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Idea Raises Hopes for Marlins Stadium

Under discussion: A plan to take property taxes from a planned Hialeah industrial park and use them to help pay for a ballpark for the Marlins.

Hialeah city leaders, who recently won clearance to build an industrial park on 1,100 acres of land that had been off-limits to large-scale development, are discussing a plan with Miami-Dade County that would devote property taxes from the industrial park to building a new stadium for the Florida Marlins.

Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina says he expects developer Armando Codina to donate part of the land to the city, which would then give it to the Marlins, who have been trying for years to find money to build a new stadium with a retractable roof.

But even with lots of public help, the team was still about $100 million short of the stadium's $400 million price tag -- and that's where the property-tax plan would come in.

Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess and Hialeah Council President Steve Bovo said the idea is under discussion. ''It's a viable alternative,'' Burgess said of the plan, which would need the county commission's approval. ``It's an approach we have . . . agreed makes sense. We're moving quickly.''

Though the deal is far from final, a successful resolution would keep the Marlins, who have recently flirted with the idea of relocating to San Antonio, Texas, in South Florida.

Burgess stressed that no homeowners would see their property taxes earmarked for a stadium, and he said it was too soon to determine how much money the industrial-park plan could generate. But Bovo said ''you're talking about a huge amount of money'' potentially. Burgess agreed that the industrial park ``could generate significant incremental tax value.''

''We have to look at this carefully, to see what kind of development could occur there,'' he said.

The property taxes paid by businesses that locate in the industrial park would be split nearly evenly: half to Hialeah and half to the county, Robaina said Wednesday. Burgess said shares from both governments' property taxes would go toward the stadium -- though Robaina earlier in the day said he envisioned that no Hialeah money would be used. Any Hialeah involvement would require Hialeah City Council approval.

Under the scenario, the stadium would be built on a construction debris landfill site near the Turnpike and 170th Street. Codina's plans for the industrial park there would include offices and warehouses.

Codina had said as recently as last week that he had no plans to donate any of the property to Hialeah or to the Marlins. Codina was not available to comment on his plans Wednesday night, said his spokesman, Bruce Rubin. However, Robaina said he expected Codina would make the donation.

The Marlins, who are declining comment on the stadium issue, are facing a May 15 deadline to respond to San Antonio's proposal to ask voters to extend hotel and car-rental taxes that would help finance a stadium there. The Marlins have said they prefer to remain in South Florida but haven't ruled out San Antonio.

If the proposal goes before the Miami-Dade County Commission, it would need the approval of seven of the 13 commissioners. The county already has pledged between $110 million and $120 million from other sources toward the deal, Burgess said.

Commission Chairman Joe Martinez reserved judgment about whether he would support the plan. ''It's a possibility,'' he said.

Robaina also has said he expects Major League Baseball to contribute toward the project, but that's considered highly unlikely.

Bovo called the idea of pledging property-tax money in the area ``very enticing. We're almost done with the conversation part. We're about to start negotiations with the county and the Marlins.''

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Rockies-Marlins Preview

The Colorado Rockies have yet to lose a series on the road this season. They didn't even win one before the All-Star break last year.

Colorado looks to continue its surprisingly good play away from Coors Field as it opens a three-game set against the Florida Marlins on Friday.

The Rockies (12-10) are seeking their eighth road win, a total they did not reach last season until July 18 by winning the opener of a three-game set at Washington. Before winning two of three games in that series, Colorado had played 14 series away from home, losing 12 and tying two.

This year, the Rockies won their first two series on the road before splitting a four-game set this week at Philadelphia. Colorado is off to its best road start since 1997.

''We don't take anybody lightly, at home or on the road,'' Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said.

The series against the Phillies began a nine-game road trip for Colorado, which follows this weekend series with two games in Atlanta.

Garrett Atkins hit a game-winning, two-run homer in the eighth inning to help the Rockies to a 6-3 win over the Phillies on Thursday.

''We got good pitching, good hitting and did the things we needed to do to win,'' Rockies center fielder Cory Sullivan said. ''It is good to leave with a win and get a split on our way to Florida.''

Atkins leads Colorado with a .366 batting average and 21 runs, adding three homers and 15 RBIs in his second full season in the majors. The third baseman hit .287 with 13 homers, 89 RBIs and 62 runs in 2005. He has struggled at Dolphin Stadium, going 1-for-11 (.091) in three games last season.

Another key contributor to Colorado's early season success is Brad Hawpe. The right fielder, also in his second full season, tops the team with six homers and is second with 17 RBIs and a .357 average.

The 24-year-old Hawpe, who homered on Thursday, is 8-for-19 (.421) with three RBIs in the last four games.

The duo of Hawpe and Atkins has picked up the slack left by the absence of Todd Helton, who will miss his eighth consecutive game with intestinal inflammation. The Rockies are 4-3 without the five-time All-Star, who may return from the disabled list on May 5.

The Rockies will give Jeff Francis (0-2, 5.16 ERA) his fifth attempt to win his first game of the season.

The left-hander hopes to build on his last outing, when he allowed one run and four hits with four strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings of a 3-2, 10-inning win over the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.

Francis won his only career start against Florida, giving up two runs and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings of an 8-3 victory on May 8, 2005.

The Marlins (6-13), returning from an eight-game road trip, will try to win consecutive games for only the second time this season.

Florida stopped a three-game losing streak with a 7-5 win over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday.

Miguel Cabrera went 2-for-3 with two walks, and leads the team with a .333 batting average. The third baseman is 16-for-36 (.444) with runners on base.

He has been walked 13 times through 19 games this season after walking 64 times in 2005. He is not seeing as many good pitches in a lineup filled with young, inexperienced players.

''It's a huge complement to him,'' Marlins manager Joe Girardi said. ''As he goes on, he will learn how to hit in those situations. When some of our younger hitters get better, they will stop walking Miguel so much and have to pitch to him a little.''

One of the struggling young players is 25-year-old Mike Jacobs, who has one hit in his last 10 at-bats as his average has dropped to .197. He hit .310 with 11 homers for the Mets in 2005.

The Marlins will send Sergio Mitre (1-2, 4.56) to the mound. Since throwing six scoreless innings at Houston to win his season debut, the right-hander has given up 12 runs in 17 2-3 innings over his last three starts.

Mitre has no decisions in two career starts against Colorado, posting a 7.15 ERA.

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Best of 2006 comes and goes for Marlins
We could all make believe, for a little while. We could blink and look around the ballpark Tuesday, and it almost felt like an Opening Day. It almost seemed like a baseball town. It almost looked like the Marlins had a shot.

That was between 4 p.m. and 4:20, roughly. Our halcyon minutes for 2006.

The crowd of 31,308 was kinetic, seemed bigger. The visiting Padres had gone down in order, and now bright, young Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez had banged a leadoff triple, and the people stood and roared, and the day was sun-kissed perfect.

It would never be that good again.

Not the rest of this first home game.

Perhaps not the rest of this bizarre season.

And, given the state of this franchise - who knows? - maybe not ever.

Reality can sound like an alarm clock sometimes, all shrill, piercing the reverie like shrapnel.

Florida would lose its home opener 9-3 and see its record fall to 1-5 and affirm dark speculation that these rookie-laden, cut-rate Marlins could be the 1962 Mets with peach fuzz, prolific losers.

``There will be days like this,'' new manager Joe Girardi said.

About 110 of them, alas. You'd have a legitimate bet right now if you wagered whether the Marlins would win more games this season than the Heat, currently at 51 with four to go.

Criticizing the team itself would feel like clubbing baby seals, so don't. This is what a $15 million payroll buys you. This is what no new stadium gets you. Fans who can't bring themselves to cheer for this team might consider at least turning out to sympathize.

By the end Tuesday, the robust crowd had been replaced by a riot of empty orange seats, which figures to be the scene for most ensuing home games beginning this afternoon now that the curiosity and custom that assure an Opening Day throng have vanished.

Did I say ``robust crowd?'' That's called grading on the curve.

Thirty thousand for starters is so-so at best by most big-league standards, and a steep fall-off from last year's opening 57,405, but nothing is the same now.

The Marlins have become a glorified Double A roster, save for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, and the specter of the team being moved to San Antonio for the lack of a new stadium here will shadow this season like vultures over carrion.

Given all that, the shock wasn't that so many fans stayed away. The shock was that so many showed up.

It was a rather stirring indication that, despite it all, we haven't flat-lined yet as a baseball town. There is a stubborn pulse, even in the worst of times, which would be this season.

Nothing is the same now - the young kids we are bravely cheering are orphans ready for adoption - but on this Opening Day, we acted like none of that was real.

Billy the Marlin, in a skit, beat up a ``padre'' in a monk's robe.

The Mermaids danced on dugouts.

On cue, we sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame as one.

A valiant try at The Wave sprang from the right-field stands.

An Opening Day logo sprayed behind home plate, and red, white and blue bunting fibbed that everything was normal.

For an afternoon, it was almost as if the franchise were not dying all around us - slipping from us, by degrees - because no local city or county government has the ingenuity or will they seem to be showing in abundance in San Antonio right now.

Tuesday, Marlins fans rose to the occasion. It was a sweet illusion.

Now: reality.

Tuesday's crowd will look like an aerial photograph of China compared to the intimate gatherings that will materialize for most games now, on days when baseball's greenest team labors under a gray sky both literal and figurative.

Mark your calendars. It will be late May, with a string of home games against the Mets and Giants, when anything approaching buzz or ambience is likely to next be felt at Dolphin Stadium. Mets fans turn out, and Barry Bonds' drop-in assures a temporary circus. Later, the Red Sox visit, and the park will be alive again.

Otherwise, you might want to make a memory of how Opening Day began, the sound of a big crowd, the roar when Hanley Ramirez stood on third. The feeling that we were a major-league town and always would be.

In the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday - it is the bottom of the ninth for this franchise now - a small band of very young voices chanted ``Let's go Mar-lins!'' even with the game hopelessly lost.

It almost made you cry.

How do you explain to a 6-year-old under a too-big ballcap about the economics and politics that are strangling the team he loves?

How do you tell the smallest fans that their Marlins might disappear and become the faint childhood memory they'll try to recall?

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Olsen improves his chances
The Marlins scored five runs on four hits in the first inning. Hanley Ramirez chopped a leadoff double down the third-base line in the first inning, and he scored on grounder by Jeremy Hermida that skipped past second baseman Junior Spivey for an error. Mike Jacobs and Dan Uggla each had RBI doubles. Chris Aguila added a run-scoring single. In the second inning, Jacobs' RBI single produced an unearned run. Matt Treanor had an RBI double in a three-run eighth inning.

 

In the sixth inning, Albert Pujols walked with one out, and pinch-runner Hector Luna scored on Scott Rolen's triple. So Taguchi had a double in the second inning.

 

Scott Olsen enhanced his chances of winning a rotation spot by giving up one run in 5 1/3 innings. The left-hander gave up three hits and held the Cardinals scoreless until the sixth inning. Olsen threw 87 pitches. Mark

 

Mulder gave up five runs on four hits in the first inning. The left-hander was tagged for an unearned run in the second. After that, Mulder settled and threw three scoreless innings, logging 82 pitches. Only two of the runs Mulder allowed were earned.

Marlins 16-6-3; Cardinals 13-10-1.

 

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