the organization expects Gordon to wreck havoc at the top of the order much like Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo did in 2003 en route to its second World Series.
"It was cool just to watch my dad play here," Gordon said. "Now I get to play here, which is awesome. It's amazing. I love this ballpark. I love this city. I always thought that these guys had a great team. Now that I get to play with these guys is just amazing."
The Marlins fittingly held Friday's ceremony in the left-field concourse with its impressive view of downtown Miami. The retractable roof and walls remained open thanks to the mild winter weather.
This park didn't exist when Morse and Latos went to games as kids, but it represents the positive direction they emphasized the organization is headed in. Despite missing the playoffs in 2014, a 15-win improvement over the previous year shows progress. This offseason marks the next step in competing.
"It's a team you grew up cheering for," Latos said. "It's a blessing to be able to play for a team you grew up watching. You take pride in that. This hometown, this home turf. You have a house, a wife and kid. You're going to protect them no matter what. That's a bit extreme but to be able to represent a team and be able to put that jersey across your chest, especially in this caliber of play being in your hometown, you take a huge sense of pride in that. When you take as much pride in something you fight for it a good bit."
Miami promised All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton more to come when he signed his record contract in November. The Marlins' involvement during Hot Stove season proves their intent on snapping the postseason drought. It feels different than three years ago when Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle signed.
Morse, who captured a World Series title two months ago with the San Francisco Giants, has reached the mountaintop. He now hopes to do the same with his hometown team.
"Just like Pudge and (Livan Hernandez) -- I got to play with them -- not only did they win a championship here, but now I get a chance to bring a championship here and do it as a Marlin," Morse said.