Submitted by Rob Yarborough
Unlike the diamond in Ray Kinsella's timeless novel Field of Dreams, the Miami Marlins built it -- but the fans have not come.
In the midst of a rough season, the Marlins (43-65) have seen their attendance drop from more than 28,000 in year one of their new ballpark to just under 18,000 this season. It represents one of the worst drops that a new Major League Baseball facility has ever seen.
More than 20 games below the .500 mark, it's clear that making the 2013 playoffs is unrealistic. But what about next year?
Well, if fans who buy Marlins Marlins tickets would think twice about this team they might find that Miami has quietly assembled some of the top young talent in the league.
It's talent that will further develop itself next season.
"Guys are getting experience," Marlins President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest told MLB.com on August 1st.
Nothing much happened at the trade deadline this season for the team, save the trade of pitcher Ricky Nolasco, who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Outfield slugger Giancarlo Stanton, in particular, was inquired about from many teams in contention -- but Beinfest simply smiled and said no thanks.
In Beinfest's mind, despite the lack of crowd support, the team has finally played to its potential the last two months and is beginning to show some excitement that could lure fans back into the seats. Believe it or not, this Miami team went 27-24 in June and July -- with the pitchers leading the way with an impressive 3.38 earned run average.
"We (have) started to look the way we were hopeful we would look right from the start. But it didn't work out that way. The way we've played the last two months (has) definitely mattered," Beinfest added.
Looking past this lost season, Stanton still is the man who owner Jeffrey Loria wants to build his squad around. But, it is pitcher Jose Fernandez (8-5, 2.54 ERA) who has gained buzz this season and is setting up to be a Cy Young candidate next season -- provided he is given run support. His rise from top prospect to leading man at the age of 21 has been one of the top stories of 2013, but more exciting is the help he is getting behind him in the rotation.
Though poor run support has made wins elusive, young rotation starters Nathan Eovaldi (3.47), Jacob Turner (2.65) and Henderson Alvarez (2.61) have been incredible. What's most impressive -- all are under 23 years old. Alvarez's return has been important, considering he came off the 60-day disabled list and was one of the centerpieces in the Jose Reyes trade last fall. With such young talent, and their combined stinginess in giving up runs, these Marlin starters have the potential to be dominant in the second half of this season.
Next year, they may be unbeatable.
Of course, injuries slowed down the full potential of the offense this season. Stanton, Justin Ruggiano and Logan Morrison have all been slowed and missed games this season. On the positive side, top organization prospects -- outfielders Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick -- have had flashes of brilliance that will fully bloom next year, according to team officials. With a nice core, aging veterans such as outfielder Juan Pierre and third baseman Placido Polanco simply do not fit with the rest of this group and are expendable for next year.
Leadership only goes so far.
In hindsight, as the Marlins players look at empty seats this season -- maybe it is for the better. With such a large group of young players, experience can be gained under the radar in 2013, before exploding onto the scene in 2014. Already, these youngsters are becoming hard to take your eyes off of.