Play Ball!

The home team steps up to the plate

MON 3/31

Okay, so the Florida Marlins lost more games than they won last year, shed some of their most popular players, and -- with the exception of one high-profile acquisition -- have done little to improve themselves. And yes, they fired their mascot. But so what? Hope springs eternal in baseball. And there is no more hopeful date on the calendar than Opening Day, when every team is tied for first place.

The Marlins, of course, haven't finished a season in first place since 1997, when the team won the World Series. Since then, "major-league baseball in South Florida" has come to sound as oxymoronic as "military intelligence." Incompetent ownership, inconspicuous play, and indifferent fans have fueled speculation that the team is headed elsewhere, possibly the Washington, D.C. area.

Still there are reasons to follow the fish this season, and we're not just talking about the fact you can stretch out almost anywhere in perennially empty Pro Player Stadium. Hometown hero Mike Lowell returns, as does speedy second baseman Luis Castillo, whose 35-game hitting streak was the highlight of the 2002 campaign. Both will be aided by the addition of Ivan Rodriguez, the all-star catcher who in the off-season migrated from the Texas Rangers to the Marlins (so what if it's only for one year? The team may not be around much longer than that).

And then, of course, there's pitching, one of two commodities -- the other is frustration -- the Marlins seem to produce in almost limitless quantity. A.J. Burnett can dominate a game (he led the majors in shutouts last year, with five), while young hurlers Brad Penny and Josh Beckett should only get better.

Pitching, speed ... Hey, maybe with a little bit of luck, these guys can ... Nah. But it'll be fun watching them try against divisional rivals like the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, not to mention Barry Bonds's San Francisco Giants, Sammy Sosa's Chicago Cubs, and the world champion Anaheim Angels, all of whom will visit Pro Player this season.

So enjoy a complimentary Opening Day hot dog and root, root, root for the home team when the first-place Philadelphia Phillies meet the first-place Marlins. After all, how many times this year will you be able to say that? The Florida Marlins open their season at 4:05 p.m. Monday, March 31, at Pro Player Stadium, 2269 NW 199th St. Tickets range from $2-$60. Call 305-626-7426. -- Mike Connor

Star Women

FRI 3/28

As a field, astronomy counts more women than physics but far fewer than biology. Thus says FIU assistant professor Caroline Simpson, who promises "a fun historical overview" of women astronomers at 8:00 p.m. Friday in CP 145 at the University Park Campus (SW 8th Street and 107th Avenue). On the agenda: everyone from Margaret Burbidge, former head of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, to Anne Kinney, NASA's division director of astronomy and physics. -- Nina Korman

Auto Manic
Antique cars tie up Flagler

SAT 3/29

Cars of all kinds -- usually turning the wrong way down one-way streets. That's what you often see downtown. From 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. this Saturday, the only cars you'll spy on Flagler Street (from Biscayne Boulevard to NW First Avenue) will be parked -- and fabulous -- as members of the Antique Automobile Club of America show off their vehicles during the Downtown Miami Classic Car Show. Admission is free. Call 305-938-4000, ext. 112 to participate. -- Nina Korman

Net Dreams

DAY TIME

Every day coach Kim Sands teaches the kids at Moore Park's (765 NW 36th St.) Ashe-Buchholz Tennis Center the basics of tennis -- move quickly, be consistent, and, most important, stay alert. The United States Tennis Association and NASDAQ think her program, First Serve, teaches more valuable life lessons -- be strong, smart, and drug-free. In fact with the help of Gov. Jeb Bush and a bevy of executives from the NASDAQ Education Foundation, Sands's program, which brings tennis and academics to inner-city youth, was billed as the model for community tennis nationwide at an inaugural ceremony last week. -- Juan Carlos Rodriguez

 
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