Fishing For Marlin Fans

March 09, 1998

Hairstylist to Ted Koppel? A breeze.

Century 21 agent in Gary, Ind.? Piece of cake.

Manners consultant to USA Hockey? A joy.

Try selling Florida Marlins tickets.

Since the Marlins won the world championship last October, they
have been scaled, gutted and filleted. They are a 1997 Silver
Shadow stripped down to crankshaft, half an axle and one wiper.
Even before the hangovers lifted, owner Insane Wayne Huizenga,
who had put the club up for sale last June, started selling off
players like Nike stock. He traded 10 players, and three others
are gone. Of his five starting pitchers from last year, only two
are left. Wildly popular first baseman Jeff Conine? Gone. World
Series hero Moises Alou? Gone. Ace righthander Kevin Brown? Gone.

The 1998 Florida Marlins: Come See the Uniforms That Won the
World Series!

The Marlins today are a tattered piece of bunting hanging limply
off a wall, a lonely hanger squeaking in the clubhouse air
conditioning and the sound of a whole lot of phones not ringing.
In the front office every day to not answer them is 31-year-old
director of season- and group-ticket sales Lou DePaoli, whose
job is to sell seats on the Hindenburg.

DePaoli is perfect for it. He's the kind of guy who could come
upon his house burning to the ground and get out the
marshmallows. Since nobody is calling him and his staff, they
are cold-calling people. "What we tell them is, 'Hey, it's still
baseball,'" DePaoli says. "'It's still the crack of the bat! The
green grass! The Cracker Jack!' C'mon, how can you beat that?"

The 1998 Florida Marlins: Hey, Look at It This Way--We're Still
in the Majors!

Nobody in the history of ticket peddlers has had the kind of
nightmare off-season DePaoli has--from Insane Wayne's Fire Sale
to the new book portraying manager Jim Leyland as a foulmouthed,
coffee-hopped chauvinist to team president Don Smiley's not
being able to find enough saps to help him buy the club to the
rumors that superstar Gary Sheffield and his $61 million
contract are next to go. DePaoli has to deal with all this, plus
a stadium that was the scene of 30 rain delays last season and
was built for football.

The 1998 Florida Marlins: We Know Dan Marino Personally!

"Look, there are days when I'd like to bite something in half,"
DePaoli says. "I mean, I'd love to be selling that 1997 roster.
But then I snap out of it and go, 'Hey, what's the use in
feeling sorry for myself?' and I get back to work!"

Except now, instead of selling Al Leiter and Devon White,
DePaoli is stuck with Joe Fontenot and Mark Kotsay. What, him
worry? His marketing slogan for this year is, The 1998 Florida
Marlins: Catch a live one! Which is probably better than The
1998 Florida Marlins: Wait Till Last Year!

"People say we unloaded our stars," DePaoli says, "but do you
realize that in our organization we have eight of the top 100
young prospects, according to Baseball America? That leaves only
92 for the other 29 teams! That's like three a team! We're
killin' 'em!"

Insane Wayne should be thanked for all of this, really. He
didn't just foist upon this country a plague of sterile video
joints, he gave us exhibit A for what went wrong with sports in
the 1990s: Billionaire craves attention, buys franchise, buys
players, buys World Series, ego fed, sells players, sells
franchise. Hey, Wayne, thanks for stopping by the booth!

Meanwhile, some poor dad in Ocala is explaining to his
eight-year-old son why all the heroes on the kid's wall are in
San Diego now. If Bud Selig were alive, this would have never
happened.

The 1998 Florida Marlins: Come See the World Champs! (When They
Come Through Town.)

The other day DePaoli cold-called his nine millionth lead about
buying a Marlins season ticket. The man on the other end
couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Are you kidding?" the guy
wailed. "My 10-year-old cried for an hour the day you traded
Moises Alou. That was his favorite player!"

To which DePaoli replied without a blink, "Sure, but do you
realize Mark Kotsay is on the alltime College World Series team?"

Topping it all off, the Marlins raised their ticket prices 12%.

The 1998 Florida Marlins: We're Not Going to Spend a Lot for a
Baseball Team! (But You Are.)

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK [Rick Reilly]

Nobody in the history of ticket peddlers has had the kind of
nightmare off-season Lou DePaoli has.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)