Marlins parade, say McKeon will return

Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2003

MIAMI The loudest cheers from the tens of thousands of Marlins fans lined up to celebrate their World Series champions came when team owner Jeffrey Loria made a simple promise: The team won't be broken up.

With that declaration Tuesday, six years of malcontent and mistrust between South Florida baseball fans and the Marlins vanished.

''This is not 1997. This is 2003. We are not dismantling. Thank you,'' said Loria, who hoisted the World Series trophy as he was ferried in a convertible through the streaming ticker tape and jersey-clad fans.

Keeping the team intact means manager Jack McKeon will be back next year. He agreed to a one-year extension, Loria announced during the celebration.

''I have some good news and a little bad news. The good news is Jack is coming back,'' Loria said. ''The bad news is there's no bad news.''

McKeon, 72, took over when manager Jeff Torborg was fired in May and engineered the Marlins' turnaround from last place team to World Series champions.

''I always had no doubt I was coming back,'' said McKeon, who refused to formally announce his intentions during the season.

When Florida won the title in 1997, the celebration was tempered as fans braced for cost cutting by then-owner H. Wayne Huizenga. The result was a last-place finish in 1998 and a steady decline in attendance, which lasted until this year's surprising playoff run.

''In 1997 we were on top of the world,'' said Danny Parra, a sales representative who brought his two sons to Tuesday's rally. ''In '98, we hit rock bottom. I think everybody knows they won't be able to keep everybody, but if they keep a nucleus intact, we'll be happy.''

Leaning from windows along the start of the parade route, fans threw clumps of ticker tape while some commuter trains were plastered with signs declaring: ''We love the Marlins.''

A victory drive through the city's Little Havana neighborhood followed. City workers shredded 2 tons of paper to serve as ticker tape while banners and balloons streamed off office buildings along the route festooned with freshly painted team and World Series logos.

Later in Fort Lauderdale, a boat parade and second rally celebrated the Marlins, who beat the New York Yankees 2-0 on Saturday night to win the title in six games.

Marlins players glided along New River on cigarette boats with their names on the side as crowds on the shore cheered and fireworks were lit off from nearby bridges. The team disembarked at Los Olas Riverfront, where fans went crazy.

In Miami, Mayor Manny Diaz walked onto the stage with a staffer carrying a sign that read: ''If we build it, will you come?'' Diaz and Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas have been talking to the Marlins for several months about new stadium possibilities, but no plans have been completed.

''The fact that they won the World Series doesn't mean we're going to give away the kitchen sink,'' Penelas said. ''There's got to be four players in this lineup. The team's got to come to the table with a significant amount of money, the county's got to put its part, the city of Miami ... and the state's got to put a piece in.''

The Marlins won the World Series with a modest $54 million payroll, and yet still were projected to lose millions this season in part because they lease stadium rights from Huizenga and do not have the same sources of revenue that other teams enjoy.

Officials had predicted that at least 100,000 people would attend the daylong celebration in Miami. Police officers declined to release an official estimate Tuesday.

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