The Fish Stripes "Tales of a Fire Sale Survivor" series was introduced yesterday with the aim to share tales and stories of Miami Marlins fans who have survived all three of the team's fire sales. Each interview will share the same format, with a set of nine questions to be answered with varying levels of depth. The author can write as little or as much as he or she would like about any of the nine questions, all regarding the fire sales of the team and the emotions that were involved.
Of course, the first of the fans who will speak here will be me, Michael Jong of Fish Stripes. As an active fan, off and on, since 1997, I feel I am qualified to discuss the goings on of the Marlins as a survivor, and I would like to share my experiences with the team first to help set the tone of this discussion.
1. When and how did you become a Marlins fan?
For that, I will reference my very first post here at Fish Stripes, the one in which I introduced myself and began our (so far) year-long journey covering the Miami Marlins.
My journey as a Marlins began in 1996. At the time, I was living in south Florida (Weston, for all of your folks familiar with the territory) and had just moved here not four years prior. I was at this point just a simple-minded nine-year old kid who occasionally caught a Marlins game on local television. I had made it a habit to get into all of the local teams, but the Marlins and baseball had intrigued me the most that season. The team finished close to .500 in 1996 and I expected a fun 1997 season. What I received was a World Series victory, a number of memorable moments, and my first taste of ecstatic fanhood.
That sums up my fanhood in a nutshell. I began as a fledgling young child in 1996, catching onto sports on my own, without influence of family team allegiances. Naturally, I jumped on board with the local teams, but I could not explain just exactly why baseball intrigued me so. Nevertheless, players like Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, and Gary Sheffield formed the very first baseball memories of my childhood, and they only became glorious as my team went from .500 team to contender in one magical season. At the time, I did not know or care that a decent number of the key cogs on the Marlins were newly acquired; I was happy to invite Bobby Bonilla and Moises Alou to the fold, if anything. The more good players that the Marlins could keep on the squad, the better, right?
2. What was your reaction when news of the first Marlins fire sale after 1997 trickled in?
Imagine when you are 10 years old and have just latched onto a team. Imagine when that team wins the greatest prize in all of the sport in essentially your first year following them. You are exuberantly ecstatic about the prospect of more. All you can do is imagine the roster improve when everyone can stay healthy and your team can just find enough spots for one or two more additions.
Then imagine when all of those repeat championship dreams are dashed almost immediately after the World Series. It may just be my childhood memory exaggerating the situation, but I recall news of the Marlins rumored to be breaking up the World Series winners within the week of the team winning, if not the very next day. My 10-year-old self barely had any time to celebrate and enjoy the team's spoils before the Marlins and owner Wayne Huizenga took them away from me. Before anyone could get comfortable with the term "Florida Marlins, World Series winners," we saw the ravages of the team's financial difficulties rear their ugly head.
Within the month, the Marlins had purged almost every recognizable name from the team. Even though Bonilla, Sheffield, and Charles Johnson remained, the team was a shell of its former self and it felt like a foregone conclusion that those names would soon go as well. By the time the dust had settled on that final midseason trade, my disappointment had hit an all-time high.
I distinctly recalled standing at a newsstand reading a Sporting News article previewing the Marlins and projecting 100-plus losses. My heart sank as I flipped the pages and saw a picture of Livan Hernandez and knowing in my mind that he would soon be abandoned by almost every member of the team won the World Series just a few short months ago. The feeling was the one you would expect from a young fan who lacked perspective about this sort of thing; it was the worst feeling an otherwise carefree child like myself could have.
3. How was your level of fandom affected by the first Marlins fire sale and the years that followed?
Ironically, my fandom was oddly strengthened by what happened in 1998. Sure, that first year was terrible, and it was a burden to watch the team struggle as much as it did, but in time the Marlins became almost a badge of honor for me. It was as though being a fan of the Fish, a team as bad as this one, became something I was proud to do rather than something of which I was ashamed.
The attitude shifted from disappointment and sadness to one of almost stubborn pride. It was as though I was saying to myself "Yes, I am a Marlins fan, and I will watch this terrible team because I am a true fan!" Sure, it sounded ridiculous, especially for someone like myself who mostly jumped on the bandwagon in their big winning season, but for me I took pride in my terrible team.
I knew more than was necessary to know about such a bad team at the time. I remember thinking to myself numerous times as the years passed that it was important that I remembered that the Marlins' team RBI leader in 1999 was Bruce Aven. It was as if I thought that one day, that fact would show that I was no fair-weather fan who jumped ship at the first sign of trouble and that, when the team finally did win, I would feel most rewarded by their work.