Marlins readying for Yankees
Florida set to take on Bronx Bombers for two exhibition games
JUPITER, Fla. -- Who says all exhibition games don't mean anything?
Excitement already is building for the Marlins' final two Spring Training games. The primary reason is because the storied New York Yankees are visiting Dolphin Stadium on Friday and Saturday for the final two preseason games.
Crowds of 30,000 are expected for the two night games. Friday's start time is 7:10 p.m. ET, while Saturday's contest gets underway at 6:10 p.m.
"Any time the Yankees come in there is always a lot of hype, just because of who they are," said Luis Gonzalez, the 40-year-old about to enter his 18th big league season.
Playing host to the Yankees sets up an all-New York upcoming week in South Florida.
After taking on the Yankees to close out Spring Training, the Marlins celebrate Opening Day on Monday with the first of three against the Mets.
"It's time for the season to start," Marlins president David Samson said. "We've got two exhibition games against the Yankees. We've got the Yankees and Mets back-to-back, which doesn't happen too many times. There is going to be a lot of baseball for people to see."
The exhibitions with the Yankees also marks the return of former Marlins manager Joe Girardi, who replaced Joe Torre as New York's skipper this year.
Girardi managed the Marlins in 2006, guiding them to a 78-84 record in his lone season in South Florida.
"It's going to be cool to see Joe," first baseman Mike Jacobs said. "Any time you play the Yankees is something pretty cool. It's the Yankees, bottom line. It's the Yankees. It will be a good test for us. It will definitely get us ready for the regular season. Those games will be played more like real games than Spring Training games."
After six weeks of Spring Training, the Marlins are ready to get the regular season going.
On Thursday morning, players were packing their bags in preparation to head down to Miami.
"I think we're all just excited to get out of [Jupiter] and playing meaningful games," Jacobs said.
The Marlins once again remain one of the youngest teams in the league.
The organization received a boost since the start of Spring Training, when local officials finalized a funding plan to construct the team a new retractable-roof park that is set to open in 2011.
As the organization pushes forward on the stadium front, the youthful squad is gaining experience.
President of baseball operations Larry Beinfest has assembled some of the most talented young players in the game, including 24-year-old shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
All spring, manager Fredi Gonzalez has put an emphasis on improving defensively.
"If you talk to Larry and Fredi, they will tell you, their expectations are to see this team get better and win games," Samson said. "We need to get better defensively, play smarter and be a better team. We certainly are expecting good things."
Tickets for the weekend games with the Yankees, as well as all Marlins home games, are available at floridamarlins.com.
"I'm sure for our fans, they are very excited," Luis Gonzalez said of facing New York. "For us, it is two more tune-up games for the regular season."
A number of the current Marlins faced the Yankees in Interleague Play in 2006, when a three-game series was played in New York.
The Yankees took two of three in that series, which featured a doubleheader to make up a rainout.
"I did not like to hit there at all," Jacobs said. "It felt like you were standing in the middle of the field when you were in the batter's box. The backstop is so far away. It was really weird.
"I made an error there, and their fans were all over me. But other than that, it was definitely a neat experience. One I will never forget. I got a cool picture of it."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.