Marlins will be flying 1st class this season in new plane

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) At 23, Miami Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich is young enough to appreciate the team's roomy new plane, because he remembers all too well riding in cramped minor-league buses.

The longest trip was 14 hours, between Jacksonville, Florida, and Jackson, Tennessee. His team would leave at 8 a.m. and arrive after dark.

''It was nothing worse than for probably every other guy in this room,'' Yelich said, looking around the spring training clubhouse he shares with some 60 teammates. ''Sometimes the air conditioning wouldn't work, or the bus would break down and you're just sitting there. That's why I say any kind of plane is awesome.''

The Marlins won't be flying in just any kind of plane. They've upgraded this year, leasing a Boeing 767-200 from a private company and retrofitting the jet to their liking. The cabin will have 84 extra-large first-class seats, couches, a massage table and card tables.

The plane will look different from the outside, too, because it will bear the Marlins' logo.

''We want to give our players every opportunity to perform at the highest level they can,'' president of baseball operations Michael Hill said.

West Coast teams began the move away from charters. The A's and Mariners used a private carrier last year, and the World Series champion Giants are leasing a jet this season.

''The players are going to travel hopefully more comfortably and save some wear and tear,'' Giants general manager Brian Sabean said.

For the Marlins to be joining the trend is yet another sign that the historically thrifty franchise has embarked on a new era. The transformation began with the record $325 million, 13-year contract the team gave slugger Giancarlo Stanton in November.

Subsequent acquisitions followed that will likely push the payroll above $70 million, by far the team's largest since 2012.

Owner Jeffrey Loria approved a bigger budget in other areas as well. Team president David Samson said the increased spending is possible because the franchise has reached financial stability entering the fourth year in its new ballpark, and revenue growth is projected in the next few years.

With that in mind, the Marlins have expanded their scouting, player development, marketing and sales departments. They've hired executive chefs to prepare meals at home games.

Samson declined to quantify the cost - or the benefit.

''I'm hopeful the little things we do will make a difference at the end of the year,'' he said. ''There's no way to measure it, but it feels right.''

That's the case with the plane. In the past, the Marlins took charter flights, with the front office and coaching staff in first class and players in coach.

Closer Steve Cishek said he would never complain, because he realizes big-leaguers are spoiled. But he acknowledged the charter flights were tough on his 6-foot-6 frame.

''I'm a guy who hates people that recline,'' Cishek said. ''I wasn't comfortable by any means. You were kind of scrunched up.

''You've got Stanton curled up in a ball trying to sleep. He's a big dude - he needs to be able to stretch his legs out.''

The discomfort was compounded because the Marlins' trips cover more distance than most teams. It takes them five hours to get to the West Coast.

Samson believes the more comfortable plane can help prevent injuries.

''These guys play 162 games in 183 days,'' he said. ''It's nonstop, and it hurts. Our job is to keep the best team we can on the field as long as possible. If you're crumpled up with your legs dangling over your arm rest, that's not the prime way to be ready to play the next day.''

Yelich agreed, mindful that two years ago he was still boarding Double-A buses.

''Just the fact we've got a plane is awesome,'' Yelich said. ''For it to have perks is even cooler.''

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AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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