|Marlins gather to honor '97 World Series champs|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 14 June 2007 14:08|
He was a budding star in 1997, an All-Star catcher for Florida, and got a huge hit in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series that helped the Marlins force extra innings - where, of course, they would eventually top the Cleveland Indians 3-2 and claim the franchise's first world championship.
The next year, the Marlins were baseball's worst team, the roster dismantled by an offseason series of salary-slashing moves.
And Johnson still wishes the fire sale never happened.
``History could have been made here,'' Johnson said, the 1997 championship ring on his right hand. ``I tell you what, we had the players to make history.''
Instead, that one year is all they have to remember.
Many of those players - 13, to be exact - were back at the ballpark Thursday, reminiscing over that championship season and gathering for a brief on-field ceremony before the current versions of the Marlins and Indians finished a three-game interleague series. Each player was introduced to the crowd, and some fans wore replica jerseys from the '97 season.
``It doesn't seem like 10 years ago that I was running around like a kid, my hands in the air, turning circles and doing pirouettes and stuff,'' said catcher Darren Daulton, who hit .389 in that World Series. ``I let loose that night. It seems like another life. It seems like a long time ago. But this, this is a great thing.''
Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez couldn't have agreed more.
He was the organization's Double-A manager in Portland, Maine that season. Being a Marlins employee, he got tickets for World Series home games; his seat was a couple of rows behind one of the bullpens. And he got a ring, too, which he keeps in a safe-deposit box unless he's going to a special event like a wedding.
``After it all happened, it was like, 'Did it really happen?' You had to pinch yourself a little bit,'' Gonzalez said. ``It was kind of surreal.''
The Marlins were down 2-1 entering the bottom of the ninth of Game 7, with Cleveland three outs from its first championship since 1948 and 67,204 fans at what was then-called Pro Player Stadium anxiously seeing if the 5-year-old Florida franchise could rally.
Johnson's hit off Indians closer Jose Mesa got Moises Alou to third, and Alou tied it on Craig Counsell's sacrifice fly. Then in the 11th inning, an error by Cleveland second baseman Tony Fernandez set up Edgar Renteria's bases-loaded single with two outs that brought Counsell home and gave the wild-card Marlins the title.
Jay Powell, who got the win in Game 7 after throwing a scoreless 11th inning, was there Thursday. So were Todd Dunwoody, Pat Rapp, Alex Arias, Kurt Abbott, John Cangelosi, Dennis Cook, Jim Eisenreich, Devon White, Alex Fernandez and Al Leiter. (Many other Marlins, along with manager Jim Leyland, had a good reason for not being part of the ceremony - they're still in the major leagues elsewhere.)
Hugs were shared, photos got signed and some guys who hadn't seen each other in years got a chance to catch up.
``Ten years. ... It went way too fast,'' Johnson said.
The Marlins gathered for a players-only meeting shortly after Game 7 in the team's training room, just them and the trophy, where each man got to say what the championship run meant to him. Johnson doesn't remember what was said; he just remembers that it was the final time the players were together as teammates.
And that's why, even though only about half the team was back for this gathering, it meant plenty to Johnson and the other '97 Marlins.
``It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,'' Eisenreich said. ``We got the ultimate goal.''