Jeter try­ing to build win­ner in Miami

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL -

Derek Jeter stood and chat­ted a few rows from home plate in Mar­lins Park on Mon­day morn­ing. His words were some­times drowned out by noises com­ing from con­struc­tion crews; steel clang­ing against steel in an area get­ting built be­hind the cen­ter field wall, or the whirring of en­gines mov­ing heavy ma­chin­ery about.

There couldn’t have been a more fit­ting back­drop.

Jeter, en­ter­ing his sec­ond full sea­son as CEO of the Miami Mar­lins, knows that build­ing — whether it is a new spot for fans to watch games from, to a mi­nor-league sys­tem, to a con­tend­ing big-league club — takes time. That also means Jeter is be­ing tested in ways now that he never was dur­ing his play­ing days as short­stop for the New York Yan­kees, when winning and com­pet­ing for ti­tles seemed like an an­nual oc­cur­rence.

“I have no pa­tience,” Jeter said. “I have zero pa­tience. I’ve been preach­ing it. I don’t have it.”

The Mar­lins had the worst record in the Na­tional League and the fourth-worst record in all of Ma­jor League Base­ball last sea­son, and just traded away the best player from their 2018 club — catcher J.T. Real­muto — to the Philadel­phia Phillies. And odd­s­mak­ers say the Mar­lins will be one of the long­est shots in base­ball this year, which didn’t amuse Jeter.

He’s clearly not ex­pect­ing to get his hands on the World Se­ries tro­phy this year.

That doesn’t mean he’s ac­cept­ing an­other woe­be­gone year as a fore­gone con­clu­sion, ei­ther.

“Pa­tience is some­thing that you have to learn,” Jeter said. “But I’m fine with not be­ing pa­tient. It’s like I say: When you’re at the ma­jor-league level, you’re here for a rea­son, be­cause these play­ers have been bet­ter than most other play­ers in this coun­try and in other coun­tries as well. And if you’re here, you have an op­por­tu­nity to win. I can’t preach that enough.”

Jeter spent his first sea­son ob­serv­ing and learn­ing, of­ten very qui­etly. He helped craft a plan that the Mar­lins say they’ll stick to: build an or­ga­ni­za­tion from the bot­tom up, stock what was a badly de­pleted farm sys­tem with prospects, give young play­ers who merit a shot a chance at per­form­ing in Miami and hold ab­so­lutely ev­ery­one ac­count­able.

This sea­son, he’s hint­ing that he may be more in­volved with play­ers. He learned in 2018. He may teach more in 2019.

“Derek’s not go­ing to be pa­tient with not play­ing the game right, not get­ting af­ter it every day, not com­pet­ing,” said Mar­lins Man­ager Don Mat­tingly, who played first base in Jeter’s Yan­kee de­but game in 1995. “He knows where we’re at. In a sense you have to have some pa­tience. But you don’t have pa­tience if a guy’s not play­ing the game right, if he’s not try­ing to get bet­ter every day, if he’s not work­ing. That’s where he’s not go­ing to have pa­tience.”

What he’s sell­ing, peo­ple are buy­ing.

The Mar­lins signed Neil Walker late last month to be a vet­eran util­i­ty­man pres­ence, af­ter he spent last year with the Yan­kees. Even af­ter be­ing with the Mar­lins for only a cou­ple weeks, Hill said the mes­sage from Jeter’s of­fice on down is al­ready clear to play­ers: “You’re ei­ther go­ing to be on board, or you’re out.”

“In talk­ing with Derek, talk­ing with [pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions] Michael Hill, talk­ing with Don­nie, they’ve re­ally sat down as an or­ga­ni­za­tion and thought about where they were, where they presently are and where they hope to go,” Walker said. “Their en­thu­si­asm and their vi­sion is con­ta­gious. And I know just from early talks with all three of them, they be­lieve in the guys in this locker room and they be­lieve in the di­rec­tion this or­ga­ni­za­tion’s go­ing.”

The Mar­lins vow they’re go­ing to make the ex­pe­ri­ence at home games — where at­ten­dance dipped to fran­chise-record-low num­bers in 2018, par­tially be­cause the team was bad and par­tially be­cause the new own­er­ship group be­gan re­veal­ing far more ac­cu­rate ticket num­bers than was done un­der the pre­vi­ous regime — bet­ter this year. The team is try­ing to bet­ter em­brace the Latin fla­vor of Miami, and want fans to even feel com­fort­able bring­ing in­stru­ments to games if so in­clined.

Fans spoke. Jeter says their words were heeded.

“Look, I never shied away from the fact that there’s a com­pli­cated his­tory here with the fan base,” Jeter said. “I get it. We weren’t here for that. We’re tak­ing over an or­ga­ni­za­tion that hadn’t had much suc­cess at all for the last 15, 16 years. So in or­der to change that, we had to make changes.”

And if Jeter has his way, the re­fur­bish­ing of the team won’t take long.

“We need to see im­prove­ment,” Jeter said. “We need to see im­prove­ment from some of our younger guys that got an op­por­tu­nity to play last year. That’s how you get bet­ter. We can sit and talk about mi­nor-league sys­tems all you want, but it gets to a point when you’re in Miami that you have to de­velop and im­prove year in and year out. That’s how you be­come a great team.”


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