Florida Marlins beat reporter gives TTFB the inside scoop
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I was fortunate to work with Juan C. Rodriguez, the Florida Marlins beat reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, before he got his first sports writing gig. While we weren’t bosom buddies, Juan was aware of the fantasy league I was in. We chatted about baseball a few times in the company lunch room, so I knew he was a big fan of the game. At the time, I had no idea where his career would lead him.
After a year at our marketing company, Juan joined Florida Today in Cocoa Beach in 1996. A year later, he began covering the Marlins midway through their first championship season. “That was pretty good timing for my first official writing beat,” says Juan, who lives in South Florida with his wife and two kids. He moved to The Miami Herald in 1999 as a sports business writer, but wound up covering FSU football and professional tennis. “I had the chance to cover Wimbledon, the French Open and the US Open a few times,” he says. “So again, I was pretty lucky.”
And speaking of luck, the Marlins beat writer position opened midway through the 2002 season, and Juan jumped at the opportunity. Again, his timing was impeccable when the Marlins memorable pennant drive and playoff run ended with a championship in 2003. “There are beat reporters who have followed teams their entire careers and never had the chance to cover a World Series,” says Juan. “For both Marlins World Series wins, I was in the right place at the right time.”
Earlier this week, Juan and I spent 90 minutes talking baseball, the Marlins and his experiences on the job. I’m breaking our convo into two parts. Here’s Part I: The life of a beat reporter.
TTFB: What are the best and worst things about being a professional baseball beat reporter?
Travel. It’s both the best and the worst. I love to travel, and I did a lot of sightseeing early on. But today, road trips mean I get to catch up on sleep. Travel is a double-edged sword when you have a family. While I get to visit great cities and ballparks, I’m not home to support my wife and kids as much as I’d like. There have been times during the season where the Mrs. has wondered aloud if I should be doing something different. In all seriousness, it’s great just being around the game. I love baseball. Reporters who have access to the players, we’re a small fraternity. We spend a lot of time together traveling from city to city, and you get to know the players on a level fans simply can’t. I feel very privileged to have that access.
TTFB: So you don’t take your job for granted?
Absolutely not. At the same time, I don’t romanticize it either. I don’t pinch myself when I’m interviewing Albert Pujols or other prominent players. But I realize millions of people would love to do what I do. So, in the middle of August – when the season starts wearing on you and there still are six weeks to go – I remind myself how fortunate I am to do what I do, and it keeps me going.
TTFB: What are your favorite and not-so-favorite cities and stadiums to visit?
I was raised in New York, so going back is always a treat. Shea wasn’t the greatest of stadiums, but Citi Field is much nicer and makes the trip more enjoyable. I love the West Coast – the ballparks in San Diego, LA and San Francisco are fantastic. Dodger Stadium, as old as it is, is so pristine; it’s one of my favorites. Some of the Midwest cities are, well, so-so. For example, St. Louis isn’t my kind of city, but the baseball environment is tremendous. Cardinal fans are probably the best in baseball. Pittsburgh, I like. PNC Park is cozy and a great place to watch games. It’s one of my favorites despite the press box being so high and far away from the field. Makes for great views of the city, though!
TTFB: There is only one season left at cavernous Sun Life Stadium, thankfully. Moving into the new ballpark should be both a treat and relief for fans and players. Have you been to the new stadium?
Yes, I have. The Marlins hold quarterly media tours of the new facility, so it has been great to see the park progress from the ground up. It looks gorgeous. People have been bickering about the location at the old Orange Bowl site – how difficult it’s going to be to get there. The Marlins put a lot of planning into the project, and I think it’s going to be a lot easier to get in and out than people think. The best part? You’ll be guaranteed nine innings of uninterrupted baseball in a climate-controlled setting. It should be fantastic. Jeffrey Loria is an art dealer, and his stamp is all over the stadium design and décor. I think it’s going to be one of the jewels of the game as far as ballparks go.
TTFB: With it, too, comes additional revenue to help with payroll.
No doubt about it. Payroll has always been a problem for the Marlins from a fan perspective. Fans are afraid to get attached to players because the expectation is the best ones will get traded once their value goes up. But that has been changing lately. The Marlins are hanging on to core guys now, and the stadium revenue is only going to help field a competitive team.
TTFB: And fans need to understand that. While losing favorites like Cody Ross and Dan Uggla created a public outcry, I think the Marlins have done a masterful job positioning this team for the future.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: Are fans cheering for the name on the front of the uniform or the name on the back of the uniform? The Marlins name is always going to be there and the names on the backs are going to change as they do with all franchises. It’s tough to see fan favorites like Cody go because he was so beloved and a guy to root for. He’s got a great personality, and he’s great to deal with from a media standpoint. I can understand the fan bitterness, but the Marlins did what they had to do to create room in the outfield for Cameron Maybin, at the time. Ultimately, that project didn’t work out. But if they don’t move Ross, they don’t eventually move Maybin and, ultimately, help the bullpen. Moving players is always part of a team’s master plan.
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