Spring training is a busy time for every MLB club, but many eyes are focused on the Miami Marlins and their new hitting coach, Barry Bonds.
The Marlins hired Bonds back in December, making the home run king the most famous hitting coach in the sport, and making this his first spring training since retiring as a player.
Bonds’ first day on the job came Thursday, and the slugger joked to USA Today he was entering unfamiliar territory. “The first time in my career I don’t have a parking spot,” Bonds said. “I have no idea where I’m going.”
Bonds isn’t the only person left confused at the start of Marlins spring training. Many fans accustomed to lining up for autographs outside the Marlins’ clubhouse will no longer be able to, thanks to a change in approach by the team.
With such a big name now in the fold, the Marlins are blocking off traditional fan access points and covering the existing fence with mesh, in anticipation of the added interest in the club — much to the chagrin of the fans themselves.
The team claims the efforts were done for fan safety reasons — they do not want eager autograph seekers wandering through a busy parking lot in order to get a signature. However, many fans expressed their displeasure with the move to the Palm Beach Post
“They put that up to keep the millionaires away from the fans,’’ said Rich Reeves of Atlanta.
“I don’t understand why after all of these years they’re doing this now,’’ said Richie Nestro of Jupiter. “This ballpark used to be real fan-friendly. I used to bring my grandson. He got to get close to Giancarlo and all the players. Now, by putting up this fence, that’s out the window.’’
“I just don’t get the point, after all these years, closing it off now,’’ said Adam Alexander of West Palm Beach. “My son is 9. He was looking forward to coming to get autographs. He’s disappointed.’’
In the past, fans were be able to pass items through the fence to get autographs, but with the mesh covering, they can barely even see who the players are, let alone get an autograph. The Palm Beach Post also spoke with Marlins VP Claude Delorme, who pointed out that the changes to access were requested by the manager.
“Mattingly asked us to look into it so we could better control the transition (of players) from field to field during the workouts,’’ Delorme said.
The team also replaced some of their spring training stadium’s cheapest seats with a “Bullpen Club” section where seats cost three times as much as the grass knoll that was in its place.
The Marlins maintain the changes will not prevent fans from interacting with the team, but it is easy to see how fans might feel spurned by their local team. This latest move is another example of MLB teams doing no favors to the perception they only care about their wealthiest fans.