Perspective: Will Manso captures Derek Jeter's town hall meeting
MIAMI – It was unreal. It was surreal. Yet, it was very real for Marlins CEO and part owner Derek Jeter to see first hand.
For close to two hours Tuesday, Jeter took question after question from mostly disappointed and angry Marlins fans at Marlins Park.
Let’s get one thing straight. This town hall for selected season ticket holders -- about 200 in total -- was never going to be a win for Jeter with most fans.
This was a night where he had sit there and take his lumps, handle the criticism from die-hard fans and, with a calm demeanor, continue to preach his plan.
At times it was cringe worthy, including a moment where well-known fan "Marlins Man" stepped to the mic and asked Jeter, "Do you know who I am?"
Jeter, with a slight grin, answered, "I've heard of you."
The exchange led to four minutes of Marlins Man detailing ways to improve the experience at Marlins Park from "Marlins Man Monday's" to allowing him to throw out a first pitch at a game.
He wasn't alone. Fans threw theories at Jeter from free tickets to games to just signing more pitching.
At another point, a disappointed fan wept as she described how hard it's been to see the team she loves get broken apart again.
Many fans made good points about why anyone should trust Jeter over previous regimes who also traded away key players.
In all, dozens of fans asked questions and Jeter listened closely. He said he understood the frustrations and continued to ask for patience to allow his plan to work.
What is his plan?
Jeter stressed many times throughout the night that the old way just didn't work. The Marlins were losing big money under previous owner Jeffrey Loria and weren't winning enough games to be a contender. Jeter kept reiterating that the team hasn't had a winning season since 2009 and hasn't made the playoffs in 14 years.
He also harped on how bad the Marlins farm system was before the trades they made to ship away some very popular and productive players, including NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton.
Because of that, Jeter said his plan is this:
Build up the farm system to have a productive and deep pipeline to the majors. He pointed out the handful of teams who have taken this approach and succeeded and said throwing money at the problem would not solve things.
Oh yes, and how about the money questions? Jeter made it a point to be clear that this ownership group is not having financial troubles, as speculated by some. Instead, he believes they need to reshape the way things are done to have financial flexibility for the future.
He told fans that eventually they could add pieces by spending money when the plan is in place, though he wouldn't specify how long that may take.
Overall, I was impressed with how Jeter handled the various questions and the many outbursts from very emotional and passionate fans.
That doesn't mean I agreed with everything Jeter said.
Jeter mentioned that he felt the team needed to embrace the Latin community more with Latin music playing at the ballpark and more signs around the park in Spanish.
I'm sorry. I feel pretty confident saying this as a Cuban-American who has a lot of Latin family and friends who love baseball -- music, food and signs at the ballpark aren't what will bring out more Latin fans to Marlins Park. Winning is the answer. It's that simple.
The Latin community is no different than any other community in South Florida. They love winning. The Marlins have had plenty of talented Latin players and numerous Latin-themed nights. None of that has changed the poor attendance problems.
I can also see why some fans would be turned off by the vagueness in some of Jeter's answers.
Jeter is a master of saying a lot but not saying much. That's by design. He doesn't talk too much in the specifics of his plan or give timelines for things to change.
Jeter says he doesn't want to promise fans something and then not be able to deliver.
It's probably the right approach to take as an owner, but that doesn't help ease the feelings fans have about getting duped again by this franchise.
The biggest step Jeter took was allowing this night to happen in the first place.
I've said all along, Jeter didn't create this Marlins mess. He inherited this from Loria. But the one thing Jeter has to do moving forward is distancing himself from that regime.
The town hall was a good start. Loria was rarely accessible to fans and as reluctant to talk about his plans to the media. He always treated people like he was the smartest guy in the room and no one could question his opinions.
Jeter's first two months were coming too close to that type of attitude, though not all by his doing. While Jeter said that much of what's been reported about the way he's handled things hasn't been true, it was on him to step out in front of the perception and start reversing it.
This was a positive step. He came across as respectful and compassionate to fans and determined to fix the mess the Marlins have become.
This was a night Loria never would have been a part of in this type of setting. It was part-roast and part fan airing out session.
Jeter was the one who had to take the insults, criticism and emotion.
His best answer of the night was telling fans he knows they can't trust him because they don't know him, but he asked them to give him a chance to change that.
He added that only time will tell if fans will ever believe he's a different type of Marlins owner.
Jeter said this would be the first of a handful of town hall meetings with fans to help change the owner-fans relationship with the franchise.
In the end, a wild, often surreal and sometimes flat-out bizarre couple of hours ended with Jeter smiling.
He left saying he felt it was a good night and that he got a better understanding of the fans concerns.
Jeter, at least, looked the part of caring owner. That's something this town hasn't had for a long time from a baseball owner.
Now it's time to turn those words in actions.
It's just the first step in trying to repair his image with Marlins fans. There are many more to come.
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