Marlins want to be cheered in Puerto Rico
Club hopes series opens up new fan base in Caribbean
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Sweet home ... San Juan?
The Marlins are about to experience a new type of home cooking when they face the Mets beginning Monday.
Although there is so much familiarity between these National League East rivals, who have already met 10 times this season, so much will be different in this three-game series. Namely, where it will be played.
Instead of being a set at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, the Marlins will be the "home" team at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, P.R.
As part of a Major League Baseball initiative to expand the game globally, the Marlins were approached by the league before the season began to consider a series in Puerto Rico.
The promoters of the event wanted a Marlins-Mets matchup, and after months of negotiations, a deal was finalized in Spring Training to switch this series to San Juan.
For Florida, and its proximity to Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean, taking the series out of Miami presents an opportunity to expand its fan base.
"When Major League Baseball asked us to play in Puerto Rico this year, for us it was an obvious yes," Marlins president David Samson said. "As we're opening a new ballpark in Miami in 2012, we are the team of Latin America and the Caribbean region."
The Marlins' retractable-roof ballpark will open in the Little Havana section of Miami. The franchise is hopeful the stadium will attract new fans from not only South Florida, but also from Latin America.
When people from Puerto Rico visit South Florida in the future, the Marlins are hoping they consider attending some games.
"For us to go down as the home team, and introduce ourselves again to them, and talk to them about our new ballpark, it was an easy decision," Samson said.
The Marlins are no stranger to playing regular-season games in Puerto Rico. In 2003 and 2004, they faced the Montreal Expos at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. They played one series in each of those years when the Expos played a portion of their home games in Puerto Rico.
The last time the Marlins were in San Juan, they pieced together one of the greatest pitching series in franchise history. On April 13-15, 2004, they strung together three straight shutout victories. Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis and Carl Pavano were the winning pitchers.
On this visit, the Marlins and Mets will do more than just play baseball.
"We're doing a lot of player appearances, clinics and appearances by Tony Perez," Samson said. "It's an opportunity to start a grassroots effort as we try to make Puerto Rico part of our territory."
Perez, a Marlins special assistant, is a Hall of Famer who makes Puerto Rico his home in the offseason.
Marlins interim manager Edwin Rodriguez, who replaced Fredi Gonzalez on Wednesday, is the first Puerto Rican-born manager in MLB history. His homecoming has already made headlines in San Juan.
"It's special," said Rodriguez, who never dreamed he would be the first from his country to achieve the distinction. "The general sense is everybody is happy for the whole situation. It's a big accomplishment. The whole country has been proud. The whole country has been pushing and pulling for this."
When the Marlins and Mets leave town after Wednesday's game, it likely won't be Florida's final visit to San Juan. Samson said the team expects to play another series in Puerto Rico in 2011. No opponent has been selected, and plans are tentative. Once the team moves into its new ballpark, however, all its home games will be in Miami.
Still, the Marlins expect to be a team that Puerto Rico will embrace for the long haul.
"We want to maintain a presence there, absolutely," Samson said.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.