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Marlins Fans Pack Miami Streets to Honor Major League Baseball Champs - 2003-10-28

Tens of thousands of baseball fans packed the streets of Miami, Florida on Tuesday to welcome home the Florida Marlins. The Marlins won baseball's World Series last week in New York, beating the New York Yankees four-to-two in the best of seven game series. Fans of the Marlins are holding their collective breath, hoping their favorite players will not be sold to other teams, which is what happened the last time the Marlins won a World Series in 1997.

An elevated subway car painted in the teal colors of the Florida Marlins blew its horn to welcome home the Marlins from their World Series victory in Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Tens of thousands of Marlins fans packed Miami's Flagler Street to cheer on their team.

It was the biggest parade in Miami since the last time the Marlins won the World Series in 1997. However only days after that parade, Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga began dismantling the team, selling off the best players to the highest bidders. Fans responded by staying away. Even this year, with the Marlins on the road to the playoffs, the team had one of the worst attendance records in baseball, averaging about 16,000 fans a game.

Just two years ago, Major League Baseball authorities considered eliminating the team.

Now Marlins fever is gripping South Florida and fans like Ofelia Helspin say they think Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria will not make the same mistakes as the previous team owner, by selling off top players in a bid to make a quick profit on a World Series win. "I think they have learned their lesson. I think [Loria] is pretty bright. If they lose the fans now they will never come back. So, if he dismantles the team that will be pretty much it for baseball in Miami," he said.

Marlin fans are expected to snap up season tickets for next year and there is serious talk of an agreement between local authorities and the new Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria, of building a baseball-only stadium in downtown Miami.

Ever since they arrived in Miami in 1993, as an expansion club, the Marlins have played in the cavernous Pro-Player stadium built to house the Miami Dolphins football team. Team managers say they need a smaller stadium with a retractable roof to keep out frequent Florida rain showers. Local officials say the World Series win could make it easier to convince taxpayers to agree to a package of concessions to build a baseball stadium.

Fan Raymond Bello said he is willing to help pay for a baseball stadium and thinks other South Floridians would also contribute. "We have more fans now. We need a stadium down here. I think if every resident of Florida would pay one dollar we would be able to do that. We have to do it now. If we lose this chance to build a stadium, the fans might be sad, definitely," he said.

Marlin business managers say their team lost $20 million this year. They say their relatively modest payroll of just over $50 million is likely to balloon to about $90 million next year as many players either become free agents or have their salaries re-negotiated to reflect their World Series performance.

Still Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said he will not disappoint fans by dismantling the team or selling off some of the fan's favorite players. "There is going to be no dismantling of this team. Obviously there are choices down the road and we will deal with that at the right time. We will have organizational meetings and talk about it," he said.

As they made their way down Flagler Street few players said they were worried about next season. Outfielder Jeff Conine, the only Marlin left from the 1997 World Series team, said he was just glad to be back home among fans and friends. "This is great, this is what it is all about, to celebrate with South Florida and share it with others. This is why we play," he said.

Now that they have won the World Series both Marlins players and their fans say they need a break from the past three weeks of late nights and tension, as the Marlins beat heavily favored teams like the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees to ultimately win a World Series trophy.

However for Marlins managers there will be no break. They have reportedly already begun talks with local authorities and with many players agents on how to build a baseball stadium in Miami and keep the Marlins together.