From a public-relations standpoint, 2018 was a rough year for the Miami Marlins. The team sold off or traded away many of its most famous and skilled players. The Fish then played to small crowds for much of the year. But hated team owner Jeffrey Loria has finally skipped town, and the team is now overseen by one of the best-known baseball players of the modern era, Derek Jeter.
So the Marlins are aggressively trying to rebuild their relationship with fans.
It perhaps helps that the Marlins' hopes are resting on a 24-year-old prospect who is himself a fan. Lewis Brinson, an outfielder who just wrapped up his rookie season with the Fish, was born in Fort Lauderdale and attended Coral Springs High, less than an hour's drive from Marlins Park. Brinson grew up idolizing Juan Pierre, the lightning-quick base thief who did two stints with the Marlins, including in 2003, when the team won the World Series. Brinson wears number 9 to honor Pierre.
"I ate, breathed, and slept Florida Marlins baseball, man," Brinson tells New Times on the rooftop of his ritzy Brickell condo building. A construction crew drills into the side of a building nearby. "I grew up 40 minutes down the road, as everybody knows."
In an era when civic pride in South Florida's baseball team is arguably at an all-time low, it's refreshing to hear someone so, frankly, happy to be a Miami Marlin. And that's before you consider all the pressure on Brinson right now: He arrived from the Milwaukee Brewers this year after Jeter traded rising star Christian Yelich, one of the best players in baseball, last year. Now it's on Brinson to prove he was worth the trade: Yelich left, to put things mildly, big cleats to fill.
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But even though Brinson struggled last year (he wound up hitting just .199 on the season and led the league with nine outfield errors), he's a blue-ribbon talent who was taken in the first round in 2012 by the Texas Rangers and given a $1.6 million signing bonus. Last year, he was rated the Marlins' number one prospect by MLB.com and displayed the flashes of brilliance that have fans excited about him. In person, his physical gifts are immediately apparent — his legs seem to each be nine feet long. He moves like an athlete, and the Marlins hope his immense talents will soon translate into success on the diamond.
For now, Brinson says he's working out to keep his legs fresh during the offseason. He seems well aware that if more kids are going to grow up Marlins fans like him, he needs to help Jeter's new squad succeed at the plate.
"We'll get there," he says. "Obviously, the fan base is there. It just happened that we had a couple of empty nights. But you gotta put a winning product on the field. It might take some time, but, trust me, it's coming."