Dwyane Wade’s return has not significantly improved the Heat in the only stat that really counts

It was so much fun getting Dwyane Wade back last month, but now you have to wonder. Are the Miami Heat any closer to making some real noise in the playoffs with this 12-time All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP on their roster?

The numbers say no, and they suggest there’s an early playoff exit coming no matter what.

Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade (3) shoots over Washington Wizards’ Mike Scott (30) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Miami. The Heat won 129-102. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Miami was 29-26 when Wade, the most productive and popular player in franchise history, returned to the Heat in a Feb. 8 trade with Cleveland. Since he joined the team, Miami is 9-7 in all games and 7-6 in games that Wade has played. Nothing special either way.

At different times in a Heat uniform this season Wade has been everything from brilliant (27 points in a 102-101 win over Philadelphia), to mediocre (4-for-13 shooting in a close loss to the same team) to inactive (a hamstring strain has kept him in streetclothes the last three games).

Of course, there are other moving parts that must be considered when it comes to the team’s overall record. Hassan Whiteside plays like an All-Star some nights but doesn’t on others and lately he hasn’t been playing at all. Different players take the scoring lead in different games, a reflection of Erik Spoelstra’s lack of a true closer without Wade in top form. Injuries continue to change the chemistry and the rotation every week of the season, too.

Overall, it feels good to think that Wade is saving up some of his steam at the age of 36 and will begin to dominate parts of games once the postseason gets here. He’s still capable of getting some big shots to go and of stealing or blocking a ball in critical situations.

There just doesn’t seem to be anything truly transformational about it, though. Wade is working hard to contribute and making no complaint about coming off the bench. He probably has a few 20-point explosions in him, too, if he isn’t pushed too hard in a string of consecutive games, and there’s always the wealth of experience and leadership he brings to help the Heat through the tight spots to come.

Back, though, to the original question of how much difference Wade makes in potentially pushing Miami through the first playoff round against Toronto or Boston or Cleveland and into something more serious.

The answer, or at least my answer, is not enough of a difference.

The Heat are tough and versatile and capable of digging very, very deep, as demonstrated in Monday’s epic double-overtime win over Denver, a win that came without Wade or Whiteside.

I would have said all those things about Miami before Wade’s return, and it’s a mouthful. There is little more to be said, however, with Dwyane at Spo’s disposal, other than it is comforting to have him around, and that every little bit of emotional strength counts at this anxious stretch of the season.

And if there’s more to it than that, we’ll probably know it March 27, when LeBron and the Cavs come to town. That’s the kind of challenge that brings the best out in Wade, and if he’s healthy by then, it will be a good showing of what his best is these days in terms of production and emotion and turn-back-the-clock magic.

[March Madness star Eric Musselman got his break with West Palm CBA team] 

[Like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker, Amendola is a Texas Tech tough guy]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

The wildest man in March Madness may be Eric Musselman, who once coached a CBA team in West Palm Beach

There are too many crazy stories in the NCAA tournament to track right now but here’s one with a strong tie to West Palm Beach and a bit of a loose cannon at the center of it.

Nevada’s coach, the one who has the Wolf Pack in Atlanta for a Thursday night Sweet 16 matchup with Loyola-Chicago, is Eric Musselman. He’s 5-feet-7 and celebrates big wins like his team’s upsets of Texas and Cincinnati by screaming and shouting and jumping around like a grade-schooler on a trampoline,

NASHVILLE, TN – MARCH 18: Head coach Eric Musselman of the Nevada Wolf Pack directs his team against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the second half in the second round of the 2018 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

which makes for great television. Oh, and he frequently rips his shirt off, too, during locker room celebrations, which is a little more dangerous for television because that’s when the coach has been known to launch into wild-eyed speeches that are best bleeped out altogether.

If any of this rings a bell, perhaps you were here 20 years ago when Musselman coached the Florida Beachdogs of the old Continental Basketball Association.

The CBA was around for more than 60 years and served as a feeder system for the NBA until the big league came up with development teams of its own in 2002. Phil Jackson once coached in the CBA, and so did George Karl and Flip Saunders and Bill Musselman, Eric’s dad.

Bill Musselman coached everywhere, the NBA, the ABA, the NCAA, and for a time was filled in as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the early 1980’s when Chuck Daly got fired there.

At the age of 5 Eric famously brought the house down with a pregame display of dribbling and ballhandling at the University of Minnesota, where his dad was the head coach. By 24, Eric was the general manager of the Rapid City Thrillers of the CBA, and he made half a dozen trades on his first day of work.

In 1996 the Thrillers moved from South Dakota to West Palm Beach, where Boca Raton businessman Rick Rochon set about spending millions of dollars trying to make the franchise a success. His coach was Eric Musselman, then in his early 30’s, and he prepared his Beachdogs for games against the Yakima Sun Kings and the Fort Wayne Fury and the Grand Rapids Hoops with the kind of intensity that other men bring to the NBA Finals.

It was never going to work here. South Florida has always been too much of a major-league market to go for minor-league sports other than baseball, which doesn’t draw well but has the industry’s full backing.

Besides, the West Palm Beach Auditorium, where the Beachdogs played their home games, was being prepared to be sold by the city. There were no plans to build a replacement, and in the years since the old auditorium on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard has been spruced up and put to use as a Jehovah’s Witnesses assembly center.

All the same, Musselman put together an ever-changing roster of players from the various pro leagues around the world and got the Beachdogs to the best-of-seven CBA championship series in 1997. Home attendance averaged 2,898 that season, or at least that’s the number the team announced, and there were fewer than that on hand when the Oklahoma City Cavalry won the title in Game 6 by a score of 92-82.

There were no more Beachdogs games after that. Musselman was preparing to leave for Uruguay and an assistant coaching gig with one of USA Basketball’s youth teams when he got the news that Rochon was pulling the plug after reportedly losing $4 million as the team’s owner.

It seems, however, that Daly, the Hall of Fame coach, had caught a few Beachdogs games as an offseason Palm Beach County resident and he struck up a relationship with Musselman. He asked Eric to come along as a scout with the Orlando Magic, the team that Daly was coaching at the time, and from there other opportunities came.

In 2002, Musselman became the NBA’s youngest head coach at the time, taking over the Golden State Warriors at the age of 37. A few years later, after that fizzled, he was hired to coach the Sacramento Kings. Since 2015 he has been at Nevada, rebuilding a program for NCAA tournament readiness, but those days in the CBA, where he earned an overall record of 270-122, are not forgotten.

“It turned out West Palm Beach was the perfect place for me at that time,” Musselman said in a 2002 Palm Beach Post story that marked his first NBA head coaching job. “Without going to West Palm Beach, I don’t think I’d ever have met Chuck Daly, who had a house in Jupiter. If I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t have ended up in Orlando, and I probably would still be coaching in the minor leagues.”

Several career rebuilds later, he is trying to get Nevada into the Elite Eight for the first time. Musselman still has the passion, just like his late father.

It was Bill Musselman who famously said “Defeat is worse than death. You have to live with defeat.”

[Amendola joins long list of Texas Tech tough guys to join Dolphins]

[Players’ Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives athletes freedom to open up]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

 

Danny Amendola is latest Texas Tech tough guy to join Dolphins, following Zach Thomas and Wes Welker

Finally the Miami Dolphins have figured out a way to put the pinch on Tom Brady.

By signing Danny Amendola to a free-agent contract, the Dolphins deny Brady the use of one of his most reliable targets and a key member of the NFL’s top offensive unit.

Can’t call Amendola invaluable, of course. If Bill Belichick thought that term applied to

Former New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) makes a catch between Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Koa Misi (55) and Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (52) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on December 15, 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

the slot receiver, New England would have outbid Miami for his services. Already, Amendola has taken some $10 million in paycuts the last three offseasons in order to stay with the Patriots.

Think, though, of the toughness Amendola brought to the Patriots’ huddle, and the leadership he will bring to Miami’s locker room. See if any of this fits the new “culture” that the Dolphins and coach Adam Gase want to build, albeit three years late.

Amendola signed with the Patriots just as Wes Welker was leaving them, a demonstration of his willingness to take on a big challenge.

He started only half of the Patriots’ 2017 games but had such a rapport with Brady that he was targeted more times (86) than anyone but Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski.

Amendola caught just two touchdown passes during the 2017 regular season, nothing dramatic, but then he caught two more in the fourth quarter of New England’s comeback win over Jacksonville in the AFC title game. Altogether, in 13 playoffs games with New England he caught six touchdown passes.

What’s more, according to the Boston Herald, Amendola kept on playing through a torn groin in 2013, knee and ankle injuries in 2015.

Not bad for a guy who went undrafted out of Texas Tech after playing there for Mike Leach, one of the most inventive coaches around.

Matter of fact, I’m going to suggest that the Dolphins look to Texas Tech more often in the talent searches of the draft and free agency.

That’s where linebacker Zach Thomas played his college ball on the way to a great Dolphins career that featured seven Pro Bowl selections.

And how about Welker, another Texas Tech star who the Dolphins didn’t really prize until he had left them and, in a New England uniform, transformed himself into the NFL’s leading receiver.

Jakeem Grant, 5-feet-7, is another little hardhead from Texas Tech. He and Amendola will be playing together now in Miami and maybe even sharing time in the slot position, unless Adam Gase decides he only needs one of them.

Will Brady be able to keep his offense moving without Amendola? Of course. He never slows down, no matter who is running the routes.

This addition of Amendola, however, will return to Ryan Tannehill some of the third-down certainty that was lost with the trade of Jarvis Landry to Cleveland for money reasons alone.

This may not work out so well if Amendola, 32, continues to have trouble with a bad knee that’s been bothering him the last few seasons. Can’t blame the Dolphins, though, for taking what Brady wants.

At least make the Patriots work a little harder on their way to the Super Bowl. At least make them do that.

[Not feeling confident about Gators, Canes and Noles in NCAA tourney]

[Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in world gives Honda Classic another boost]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

Not feeling very confident about Florida’s 3 teams in NCAA tournament

So who goes the farthest in the NCAA tournament among our state’s three entrants?

Not sure it’s going to matter since I don’t expect the Hurricanes, Gators or Seminoles to make it out of the first weekend. Each has flaws, though Miami does a better job of masking them. Each is prone to lay a major egg every now and again.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga reacts during a game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

If we’re assigning personality traits, FSU is tough, Florida is soft and Miami is smart. Any of them could surprise, like the Gators did last year in advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, but you could say that about most tournament teams from major conferences.

So we’ll go by who got the best draw. That’s always a good place to start.

The Gators get the break of knowing their first opponent, a No. 11 seed, won’t be coming in fresh. St. Bonaventure and UCLA are in a play-in game Tuesday night, and the winner will have to travel to Dallas and turn everything around pretty quick. That’s a potential plus for Florida, or at least it’s as much of a break as any No. 6 could ask to have.

If Florida advances, it probably will be Texas Tech waiting in the next round. The game would be in Texas, which makes that neutral court a little nastier, plus the Red Raiders won at Kansas in January. They’re well able to establish dominance in any setting.

Put it all together and I’ll give the Gators a 40 percent chance of advancing to the Sweet 16 round, and that’s only because Florida has mixed in some big wins here and there, including two over Kentucky, one over Cincinnati, a No. 2 seed, and one over Gonzaga, last year’s national finalist.

Miami’s first opponent is Loyola of Chicago, the Cinderella pick of all the national blabbers. The Ramblers are a legitimate threat, with a 10-game winning streak right now and a road upset of Florida in December, back when the Gators were feeling their oats at No. 5 in the AP poll.

The Hurricanes certainly can handle Loyola, a No. 11 seed, on a good night. Just a few weeks ago Miami beat North Carolina, a No. 2, on the road. Even if this potential trapdoor is avoided, however, it’s likely that Tennessee comes next, and in my opinion any team at the top of the SEC is a potential powerhouse.

Nobody but the Tournament Selection Committee seems to remember that the SEC had three teams in the Elite Eight last year, or that South Carolina, a No. 7 seed, reached the Final Four. As it is, a record eight SEC teams are in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Only the regal ACC has more.

So I’ll give Miami a 33 percent chance to making the Sweet 16, because there are not one but two difficult wins between here and there.

As for FSU, there are two things to know and they’re drawn from the same game, a 59-55 loss to Virginia in February.

First, the Seminoles led what might be the best team in the nation 32-22 at halftime and hung tough to the end, outrebounding the Cavaliers and playing great defense. Second, Virginia won by showing the kind of versatility you expect of a No. 1 seed and locking down to stifle FSU in the closing minutes.

That tells me FSU is dangerous enough to watch closely and good enough to beat Missouri in an opening 8-9 game, but then comes No. 1 seed Xavier, and nobody needs to be bumping heads with them so early in the brackets.

Make it a 25 percent chance, then, on advancing to the Sweet 16, and recognize that if the Seminoles beat those arbitrary odds, it will be from the bonus any ACC team gets playing against consistently rugged competition inside the league.

Overall, Florida has two national titles, back to back in 2006 and 2007, and five trips to the Final Four. FSU’s only Final Four appearance was in 1972 and Miami has never been.

You’ve got to be in it to win it, right? Having three state schools in the tournament field is a mad dash no matter how it turns out. Would love to think it will last beyond this weekend for fans of the Hurricanes, Gators and Seminoles, but then you’ve already read my predictions about that and you’re already mad so I’ll just shut up now and watch like everybody else.

[Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in world boosts Honda Classic again]

[Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives Kevin Love an important platform]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in the world further boosts Honda Classic’s reputation

Honda Classic champion Justin Thomas almost made it back-to-back victories on the PGA Tour, finishing second to Phil Mickelson Sunday in a playoff for the World Golf Championship event in Mexico.

What does this mean? Well, JT is red hot, for one thing, and he’s earned a break after three top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in the space of three weeks. Thomas is skipping this week’s Valspar Championship near Tampa, an event that otherwise is loading up on more stars than usual with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth in the field.

Justin Thomas reacts to winning the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on February 25, 2018. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

In the longer view, the upward trend in Thomas’ game seems to have no end.

Two wins already this season, including October’s CJ Cup in South Korea. Seven wins in the last 33 events. Seven top-10 finishes in the last 13. Second behind Dustin Johnson in the Official World Golf Rankings.

This is looking every bit as dominating as the run that first lifted McIlroy to No. 1 in the world. The year was 2012 and Rory followed up a Honda win with three more Tour victories, including the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

McIlroy was 22 when he won that Honda and first climbed to No. 1 in the process.

Thomas, 24, is every bit as ambitious. The way he’s going, he’ll be a threat to win at the Masters, where a tie for 22nd is his previous best. Overall, there’s no reason to think that JT won’t eventually match McIlroy’s running total of four major championships.

To have both of these young men based in Jupiter is a gift to the Honda Classic. Now if we can just get world Dustin, another local, to return to PGA National. Haven’t seen him in the Honda since a missed cut in 2015.

Top-ranked golfers and Palm Beach County’s PGA Tour stop really should go together. Since the Honda moved to PGA National in 2007, three players who at one point topped the world rankings have won the tournament. They are McIlroy, Ernie Els and Adam Scott.

Thomas figures to make it four, either this year or soon thereafter, when he makes it to No. 1 as well.

[Kevin Love opens up on The Players’ Tribune, a Derek Jeter project]

[Jim Kelly astonished a Boca Raton crowd with his cancer story]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training camp 25 years ago was a blast]

Kevin Love opens up on The Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project that is working well

 

You’ve read some stinging criticisms of Derek Jeter in this space from time to time, all of them dealing with his disconnect when it comes to Miami Marlins fans being fed up with the team’s constant teardowns.

I’ll give Jeter credit, however, for recognizing that athletes often have a deeper story to tell but don’t really trust anyone else in the telling of it.

FILE – In this Jan. 8, 2018, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love watches from the bench in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis. Love disclosed in an essay for the Players’ Tribune on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, that he suffered a panic attack on Nov. 5 in a home game against the Atlanta Hawks. He was briefly hospitalized at the Cleveland Clinic and the episode left him shaken. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

We’re talking about The Players’ Tribune, a website founded by Jeter in 2014 and expanded since then with videos and podcasts to augment the written content provided by sports celebrities.

The latest buzz created by this site is an essay written by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. He reveals that he had a panic attack during a game in November but at first wanted to keep that information from teammates for fear that they would consider him weak.

“Everyone is Going Through Something” is the title of the essay, and in it Love writes “No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside.”

Would a player feel comfortable talking about private reflections and personal issues with a member of the traditional sports media?

Some have, like Ricky Williams, and with full knowledge that they might be misconstrued or ridiculed or marginalized. Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan took all of those risks last month in an interview with the Toronto Star about his ongoing problems with depression.

For most, though, it figures that truly opening up to a reporter in the locker room is way outside the comfort zone.

If you only see that reporter ever now and again, how do you make a connection that is solid and believable? And if that reporter covers the team every day and strikes up something like a friendship with a player there, sooner or later he or she will wind up writing something that offends the athlete because it points out an error made to lose a ballgame or is perceived to be taking the wrong side in a contract negotiation with the team.

Honestly, if I had the blessing of athletic skills worthy of millions of dollars on the open market, it might just be easier to keep spouting clichés in interview settings. That’s pretty much what Jeter did in the high-profile position of New York Yankees captain. He made no enemies that way and he tried, other than what happened on the field, to make no news.

Are these Players’ Tribune essays ghost-written? Surely, in some cases, they are crafted and edited and packaged by people who are writers by profession. Since the athletes approve every presentation before it is published, however, this shouldn’t bother anybody all that much. If it’s a genuine expression of their feelings on a particular matter, they are saying what they want to say.

Not journalism in its strictest sense. More like journal writing, and then passing that journal around the room for anyone who is interested to read.

Jeter is a smart guy to figure all this out. We all need to know each other a little better, and any forum that makes that possible is a benefit.

[Jim Kelly astonished a Boca Raton crowd with his courageous story]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

[Wade’s return strikes every emotional touchstone for Heat fans]

What Jim Kelly told an astonished crowd in Boca Raton three years ago still applies in facing down cancer

  Three years ago this month Jim Kelly gave a speech at an Inspiration Breakfast benefiting the YMCA of South Palm Beach County.
  A large crowd was on hand to hear him at the corporate headquarters of Office Depot in Boca Raton. Not just because Kelly is a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, inducted in his first year of eligibility back in 2002. Not just because he starred at the University of Miami during Howard Schnellenberger’s foundational work there, either.
BLOOMINGTON, MN – NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly does a show on Super Bowl LII Radio Row at the Mall of America on February 1, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

What drives people to Kelly’s side more quickly than any of that is his very public battle with oral cancer and the bold and hopeful attitude he brings to the mission.

  Cancer touches every family at some point or another. No, “touches” is the wrong word. Cancer pulverizes.
  So when Kelly gave that speech here in 2015, one like so many others he has given nationwide, it was to build as much immunity as possible against the despair that is this killer’s specialty. He spoke of the strength he derived from all the encouraging cards and promised prayers he had received. He spoke of faith as the armor to be worn in this personal struggle and any other.
  And now, in a statement released on Thursday, Kelly is announcing that his cancer, beaten back for a time by extensive surgery and chemotherapy and radiation treatment, has returned.
  It’s not an unusual story in terms of recurrence and the need to ramp up for another scary wave of certain punishment with uncertain results, but fortunately Kelly is an unusual man, and his family is every bit as impressive. No doubt, in time, they will be back before another large group, summoning courage from all who are there and inspiring all to stay “Kelly Tough.”
  Until then, the best I can do is return to my column from that Boca Raton appearance three years back. There is inspiration here, and it comes with no expiration date.
(Here follows a column from the Palm Beach Post on March 25, 2015)
by Dave George
Palm Beach Post Columnist
 It pays to be sitting down when Jim Kelly runs through the menu of surgical procedures he has gone through, and much of it in the last few years since cancer was discovered in his upper jaw.
“In two years’ time, I had a plate and six screws put in my neck, and then six months before that I had two plates and 10 screws in my back,” Kelly said Tuesday at the YMCA of South Palm Beach County’s Inspiration Breakfast. “I had double hernia surgery. I had six root canals. I was diagnosed with cancer and I had my jaw removed.”
There were gasps in the audience at the Office Depot corporate headquarters as the former University of Miami and Buffalo Bills quarterback rattled through that daunting list as rapidly as if he were calling out plays in the huddle.
Then came the clincher. Just a few months ago, with the gravest danger behind him and MRI cancer scans becoming less frequent, Kelly, 55, learned for the first time that doctors had given him less than a 10 percent chance to survive in the midst of his most aggressive cancer treatments.
Why did it take so long for him to hear that? Because his wife and daughters and friends wanted to keep Kelly’s psyche safe while his body was under attack.
“People that walked into my hospital room, even though I was having some of the worst days of my life, for those minutes and hours that those people were in my room, they made a difference,” Kelly said. “Hey, I grew up in a family of six boys. I had physical toughness. Where I needed it was the mental toughness. I needed people to tell me and show me with their smiles that I could do it, and don’t ever give up.”
Not a bad lesson to all of us who struggle with knowing what to do or say when someone close is critically ill. Keep the energy positive. Recycle a few giggles from sillier times. They might still have a little charge left in them.
Imagine, for instance, how often Kelly has heard about his great Bills teams losing four consecutive Super Bowls. Howard Schnellenberger, his old Hurricanes coach, even spent a few light minutes on that topic Tuesday while inviting Kelly up to the stage.
That didn’t even faze Kelly, who used a few squirts of mouth spray before his speech and explained that it’s not because of bad breath. Truth is, he no longer is able to produce saliva.
Can’t believe how good he looks, trim but not gaunt. Can’t believe he worries about lisping ever so slightly as a result of the prosthetic jaw and teeth that followed surgery. Nobody at the YMCA event noticed that. They were too busy coming up to Kelly to tell survival stories of their own and to thank him for the inspiration.
“So good to see you,” many of them said.
“Better to be seen than viewed,” Kelly regularly shoots back.
There are many appearances like this for Kelly, who still lives in Buffalo and in October will speak before a group in Rochester that provides services for the mentally ill. As always, his charitable activities center around the Hunter’s Hope Foundation, established to aid research on Krabbe Disease, the genetic disorder that ended the life of Kelly’s son, Hunter, in 2005 at the age of 8.
At Kelly’s induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, he dedicated his speech to Hunter, an exceedingly brave little boy.
To spend much time with Kelly, however, is to laugh a lot, and eventually to talk about the Bills, who are trying to rev it all up again under new coach Rex Ryan.
“I love it,” Kelly said in the VIP reception room after posing for photos with a long line of YMCA donors. “The biggest question is whether it’s going to be EJ Manuel or Matt Cassel, but I just hope that one of the quarterbacks steps up because that’s all we need.”
Just a whiff of hope and the tank is filled once more.

The Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast

Thought it might be fun, as part of the franchise’s 25th anniversary celebration, to look back at the Marlins’ inaugural spring training in 1993.

For openers, they were the Florida Marlins back then, owned by Wayne Huizenga, who made many of his millions renting videotape cassettes of Hollywood movies. Yes, it really was a long time ago.

Jeff Conine honored at Marlins 2008 opener. Staff photo by Allen EyestoneThe Palm Beach Post.

The first training facility was near Melbourne on Florida’s Space Coast. They call the community Viera these days but back then it was just a flat expanse of land along I-95 where developers were just kicking off plans to build a huge residential community with plenty of retail and schools and a Brevard County  governmental complex.

As it was, the practice fields were barely ready for use and the more general landscaping of the property and painting of the clubhouse were still being done when the players headed out for the opening workout. Manager Rene Lachemann warned against anybody complaining too much about the conditions, bad hops and such.

“Some of the (groundskeeping) guys here are on work release,” he said. “You know what that means. They’re from the joint. Be careful what you say.”

Lachemann, always a funny guy, had already been fired twice as manager of the Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers. He worked six years as Tony La Russa’s third-base coach in Oakland before former  Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski hired him to lead Miami’s expansion team.

Today Lachemann is out of the game but it took a while. He retired in 2016 after 53 consecutive seasons in a professional baseball uniform. Dombrowski remains busy as president of baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox.

Back, though, to the spring of 1993 and a detail that most Marlins fans have forgotten. Space Coast Stadium wasn’t available for the first exhibition season. In fact, there wasn’t even a groundbreaking for the stadium’s construction until the Marlins had left Melbourne to begin the regular season.

Consequently, the first-even Marlins spring game and all other 1993 home exhibition games were played 11 miles south on I-95 at an old facility called Cocoa Expo Stadium.

The Houston Astros used that place for 21 years and moved on, feeling cramped and ready for more modern accomodations in Kissimmee, but the Marlins did their best to spruce things up for their opening exhibition game in Cocoa on Friday, March 5, 1993.

Huizenga chartered a Boeing 727 to fly 150 VIP’s up from South Florida. Parachutists floated into the stadium pregame. There were fireworks in a sunlit sky and groundskeepers in tuxedos and all kinds of circus-style extras, like a fire-eating performer and live alligators on display.

As for the baseball, as you would expect, Jeff Conine hit a two-run homer for the Marlins, who beat Houston 12-8. As you might not expect, a sellout crowd of 6,696 was there to cheer and stomp and clap for practically everything that happened.

The next day a greater sense of reality set in as the Marlins climbed on a couple of buses for what should have been a four-hour ride to Homestead and a game with the Cleveland Indians. It took a little longer because one of the buses blew a tire soon after leaving Melbourne.

It took a sense of humor to get by in those early days, and in many cases with the rebuilding Marlins, now training in a first-class facility at Jupiter’s Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, it still does.

[Wade’s return touches every emotional touchstone for Heat fans]

[Where was Derek Jeter when the Marlins were born?]

[There was a time, gulp, when the Heat played in the Western Conference]