To all those who insist Miamians are fair-weather sports fans, we present Andy Salgado. Like many Miami Marlins fans, Salgado was expecting pitching phenom José Fernández to push the team into the playoffs this year. The reigning Rookie of the Year had started his second season as strongly as his first, winning four of his eight games and collecting strikeouts like scalps. But then disaster struck. Fernández tore a ligament in his throwing arm. And on May 16, he underwent surgery.
Salgado heard the news on his car radio. At first, the scruffy-looking 29-year-old was crestfallen. "Oh, man," he said to his wife. "I wish I could do something to support him." Then he had a moment of clarity. It was as if the baseball gods had beaned him in the head with the most brilliant idea.
"I'm going to shave my head and my beard," he announced. "Then I'm going to grow it out until José comes back, even if I look like a Boston Red Sox fan."
"You know it's Tommy John surgery, right?" his wife said. Translation: at least a year on the sidelines for Fernández, and for her, a caveman for a husband.
When Salgado went to work at Universal Studios in Orlando that morning, a few co-workers scoffed at him. Most didn't dare. "They know how much of a die-hard fan I am," he says. "They know I would do anything for my team."
Salgado's Marlins obsession is rooted in family ritual. His grandfather, Alfredo Padrón, once played for the Cuban national team and was good enough to try out for the St. Louis Cardinals before embarking on a career pinballing between long-forgotten minor-league teams such as the Tampa Smokers. "If you come to my house, I have all of his contracts and his extension letters on my wall," Salgado says.
It was Padrón who took him to the first Marlins game back on April 5, 1993. "I saw that first Charlie Hough knuckle ball and was hooked for life," Salgado says. The Fish won 6-3. Since then, Salgado's sports obsession has expanded to include any and every Miami team. But baseball remains his religion. He's so superstitious that he once stayed in his Sun Life stadium seat during a torrential downpour, with no poncho or umbrella, because "for some reason I thought that if I didn't get out of that seat, the Marlins would win." When the game resumed four and a half hours later, the Marlins came from behind to win in extra innings. Even after moving to Orlando in 2003, he still drives down to see the Fish around 20 times a season.
So Salgado's family and friends knew his vow was for real. When he got home from work the day of Fernández's surgery, he asked his wife to film him before and after his devotional depilation. In a video posted on YouTube that night, Salgado transforms from Shaggy on Scooby-Doo to Mr. Clean in an instant. The video went viral, with the Marlins posting it on their official website. It even inspired several other Fish fanatics to make similar Fernández-inspired promises.
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But Salgado is quick to point out shaving his head and beard was a show of support, not grief. He still has lofty ambitions for this year's squad.
"World Series," he says when asked how far the Marlins can go without Fernández. "I think we have a team that is good enough to win the World Series. There is no doubt in my mind."