Marlins strike out over new ballpark

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MIAMI (AP) – The Florida Marlins began trying to rebound Saturday from their toughest defeat of the season.

For the fifth time in six years, the franchise struck out with the Florida Legislature, which denied the Marlins a $60 million subsidy for a new ballpark in Hialeah.

The team plans to keep pursuing the Hialeah site, a landfill in northwest Miami-Dade County near the Florida Turnpike. But officials must bridge a $100 million funding gap for a $430 million ballpark with a retractable roof.

“The Marlins will continue to work on getting a deal done that makes sense to everyone,” team president David Samson said. “The commitment local officials have to keep the Marlins hasn’t changed because of the events in Tallahassee.”

The team has offered $212 million toward the project, and the county has said it can provide $110 million to $120 million. The land a few miles from the Marlins’ current home is owned by Armando Codina, a Miami developer and one-time business partner of Gov. Jeb Bush.

With financing unresolved, the Marlins likely will continue to investigate relocation options. Owner Jeffrey Loria has talked with San Antonio officials about moving the team there, but the courtship cooled in recent weeks.

Loria has said he’d prefer to remain in Miami, and San Antonio officials last month imposed a May 15 deadline for the Marlins to commit to relocating. Because the Miami area has a much larger population than San Antonio and is a bigger TV market, it’s uncertain whether Major League Baseball officials would permit the move.

The Marlins had no expectation of receiving a state subsidy this year until Wednesday, when a plan emerged in the waning stages of the legislative session.

But the subsidy bill died in the Florida House when the clock struck midnight early Saturday, automatically ending the session, shortly after the Senate approved the measure.

For the Marlins, the latest setback was especially galling because the Senate had prevented passage in the past, and approval was expected if the House had voted. It’s the closest the Marlins have come yet to getting state financing.

The Marlins have been seeking a new ballpark since their first season in 1993.

After finishing last in the NL in attendance in 2005 despite a winning season, Loria ordered the Marlins’ second fire sale in eight years, and their $15 million payroll this season is by far the lowest in the major leagues.

The team will remain in its current home through next season at least, but Loria has said he must find a new place to play by 2011.

While the Marlins remain in a perpetual stadium stalemate, the Washington Nationals broke ground this month on a $611 million stadium, and the St. Louis Cardinals opened a $365 million ballpark this season.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, whose team is in Miami for a series this weekend, said the situations in St. Louis and South Florida are different.

“They were only pursuing a stadium in St. Louis for a few years,” said La Russa, a Tampa native. “They needed one here from the get-go. It’s not going to work if you can’t come to the ballpark without getting rained on.”

First-year Marlins manager Joe Girardi is new to the stadium issue but already well of aware of the franchise’s precarious state. The Marlins began the weekend with a record of 8-19, and they were last in the major leagues in attendance, averaging 12,617 per game.

“I’m a firm believer that baseball should stay here,” Girardi said. “I still believe it’s going to get worked out, because I believe baseball should be here. I believe it could prosper down here.”

AP-ES-05-06-06 1657EDT

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