JUPITER, Fla. -- Jarlin Garcia has been in the Marlins organization longer than almost any other player. He's been there so long, fans in and around Miami refer to him as Jarlin the Marlin.
But much like the team he plays for, Garcia felt it was time to mix things up. So, early in spring training, the gregarious hurler -- known to his Latino teammates as El Elefante, due to his combination of size and intellectual curiosity -- challenged one of the clubhouse attendants to draw a picture in honor of his Spanish nickname.
The next morning, there on the portable whiteboard in the middle of the locker room, in red and blue erasable marker, was a perfectly drawn elephant. Much to Garcia's chagrin, not long after the image appeared, so too did some bonus artwork. A few inches down and to the right of the animal's tail, someone drew what appeared to be a few piles of ... steaming elephant poop.
Pachyderm poop is but one outward example that illustrates this: More than halfway through spring training, in Year 2 of the Mother of All Rebuilds, the Miami Marlins clubhouse looks and sounds like normal.
There is loud music, courtesy of a black Ion Pathfinder speaker that plays Trey Songz and Post Malone. There are leather couches, on which players sit while checking their phones and watching ESPN's Jay Williams discuss the inner workings of Kyrie Irving's psyche. There are daily schedules posted on the wall and bleary-eyed athletes devouring heaping plates of eggs and rice and avocado, and a barber who made a house call today and will cut the hair of any player whose hair needs cutting.
And, of course, there are pranks.
One person who could almost certainly be ruled out as the prankster du jour is Adam Conley. An uber-earnest reliever who's in charge of the team's discipleship, he was drafted by the Marlins in 2011 (the same year Garcia was signed as an international free agent) and called up to the majors in June 2015. In the wake of the epic purge that's taken place over the past 18 months since Derek Jeter took over as CEO -- name brands like Dee Gordon, Ichiro Suzuki, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto have all been shipped out -- Conley is now the second-longest-tenured member of the team, just a couple of months behind veteran infielder Martin Prado. As such, he's something of an expert on what's it like to be a Marlin.
"There's been more change here than most other organizations, and more change than you really want, honestly," says the 28-year-old lefty. "But that's the direction we're headed."
It's a direction that's been clear ever since Jeter and the new ownership group assumed control of the team. It's been clear with each of the player-centric tweaks that have quietly popped up around the team's spring training headquarters in Jupiter: The new dugout benches at field No. 2. The additional and more conveniently located bullpen over by field No. 3. The increased feng shui in the weight room. It's been clear through every one of the personnel moves that has gone down, a collection of transactions that trimmed the Marlins' payroll from $155 million in 2017 to a number that will be roughly half that this season.
"A lot of times people come, they don't know who won or lost, sometimes they don't even know who was playing, but they do know if they had a good experience, and that's what we're focused on." Marlins CEO Derek Jeter
Some of that savings is being passed on to fans in the form of new ballpark initiatives at Marlins Park in Miami. From the three-tiered social space in center field that required the highly publicized removal of Homer (that technicolor sculpture beyond the wall), to the new Comunidad 305 section in right field, to the live DJ in the redesigned lounge behind home plate, it's apparent Marlins execs are counting on distraction as one of their primary strategies in the near term. Jeter himself has said as much: "A lot of times people come, they don't know who won or lost, sometimes they don't even know who was playing," the five-time World Series champion told reporters earlier this month. "But they do know if they had a good experience, and that's what we're focused on."
That doesn't mean Jeter and the Marlins aren't planning for long-term success. On the first day of full-squad workouts last month, every member of the organization gathered in the building that houses the batting cages, the one with the black exterior wall that features an image of Miami's new logo above the words "World Series Champions 1997 and 2003." The second of those two titles came at the expense of Jeter and the Yankees. Sixteen years later, the former New York shortstop stood before a packed room in Jupiter and, along with GM Michael Hill and player development chief Gary Denbo, continued to pound home his message. The biggest takeaway for many inside the room that day, more than the content of the message, was simply that there was a message.
"There's been more change here than most other organizations, and more change than you really want, honestly. But that's the direction we're headed."Adam Conley, 28-year-old Marlins reliever
"There was some inconsistency as far as the plan," says Conley of the old Marlins regime before Jeter took the reins. "There was a time when we were an organization that developed talent and tried to draft really well because we were a small market and didn't want to spend. We had other years where we tried to spend big. When it didn't work out, we abandoned that idea. Those types of inconsistencies, long term, are hard for players to get on board with. Last year, a lot of people probably didn't look at us and say, 'Hey, what a top-notch organization.' But [ownership is] still sticking with what they believe in. They're just really convicted and believe strongly in what they're doing. That's really easy for players to get behind and for us to buy into."
In other words, playing for a club that's supposedly tanking, one that hasn't had a winning record in a decade and is projected to approximate its win total from a year ago (63), isn't all it's cracked down to be. At least, that is, if you believe Conley.
"We're moving in a certain direction," says Conley. "We're working toward becoming something."
The pace at which the Marlins are moving varies, depending on whom you talk to.
Outfielder Curtis Granderson is one of three well-respected veterans, along with reliever Sergio Romo and infielder Neil Walker, who signed one-year free-agent deals with Miami. He just turned 38 and is the oldest player in camp by more than two years. He spent four seasons playing alongside Jeter in the Bronx and knows the Marlins' new boss well.
But that's not why Granderson landed in Miami. In fact, it wasn't until after he signed that Granderson finally chatted with Jeter. Although the expectation was that Granderson would help mentor Miami's younger players, that's not something he and Jeter actually discussed.
"I don't think it needed to be said," says Granderson, who treated fellow outfielders Lewis Brinson, Isaac Galloway and Monte Harrison to a steak dinner (and some old-guy wisdom) at the Capital Grille the first week of camp. "I've done it over the course of my career." That's not all he's done.
A three-time All-Star who finished top-five in the MVP voting as a member of the 2011 Yankees, Granderson has accomplished plenty over the past 15 years. But the closest he's ever come to winning a World Series was in 2006, when his Detroit Tigers lost in six games to the St. Louis Cardinals. He fully admits getting a ring is a key reason why he hasn't called it quits yet -- why, a week before spring training started, he accepted a minor league deal with a team expected to be one of the worst in baseball.
"I don't know if I'm necessarily going to keep playing until I do it," says Granderson, "but that's one of the things I'm still looking to add." Odds are, he's not going to add it this year, not in a world where all four of Miami's NL East rivals are projected to be among the top dozen teams in the league. But don't try telling him that. "Every team has a chance to win. Including here. It all starts with everyone in here believing they can win."
Granderson talks about the '06 Tigers and about how nobody expected them to do anything. About how they were just a couple of years removed from the '03 squad that set a record for futility in the divisional era by losing 119 games. About how Detroit was a wild card that year, and how St. Louis, although a division champ, won just 83 games during the regular season. Says Granderson: "You just gotta get in."
He's not the only one inside the Marlins clubhouse with pie-in-the-sky aspirations.
"It's great to be a Marlin right now," says Brinson, the 24-year-old center fielder who came to Miami a year ago as the key cog in a blockbuster deal that sent last year's NL MVP Yelich to Milwaukee. A native of Fort Lauderdale, Brinson grew up rooting for the Marlins and changed his uniform number from 20 to 9 following the trade as a tribute to his favorite player, Juan Pierre, who was a member of the '03 squad that won it all. When asked if the '19 Marlins stand any chance of contending, any chance whatsoever of bringing a title back to South Florida, he rolls his eyes and takes a deep breath before answering, "We're gonna play our best each and every day."
Brinson seems exasperated, and it's hard to tell if it's because he's tired of hearing the same question over and over, or because he's tired of toeing the same company line over and over. "We're going to compete. It's baseball. Anything can happen," he says.
Still, just because anything can happen doesn't mean it will. It doesn't mean the Marlins won't be out of it by Mother's Day, something Stanton recently vented about. "Playing games that matter, games when you're in it past May 7 -- which I'd never done," said the former Miami slugger last month when asked what he's learned playing for the Yankees. Just because anything can happen, it doesn't mean Marlins fans aren't expecting their team to follow in the footsteps of the Orioles, Royals and White Sox, all of whom lost at least 100 games last season.
"Ninety-nine losses is a win," says 58-year-old Jupiter resident Greg Gilbert, who's part of a sparse gathering of fans on hand to watch a Monday morning workout in early March. The anemic turnout is hardly surprising given how poorly the Marlins drew last season: In Year 1 of the Jeter Era, they averaged just over 10,000 fans per game, worst in the league and about 4,000 fewer than the next closest club (Tampa Bay). Gilbert, a Massachusetts transplant who has spent the majority of his life in South Florida and attended Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, sits at a shaded picnic table with his son-in-law and grandson, watching their favorite team go through the paces while the ubiquitous pop hit "East Side" blares across the complex. There's a lyric that says, "We can do anything if we put our minds to it," but Gilbert isn't so sure it applies to the 2019 Marlins.
"You have to be realistic. The reality of what they're trying to do here is build a long-term, first-class team. Not one year. Not two years. Not three years. You want teams like the Yankees, Cubs, Boston, Atlanta -- teams that have been around for 100 years and have had success over a long period of time. This is a legacy that they're building. Ten years, 20 years, 30 years from now, if I'm alive, I'm going to look back and tell my family that I was here for the transformation."Martin Prado, veteran infielder and Marlin since 2015
"I'm not a Jeter fan," he says. "What experience does he have?"
Gilbert goes on to talk about how the front office should've built around Stanton instead of trading him to the Yankees. About how crushing it was to lose Jose Fernandez. About the need to build up a farm system that, even with all the recent trades, is still perceived as one of the weakest in baseball. "There's always hope," says Gilbert. "Everybody's 0-0."
Despite his Caliente Red-colored glasses, Gilbert pumps the brakes when asked when he truly believes Miami might contend again: "Three-year plan."
Prado is taking an even longer view. "You have to be realistic," says the 35-year-old infielder who debuted with Miami in April 2015, making him the club's most tenured player. Prior to joining the Marlins, Prado spent seven seasons in Atlanta, where in 2006 he broke into the bigs with a Braves club that had just won its 15th straight division title. "The reality of what they're trying to do here is build a long-term, first-class team. Not one year. Not two years. Not three years. You want teams like the Yankees, Cubs, Boston, Atlanta -- teams that have been around for 100 years and have had success over a long period of time. This is a legacy that they're building. Ten years, 20 years, 30 years from now, if I'm alive, I'm going to look back and tell my family that I was here for the transformation."
Curious creature that he is, it doesn't take Jarlin the Marlin -- er, Jarlin El Elefante -- very long to notice the addendum to the animal artwork he commissioned.
Without saying a word, the hulking hurler saunters over to the portable whiteboard in the middle of the clubhouse, the one with the perfectly drawn pachyderm, and picks up the eraser that sits on the ledge below. With a few quick swipes of his left hand, he makes the steaming elephant poop vanish. Whether or not he intended it to be, Garcia's actions are a metaphorical gesture that speaks volumes about his team's new cut-the-crap culture.
Moments later, when asked who was responsible for the prank, Garcia shrugs his shoulders. "I don't know," he says. The truth: He doesn't really care, because he and his Miami teammates have more important things to worry about.
Like the future.
"We have great potential," he says.
In the meantime, like pretty much everyone else in the Marlins locker room, Garcia doesn't see any reason his team can't make the postseason as early as this year. "We believe we have the capacity to do that. And even more."