The redemption of baseball began with … Chuckie Carr.
Carr, the Florida Marlins’ center fielder, spread as much goodwill as any autograph-signing mega-star Tuesday night. On the first play of the first regular-season game since the longest strike in sports history, Carr turned twice to make a running catch at the warning track on Delino DeShields’ fly ball.
For a moment, fans put aside the bitterness of the strike that began Aug. 12, 1994, and wiped out the World Series for the first time since 1904. The announced sellout crowd of 42,125 at Joe Robbie Stadium cheered, starting an evening of good feelings with boos reserved for poor performances by the Marlins’ bullpen.
Baseball’s first step toward redemption ended with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 8-7 victory. Dodgers center fielder Raul Mondesi, last season’s National League rookie of the year, had two home runs, a double and four RBIs.
If there will be a public backlash toward the players for their 234-day strike, it did not appear for this game. The message was that the game has an undeniable appeal.
“We have to win the fans back,” said Los Angeles’ Tom Lasorda, who managed his 19th opener. “We’ve got to let them know how much we appreciate what they do for us. It’s going to take time and a lot of work. The best way to do it is to give them good entertainment.”
They must still convince the masses. This was a sellout in name only. There were large pockets of empty seats. The Marlins, who halved some ticket prices, drew 43,290 for last season’s home opener.
“You’d like to see a full stadium,” said Florida starter John Burkett, who allowed five runs in four innings. “If they don’t fill the stadiums right away, hopefully it won’t last long and we can get them hooked on baseball again.”
There are other problems. Just as there was when the strike began, there is no basic agreement. Umpires are locked out. The principals recognize they must sell the game again.
“A lot of damage has been done, and that bothers me,” said Florida manager Rene Lachemann, whose baseball career began as a batboy with the Dodgers at age 15 in 1960. “We have to make a concerted effort to get the fans back.”
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