MIAMI – Perched atop the Miami Marlins’ multicolored, provocative home-run sculpture is a blue marlin, poised for splashdown whenever the home team hits one out.
Call the artwork what you will – gaudy, goofy, grotesque, great – but there’s no denying it’s new. For the Marlins, that’s what this season is all about.
Long overlooked and underfunded, they’ve become a big-spending, attention- grabbing team as they open the season at home tonight against the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
The pop-art sculpture, futuristic ballpark, brisk ticket sales, team name, uniforms, celebrity manager, All-Star shortstop, All-Star left-hander, All-Star closer and starry-eyed optimism: all new.
With the roster significantly upgraded, the Marlins predict they’ll contend for the N.L. East title – and more.
“We expect to win,” new shortstop Jose Reyes said. “The kind of club we have, we’re going to compete, no doubt.”
When ace Josh Johnson throws the first pitch at the new ballpark to Rafael Furcal, the Marlins will begin trying to supplant the Cardinals, who mounted an improbable late-season charge to the World Series title.
But like the Marlins, the 2012 Cardinals have a new look. Slugger Albert Pujols and manager Tony La Russa are gone and postseason star Chris Carpenter is hurt, so Kyle Lohse will start the opener. But right-hander Adam Wainwright is back from elbow surgery, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman remain in the heart of the order, and the addition of outfielder Carlos Beltran is cause for encouragement.
“Their lineup is still stacked,” Johnson said.
Plus, only one team has a chance to repeat as the World Series champion, and baseball-crazy St. Louis is always eager for a season to start.
“There’s a buzz in every home opener,” rookie manager Mike Matheny said. “The buzz in our place is ridiculous.”