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.

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When Dolphins hired Cameron, Huizenga wondered aloud ‘Could this thing blow up on us?’

 

The Miami Dolphins’ coach search should go a lot smoother this time around than it did in 2007, when the worst hire in franchise history resulted from team owner Wayne Huizenga and his top assistants talking each other into Cam Cameron at the end of an exhaustive search.

You’d like to think it would go a lot smoother, anyway, given the fact that the Dolphins have had since Joe Philbin’s firing three months ago to think about which two or three candidates they are most interested in getting.

In 2007 Huizenga thought he was all set until Alabama started flirting with his head coach. Then, on Jan. 3, Nick Saban was gone.

111807 spt fins owls Staff photo by Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post--0045222A--Philadelphia, PA...Lincoln Financial Field..Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles..Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron studies his play list on fourth down and goal in the fourth quarter.
Former Miami Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron in 2007. (Photo by Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post)

The frantic rush to stop the bleeding led Huizenga and his staff to interview a dozen candidates over the next two weeks. Included in that rush was Huizenga flying the team plane to Costa Rica, where Pete Carroll, then the coach at USC, was vacationing.

Eventually a list of five finalists emerged – Cameron, the offensive coordinator at San Diego, plus Chan Gailey, Mike Shula, Dom Capers and Jim Mora, Jr.

When the choice finally was made, it was only after Dolphins executives met with Cameron in Davie, went home to sleep on it and returned in the morning to try to find a consensus. Still, nothing. Eventually, they called Cameron back from a local hotel to meet again and, after another question-and-answer session, offered the job.

“There were times when we vacillated,” Huizenga said at the press conference to introduce Cameron. “To be honest with you, it was not an easy decision.”

If that sounds like a businessman still trying to convince himself of a good deal, get a load of this as Huizenga continued to sell Cameron to reporters.

“Everybody looked at how we were going all over the place to find a coach and thought we didn’t know what we were doing,” Huizenga said. “Sometimes it did feel like that.

“Was he (Cameron) the safe choice? No. A little more risky? Yeah. Could this thing blow up on us? Maybe. But we said we’re going for the gold.”

Fool’s gold, as it turned out. Cameron, who was 18-37 at Indiana University in his only previous try at head coaching, went 1-15 in his one season at Miami and was lucky to get that one victory in overtime.

At least Mike Tannenbaum, the executive in charge of the current Dolphins search, appears confident in his decision-making. Within a week or so he should settle on somebody and get busy on a contract.

[If Dolphins can find a coach as tough as Don Shula, I don’t care how old he is]

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Until then, there’s a sense of waiting on the dominoes to fall as a half dozen other teams take turns interviewing the same basic list of candidates. When one or two of them get snapped up, the Dolphins don’t want to be left wishing they had been more decisive, more prepared.

This isn’t like Saban’s departure, a total shock. Miami’s been warming up for this moment for months.