Go Marlins!

As close as we were to actually drafting a deal, and as optimistic as we were that we could draw Providence into a bidding war with Biloxi, Fresno, or perhaps another town that had yet to respond -- Anchorage? Regina, Saskatchewan? -- a series of unsolicited phone calls from one Edward L. Ristaino, who identified himself as counsel for the Florida Marlins, took the wind out of our civic-minded sails. The reason for his lawyerly attentions? It seems that Nashville Mayor Philip Bredesen had called not Relocation Committee headquarters but the Marlins' Pro Player Stadium front office.

When Ristaino's phone messages went unanswered by the committee, the attorney penned a terse note and mailed it to our post office box. "We are writing to demand your immediate cessation of your unauthorized use of the name 'Marlins,'" he commanded. Among other saber-rattling, he demanded that we destroy all letterhead, signs, and other material displaying the Marlins name, though what seemed to give him the biggest fit was our use of the phrase empowered to gauge interest.

Since we're kind of attached to the letterhead (it features a teal silhouette of Lou Gehrig, and it cost us a bundle), we finally called Ristaino and came clean.

MARLINS' ATTORNEY: Why didn't you say in the letter that you were with New Times?

COMMITTEE: Well, people might not have called us back.
ATTORNEY: Why did you say you were authorized by the Florida Marlins to gauge interest in the team relocating?

COMMITTEE: We never said we were authorized. We said we were empowered.
ATTORNEY: All right, empowered. Why did you say that you were empowered by the Florida Marlins to gauge interest?

COMMITTEE: We didn't say we were empowered by the Florida Marlins. We just said we were empowered.

ATTORNEY: Now you sound like an attorney. So who empowered you?
COMMITTEE: We've always believed that empowerment starts with the self. So in that sense, we empowered ourselves to gauge interest.

ATTORNEY: Are you serious?
COMMITTEE: Of course.

It was at this point that Ristaino began mentioning lawsuits and injunctions. The term tortious interference was also thrown in, as was talk of a restraining order.

After huddling with our own legal counsel, we decided not to send out any more letters: Another fan-based, grassroots initiative right down the toilet, as they say in Beaumont.

One thing we made abundantly clear to the mayors was the need for a total press blackout -- media scrutiny would only complicate an already complex and delicate process. Just one mayor violated our request: the indomitable Buddy Cianci. During an interview with the Boston Globe last week, the Providence mayor couldn't resist bragging that his city was a leading contender for the Marlins and that our inquiry was further proof that Providence is a "renaissance city." When the Globe called Don Smiley for comment, the Marlins president harshly repudiated the search committee's efforts and actually had the audacity to ridicule Providence. With a condescending laugh, Smiley asked, "How big is Providence?"

Although our work here is done, Mayor Cianci deserves recognition for hitting a home run for his town. And he should know there's nothing preventing him from going right over Smiley's head and continuing his dialogue directly with Wayne Huizenga. In its last official act, the Relocation Committee sent Cianci a gift pack of Marlins merchandise, including a seat cushion, a bobbing-head doll, a Robb Nen paper fan, and two tickets (mezzanine reserved!) for the September 21 game against the Mets.

It's fan appreciation day.

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