Thursday, July 26, 2012

Michael Lawson says goodbye to the Marlins

Michael Lawson and his sons attend the Home Run Derby
in Kansas City, July, 2012.

Michael Lawson loves the game of baseball.

We all know someone like Lawson.

He's the  guy who lives and breathes every aspect of the game.

And he just doesn't attend games. He buys jerseys and ball caps and baseball memorabilia. He takes his sons to games. Earlier this year he completed a pilgrimage started ten years ago that included a visit to every major league ballpark in America.

In a town full of bandwagon jumpers and fair weather fans, Michael Lawson is a rarity. He's a true fan. 

I met Lawson 11 years ago this week at Pro Player stadium where he had gone to watch the Marlins play the Cincinnati Reds on a Sunday.

I was shooting pictures for a New York Times story on poor attendance at Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays games.

From the photographer's pit I spotted Lawson high up in the cheap seats. From my vantage point at field level, he appeared as just a solitary speck in the midst of a sea of empty, orange seats. I made my way up to his section and shot a few images.

He told me that he lived just 10 minutes away from the stadium and that he often came to the ball park on days when his wife was shopping or out with friends. He was unapologetic when he admitted to me that he enjoyed the solitude afforded by an empty section.

Michael Lawson at a Marlins game at Pro Player
Stadium, July, 2001.

Lawson was enthusiastic and optimistic about the Marlins' future on that Sunday.

He told New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, that he believed the fans would eventually return.

Bragg wrote:
But just in case major league baseball in Miami is only a passing dream, "I'll relish every moment I can," [Lawson] said.
Fast forward 11 years. Lawson sent me this email today:
I still have the front page of the NY Times framed and hanging up in my house and I'll never forget getting the paper that day day, going right to the Sports section and then realizing it was on the front page.
I still use baseball as my escape from it all and just finished visiting all the MLB parks this year.
You'll still find me still sitting alone from time to time in the Upper Deck at some random ballpark, but mainly with my 2 little boys who have started to adopt a love for the game as well.
In his email to me, Lawson pasted a copy of an open letter he wrote to the Marlins last night. He has also sent the email to a few sports writers.
Dear Florida/Miami Marlins,

I’m officially done with you. I am sick and tired of watching you be a farm team for the rest of Major League Baseball. I was there the day the first pitch was thrown and traveled 1,000+ miles this year to see the new stadium only to continue to get let down once again.

The continuous trades make me sick, with all the money I have spent on merchandise and tickets. Over the years, I have said goodbye via trade to Josh Beckett, Kevin Brown, Jeff Conine, Bobby Bonilla, Edgar Renteria, Moises Alou, Gary Sheffield, Al Leiter, Robb Nen, Mike Piazza, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Dempster, Cliff Floyd, Charles Johnson, Mike Hampton, Kevin Millar, Adrian Gonzalez, Derrek Lee, Brad Penny, Mike Lowell, Luis Castillo, Juan Pierre, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and now Anibal Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez. With the trade deadline still six days away, I doubt I will recognize the lineup on 8/1.

Thanks for the two World Series victories, though. I was in the stadium for Game 7 of the 1997 World Series cheering as Craig Counsell crossed home plate, and then back for Opening Day in 1998, cheering after you decimated the team, as everyone booed Wayne Huizenga while he was driven around the field in a gold cart during the pre-game ceremonies.

I travel every year back to South Florida to see the team in Spring Training and during the regular season, only to constantly have this happen. I’m now done for good. You are like a bad relationship that you keep telling yourself will only get better. You are the definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

It is my time now to make a trade. Your entire organization is being traded for a new club which houses many of your former players: the Detroit Tigers. I have been following them for many years, as I took up residence there, but always retained my loyalty to you.

Not any longer. 100% of my loyalty has been shifted. It will no longer be “Let’s Go Fish,” but “Let’s Go Tigers.”

Goodbye Billy the Marlin, and hello Paws. Thanks for the memories, though. The good ones were erased by all of the moves you made over the years, but I will always be grateful to you for bringing a professional sports team to South Florida. Even though Joe Robbie, Pro Player, Dolphins and Sun Life Stadium were empty on most nights, I paid my hard earned money to see live professional baseball for many years and created everlasting memories that I will carry with me for ever, with the last one being now.

It’s been real,

Michael Lawson

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