When we last saw the Marlins in a game that mattered, they were trudging off the field after losing at Sun Life Stadium, concluding the regular season with a last-place finish in the National League East.
Now defending World Series champion St. Louis will help Miami (nee Florida) officially christen the sleek Marlins Park on Wednesday night. And what we have never seen before is two teams meeting on Opening Night that have undergone such dramatic transformations over a single winter.
The Fish, of course, have been the talk of baseball. Their new retractable-roof home has been even more of a transformative agent than most fans could have dreamed.
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
Some of the changes begat further change. The addition of Reyes moved All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez to third. Reyes cut his trademark dreadlocks to conform with club policy.
An old and true baseball axiom is that people don't pay to see the manager, but the organization was willing to compensate the White Sox for allowing the brash and opinionated Ozzie Guillen out of the final year of his contract, assuring that there won't be a dull moment this season.
The close personal relationship that the voluble Guillen has with the volatile Carlos Zambrano helped convince the Marlins to take a chance on the big right-hander. Zambrano responded with a solid spring that earned him a spot in the rotation.
Add new uniforms featuring new colors and a new logo, and suddenly anything and everything seems possible in South Florida. Miami is now equipped to compete with anybody in the deep and balanced NL East.
"I'm just excited to step into a whole new chapter for our team," said Opening Day starter Josh Johnson. "It's going to be totally new going to the park. It will be different, that's for sure."
Owner Jeffrey Loria couldn't have been happier when he arrived at Spring Training.
"This is exhilarating -- the whole process, the culmination of building a glorious facility and being in a situation where we felt that now was the time to move forward with the club we want," Loria told reporters.
"I'll put my club up against anybody's. We're going to have a fun year. Certainly, the environment is going to be nothing short of spectacular."
St. Louis Cardinals
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
The Cardinals project to be strong contenders in their division as well, but they'll have a different look, too.
It's not unprecedented for a manager who wins the World Series in October not to return the following spring. Heck, Tony La Russa's decision to retire was the third time it's happened in Cardinals history. Red Schoendienst took over for Johnny Keane after St. Louis won it all in 1964, and Bob O'Farrell replaced Rogers Hornsby after the 1926 title.
La Russa's departure after 16 years is bound to cause a dramatic culture change, no matter how smoothly rookie manager Mike Matheny takes over.
"It's a different culture, whether you like it or not. It's taken some time," Matheny told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "The bottom line is, we have to win. I fully realize that. You just try to create an environment that people want to be part of."
What is unique, however, is for a team to lose both its manager and one of baseball's premier hitters in the same offseason, which is the situation in St. Louis after Albert Pujols passed on a huge offer to stay to accept an even huger offer to play for the Angels.
"It's going to be different," right-hander Kyle Lohse, who starts for St. Louis on Wednesday, told reporters. "But it's a business, and we have 25 guys who'll pull together to win as many games as we can. That's the way it goes."
Throw in the fact that respected pitching coach Dave Duncan is taking a leave of absence, and the degree of change the Cardinals have undergone becomes even more striking.
St. Louis can rely on a few old standbys, though. Matt Holliday took over Pujols' Spring Training locker and also figures to step into the third spot in the batting order. Lance Berkman, who rejuvenated his career after signing with the Cardinals last season, will take over at first base.
For all the attention paid to the Marlins' additions, it's worth noting that they, too, will be counting on a nucleus that was already in place, one that includes Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison, Emilio Bonifacio, Ricky Nolasco and Johnson.
The Cardinals and Marlins share Roger Dean Stadium during Spring Training, they will play each other in the first regular-season series at Marlins Park, and it wouldn't be a surprise if they end up seeing each other in the postseason this October.