MIAMI — South Florida’s club of extremely famous, extremely successful retired athletes who are also newbie sports executives has two members: the Miami Marlins’ Derek Jeter and the Miami MLS team’s David Beckham.
So, Jeter was asked Wednesday afternoon, would he be willing to make a gentleman’s bet with Beckham about which team would win a championship first?
Jeter didn’t exactly jump at the opportunity.
“We’re starting from a bigger hole, a deeper hole than he is,” Jeter said with a smile.
A ballroom full of local business leaders, attending a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Coral Gable Country Club with the Marlins’ CEO, burst into laughter.
The expansion MLS team, which doesn’t have a name and hasn’t broken ground on a stadium yet, won’t start playing until 2020. The Marlins, who began in earnest a rebuild of their debt-ridden organization this winter, have traded most of their best players to begin restocking a farm system that Jeter and other team decision-makers hope will eventually yield perennial success.
That rebuild was a central topic of discussion with Jeter on Wednesday. During a half-hour Q&A session, he was peppered with questions about everything from the organization’s thought process behind recent trades to how the Marlins can keep their next generation of stars to the home-run sculpture in left-center field.
It was a chance for locals with some sway — either with their companies or with their money or both — to rub elbows a bit with Jeter. Similarly, it was a chance for Jeter to put to use one of the Marlins’ best marketing assets — his name and face — and yuk it up in the community, something he has done on several occasions since taking over the team.
Jeter did not take questions from reporters. He did not address the firing of the man inside the Billy the Marlin costume.
Much of what Jeter said echoed the themes he has stuck to since his introductory news conference in October: The Marlins were bad, and have been bad, so change needed to happen. The Marlins have a long-term plan that, Jeter hopes and expects, will put them in a spot where they can be successful every year. The Marlins are working to build relationships with fans and local businesses. Patience is a significant part of this process.
Jeter didn’t offer much insight regarding the home run sculpture. (The Marlins and Miami-Dade County, which owns Marlins Park and the sculpture, are considering moving it.)
“That’s a topic of passion when it comes to Marlins fans,” Jeter said. “We are always looking to make our fan experience better. We are listening to what you all are saying. I didn’t answer (the question), but that’s the best I can do.”
One question of particular long-term relevance: When the next for-now-theoretical Marlins core grows up and becomes successful, how will the Marlins keep it intact? Holding onto their own stars, from Miguel Cabrera to Giancarlo Stanton, has historically been an issue the Marlins.
Jeter’s answer: Your money would help.
“Help from a lot of you in this room, right?” Jeter said. “Obviously we have to get the fans back into the stadium. We need support from our corporate partners, which we have gotten since we got here. Contrary to popular belief … we have gotten a lot of support from our local partners.
“So we need people to come along this journey with us.”