A Civic Curve Ball

Florida Marlins owner John Henry is floating several radical proposals, including changing the team's name, in hopes of generating public support for a new domed stadium in downtown Miami, New Times has learned. Plans, which officials warn are in the "preliminary stages," call for building a new facility on the site of the Miami Circle. Henry has offered to kick in $15 million to help the county buy the land from developer Michael Baumann.

"Look," says a source in the Marlins' front office, "we have one group of people trying to save the circle and another trying to find a way to build a stadium downtown. It just makes sense that if these two forces can work together, we all might be better off. It's potentially a real win-win situation."

Marlins attorneys are reviewing state and federal historic preservation laws to determine the feasibility of such a project. "The law states that land designated for historic preservation can include 'multiuse facilities' as long as the 'basic historic nature' of the land is not compromised," the source says. "We would leave the circle intact and simply build around it. When there are no games scheduled, it would revert to a museum where people could come and enjoy the circle. Except, of course, during batting practice."

Henry, who purchased the team last year, has requested tentative drawings from renowned New York architect Itsap Rank. He hopes to make a formal presentation to city commissioners this summer. The circle's location in the ballpark has not been determined, according to the source. "We have two options," the source explains. "We could have the circle out past the centerfield wall, in much the same way the New York Yankees have Monument Park with the plaques of Ruth and Gehrig. Or we could incorporate it into the playing field. John Henry is intrigued by the idea of having the circle ring the pitchers' mound. Imagine the excitement on opening day in a couple of years when Livan Hernandez takes the mound ... only we'd call it the circle. Naturally, we'd have some sort of protective lining over the circle during games. And the team would add an archaeologist to the grounds crew to ensure that the circle is never damaged."

According to the source, John Henry spoke about his plans briefly with Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas during a St. Patrick's Day barbecue at the Star Island home of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. Henry and Baumann are scheduled to meet later this week. A spokesman for the mayor declined comment. Phone calls to Baumann were not returned.

To succeed financially retail shops and restaurants would have to be built next to the ballpark. (The Heat is following a similar course at its new arena.) Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski has contacted officials from Maurice and Barry Gibb's new venture, That Seventies Restaurant, about including the theme eatery in the complex. "Nothing is certain," the source says, "but we have a handshake agreement with them that if the deal goes through, we get the Indian headdress that Cher wore on the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour as a permanent display in Miami. We're hoping that would alleviate Native Americans' concerns that we are exploiting their past, because I'm pretty sure Cher's part Indian herself."

Any use of taxpayer dollars would likely require voters' approval. To help secure the public's support, Henry is considering changing the Marlins' name to the Florida Otters. "Did you see how everyone just went nuts over those otters last month?" the source asks, referring to four animals recently accused of biting a toddler. "It was unbelievable. A bunch of us were sitting around one night drinking -- myself, John Henry, Hank Goldberg. I think it was Hank who said, 'Too bad the public doesn't love you guys like they love those freakin' otters.' And I think something just clicked in John Henry's head. The next day he said to me, 'Hey, we really could use a little of that otter excitement around here. Why don't we change the name of the team?' Well I laughed at first, and said, 'What is this, some sort of April Fools' hoax?' But John Henry was serious. He had the marketing department do a survey, and the numbers just went through the roof. People really do love those freakin' otters!"

If the plan is approved the mascot would likely change, according to the source. No more Billy the Marlin. Bring on Orestes the Otter. "The kids would call him 'The Big O' for short, which sort of ties in with the Miami Circle in a roundabout way," the source says. "And let's face it, Billy's just not very cute."

The Marlins believe switching the moniker to the Otters could be a public-relations coup. In addition to ending all association with unpopular former owner Wayne Huizenga, such a change would open up new advertising avenues. "Imagine the type of ad campaign we could run," says the source. "We could hire the same company that did those Budweiser commercials with the frogs and that talking lizard. This time we'd have the otters talking. Hell, we might be able to convince Budweiser to let us use that lizard in a commercial with the otters. You know, screeching something like 'Fer -- NAAAAAAAN -- dez.' Wouldn't that be cool?

"And once the stadium is built, we could have all sorts of promotional days using the otters. Floppy Otter Day, Otter Beanie Baby Day, and stuff like that. During the seventh-inning stretch, we could release a den of greased otters and then let Muscle Boy and a bunch of other kids run around the field trying to poach them. We'd have to make sure all of the kids had the right vaccinations in advance, of course. But that's really just a detail to be worked out. When the Yankees come to town, we could even fly down that kid who got bit by the otter and have her throw out the first pitch. She'll probably be done with her shots by then.

"Promotionwise, there's only so much you can do with a fish," the source concludes. "Once you start thinking otters, the possibilities are endless.

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