MIAMI - Manager Ozzie Guillen returns to the Marlins dugout Tuesday. The only question is whether any more controversy returns with him.
Guillen has finished serving a five-game suspension for making sympathetic remarks about Fidel Castro that infuriated Miami’s Cuban community.
The controversy exploded last week when Guillen’s comment, “I love Fidel Castro,” surfaced in a Time Magazine story. The Marlins were on the road at the time, but the outrage prompted Guillen to leave the team in Philadelphia to fly back to Miami to make a public apology.
There were no large protests when the Marlins returned home Friday, suggesting that the controversy might be over. But there’s a chance protestors could return Tuesday, knowing that Guillen will be back at Marlins Park.
“It’s going to be an interesting day, no doubt about it,” interim manager Joey Cora said. “But as far as playing the game, I don’t think it has affected the guys. We miss him, he’s our leader, he’s the one in charge.
”But I don’t think the guys are worried about what he said, what he didn’t say, when they are trying to throw strikes or trying to get a hit.“
First baseman Gaby Sanchez, whose father fled Cuba, called it ”a tough situation“ for the Marlins and their fans.
Marlins Park, which opened on April 4, is located in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, which is home to thousands of Cuban Americans.
”You have to understand the Cuban community and everybody of Cuban descent and what their families went through,“ Sanchez said.
”I know Ozzie was very sincere in his apology and I think he did a very good job with that. It’s a tough topic. (But) as baseball players, we can’t do anything about it.“
Sanchez said he and his Marlins teammates were not distracted by the controversy, but the team went 2-3 without Guillen.
They drew 96,060 fans for three games against the Astros over the weekend, Miami’s first series in its home park, which is in the heart of Miami’s Cuban community. That’s an average of 32,020 in a ballpark with a capacity of 37,000.
”Hopefully time passes and things get easier,“ Sanchez said. ”You can understand the Cuban community being upset.
“I know he wasn’t trying to disrespect the Cuban community. My family understood what he was trying to say. They know Ozzie and what type of person he is.”
The best remedy, players say, is winning games.
“Winning helps everything, right?” catcher John Buck said. “That’s what we’re for, to play baseball. If we put a fun team on the field, people will come.”
Still, many Cuban Americans say they won’t accept Guillen’s apology. And many swore never to return to Marlins Park.
A day after Guillen apologized last week, a handful of fans came to Marlins Park (even though the team was in Philadelphia) and burned tickets.
“It’s up to them whether they forgive him,” Buck said.
After needing extra innings in two games to win a series over the Astros, the Marlins don’t want to think about Guillen’s controversy Tuesday. They want to focus on the Cubs.
Overshadowed by the controversy last week was the poor start by right-hander Josh Johnson, who went 0-2 with a 8.38 ERA in his first two starts.
On Wednesday, the day after Guillen apologized in Miami, Johnson allowed six runs on 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings in Philadelphia. He insists his shoulder is fine.
“Our main concern is to play the game and try to win a game against the Cubs,” Cora said. “That’s been our motive the whole time, win games. Hopefully, after Tuesday, we expect everything to be kind of normal.”