When you’re a kid, you grow up playing ball in the backyard and dream up big moments coming through for your local team. We all did it; bottom of the ninth, two outs and here comes the pitch. We watched the movies; The Natural, Sandlot, Major League, Field of Dreams. Major League II.
We always believed that some day the Fates would give us the opportunity to shine on that brightest of stages and we would hear the roar of the crowd. We always imagined that crowd was filled with our fans, friends, and family.
Yet so few of us have ever gone on to actually play in the big leagues. Fewer still have been able to have success or play in an all star game or, better yet, a World Series.
And here are two kids from Broward; both quite possibly starting their journeys on a sunny afternoon in the spring of 1993 when the words “play ball” we’re first officially announced in a major league stadium in Miami. Charlie Hough threw an optimistic knuckler as a strike; the capacity crowd looked on with excitement. Mat Latos and Michael Morse were not only watching a game, they were envisioning a future. Along with the rest of us; we were taking in not only a game or another baseball season or even a future of a franchise, there was so much more. The reality of a major league dream became more possible.
Kids in south Florida before the Marlins had to root for far away teams like the Atlanta Braves. Dale Murphy, Ron Gant, Terry Pendleton, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz. Steve Avery. Sid Bream’s slide across home plate against the Pirates.
Or we rooted for whatever team was based here in Spring Training – Dodgers from Vero Beach. Yankees from Fort Lauderdale. Cardinals in St. Pete. Loyalties were regionally based and cast nationwide. We had no team to call our own; to join our community comprised of an endless see of visitors and tourists bringing their loyalties from wherever they came from.
Sure, we had the Dolphins and the Hurricanes. We were a football town. Then we got an NBA expansion team, the Miami Heat, in 1988. Basketball became another possibility for us to dream about.
Yet at its heart, Miami was a baseball hotbed. Lots of talent would develop here in the semi-tropic climate but then would leave to play afar, never setting foot here professionally. Guys like Andre Dawson, Jose Canseco, and eventually Alex Rodriguez. There is a rich tapestry and history of baseball in south Florida and along with the rest of us, Mat Latos and Michael Morse were dreaming. Yet this generation could visualize itself hitting not for one of these far away franchises, but rather for the team right here in our own backyard.
What the Marlins were able to do is incalculable. Not only were they able to cross off positions of need for their roster for 2015, but they were able to add talent that had not only character but a sense of homecoooking. Morse grew up in Plantation and Davie, played high school ball for Nova High and as a Titan had tasted success here in the state. Then he was drafted to Seattle on the other side of the continent.
Mat Latos, like Morse, was in attendance at the Opening a Day game in 1993. He grew up pitching down here in Broward and eventually got his name called, making a splash with the Padres. He eventually landed in Cincinnati where he emerged as a staff ace for an up-and-coming team.
Both players now get the chance to do something that LeBron James is also trying to do. In jolting Miami for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, James wanted the opportunity to win championships for his Cavs. Latos and Morse get to do the same and it couldn’t happen at a better time for south Florida. With LeBron leaving the Heat, that franchise has now lost some of its luster. The Dolphins continue to underachieve. The Marlins are making a play to be the flagship franchise on the scene. They have their young star Giancarlo Stanton locked up for the next 13 years and both Morse and Latos join in the fun.
The Marlins have longed to cement itself in this market. They have tried to install themselves within the landscape and they have gone through various iterations trying to bring Latin American players here to capture that demographic’s loyalty. Maybe now, with local talent that has nursed itself on Marlin history, a true breakthrough will occur. Who knows this area better than a couple of fans that grew up to play for their favorite team? Truly Michael Morse and Mat Latos are ones of us. They are from here, they know the checkered history of this team. They know the players who came before and they also know what is important to this community. Now instead of watching professionals from other places play for their team, they will inspire future generations of ball players from their own backyard to grow up and be like them. This is how the Marlins change how they are perceived not only locally and in our community, but also nationally and across baseball. Latos and Morse now have a chance to build a legacy and go full circle from the inspired to the inspiration in others.