BY STEVEN WINE
MIAMI (AP) — Speaking Tuesday at Marlins Park, Derek Jeter said he was about to jump in the car and head down to spring training, even though the Miami Marlins’ camp is actually up in Jupiter, 90 miles north on Interstate 95.
Now in his fifth month on the job, Jeter acknowledged he’s still finding his bearings as the Marlins’ CEO.
The team opens camp Wednesday following a Jeter-led fire sale that purged the batting order of four starters, including NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. The trades netted mostly prospects, making the immediate outlook even bleaker than usual for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2003.
But before heading to his first spring training since his final season with the New York Yankees in 2014, Jeter said his ownership group is on the path to long-term success.
“We’re in a good spot,” Jeter said. “We are doing exactly what we set out to do.”
A beloved five-time World Series champion in New York, Jeter is now a rookie owner who has been faulted for his handling of the Stanton deal and other offseason moves.
But Jeter said he has been encouraged by the reception he has received from the South Florida business community. It helps that his group bought the team from the wildly unpopular Jeffrey Loria.
“Contrary to popular belief, we’ve gotten a very warm welcome from individuals and corporations who have reached out and said they want to be a part of this journey,” Jeter said. “People understand that there needed to be some change here.”
The same is true around baseball. Jeter said he has been pleasantly surprised by “the advice and support and well wishes I’ve gotten from a number of different organizations. It’s kind of awkward, because you’re used to trying to beat those guys. Now it’s, ‘If you ever need anything, let me know.’ I kind of think I’m being tricked.”
Jeter’s latest move was to hire former NBA executive Chip Bowers as president of business operations. Bowers, who spent five years as chief marketing officer for the Golden State Warriors, blames the Marlins’ perennially poor attendance on losing and roster turnover.
“I think it’s very shortsighted for people to say this is not a baseball market, because it has gone through a lot of change, and when there’s change it’s hard to create sustainable enthusiasm,” Bowers said. “That’s why I’m here. It’s obvious to me that from the ground up, Derek is going to build a world-class organization at every level.”
Jeter, who has the final say on business and baseball decisions, won’t be hands-on at spring training. He said he’ll visit camp on occasion but won’t be on the field and has no urge to swing a bat.
On other topics, Jeter said:
— He intended to keep Stanton until the slugger said he didn’t want to be part of a rebuilding. “We planned all along moving forward with him,” Jeter said. “What changed is he didn’t want to be part of the organization. He preferred to be moved.”
— Ownership has added investors since the purchase of the team in October. Jeter declined to provide details. “This is a well-capitalized ownership group. If we don’t add another investor, everyone is fine.”
— Michael Hill was retained as president of baseball operations to provide continuity. “We wanted to give Mike an opportunity to show he can do his job,” Jeter said. “No one knows this organization better than him. I can learn a great deal from Mike about the players that are here and how this organization is being run.”
— Discussions regarding how to honor pitcher Jose Fernandez are ongoing. He and two other men died in a boat accident in 2016, and an investigation determined Fernandez was the probable driver, with drugs and alcohol factors in the crash. “It’s a tricky situation because there are other people who lost their lives,” Jeter said. “But we’re in constant communication with Jose’s family, and we will honor Jose and what he has meant to this organization in the near-term future.”
— The retractable roof at Marlins Park will likely be open for more games than in the past.
— Players will be allowed to wear a mustache and-or beard “as long as it’s well-groomed,” Jeter said. “If you look professional, you act professional.”
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