For the first time since the Marlins began play in 1993, Jan and Bill Leon won't be in the stands for the home opener.
The Plantation residents have a different reason than many others who are vowing to stay away from Monday night's game against the Braves and beyond this season at Marlins Park.
The Leons were at the center of the Marlins' latest public relations mess when media reports circulated that the team was threatening to sue them for more than $25,000 for refusing to pay for the second year of their season-ticket agreement.
Jan Leon says it has nothing to do with the trade-off of high-salaried players. She says they would be happy to remain in their front-row seats near the Marlins' dugout if not for an advertising sign projecting from the wall that the Leons say partially obstructs their view. They have complained about it since the beginning of last season.
The Marlins have offered different seats. The Leons don't want to move farther from the action.
While the team has not followed through with legal action since serving notice a month ago, the net result is another loss for the Marlins.
Another dose of ill will for a franchise that has absorbed it like a sponge in the year since opening the new ballpark. Two more disgruntled customers who will be missing as the Marlins begin Year 2 in Little Havana.
"I'm not happy about it. My husband and I have been Marlins fans since they came down here," Jan Leon said. "I've got tickets framed, programs and posters and all kinds of other stuff from Opening Days."
A year after Marlins Park opened amid great expectations, the Marlins resorted to Groupon deals and offers of free tickets to other games to boost the crowd for Opening Night. Last year, those without season tickets had to enter a lottery for a chance to get in to the debut game.
Marlins President David Samson said Sunday that well over 30,000 tickets have been sold for Monday. More notable will be how many show up for the remaining 80 home games.
Season-ticket sales have dropped from just over 12,000 to about 5,000. Asked recently how the team would win those fans back, Samson said, "One fan at a time."
But the tide is flowing the opposite way, with the string of controversial trades sparking widespread anger and rekindling resentment about the stadium funding deal. The Leons aren't the only serious fans who have seen enough.
Tony Argiz, CEO of a Miami accounting firm, developed passion for the game in his native Cuba watching the legendary Havana Sugar Kings.
"Oh, man, did I have high hopes," said Argiz, who had season tickets behind home plate last year. "Thank God I only signed a one-year deal. Before going into it, I said, 'Can I really trust [Marlins management]?' I had this doubt in my mind."
The retractable-roof ballpark was highly praised during its debut season but is now overshadowed by a steady stream of vitriol directed at Marlins upper management, particularly toward owner Jeffrey Loria.
While Loria came across as defiant and unapologetic in an open letter to fans in a full-page newspaper ad and in subsequent media interviews, Samson has taken a conciliatory tone.
"I'm very sad and sorry," Samson said during spring training. "The ballpark, to me, is such a beautiful ballpark. What I'm most sorry about is that fans, because of me or because of Jeffrey, would not go to a baseball game. This was built so they could come and enjoy a game."
A typical refrain of callers to sports-talk radio shows is they won't be buying tickets as long as Loria owns the team. A clearer indication of fan sentiment will come beginning Monday night.
Lower-bowl tickets to the opener were available on StubHub for $28, about half retail price, and there were offers of seats to the other games in the Braves series for $8.50 and up.
Loria's calls for fans and media to get behind the new young players shows a disconnect with a fan base that has seen too many purges of established players and payroll. The team's rough start in the opening road trip won't inspire a rush to the turnstiles at Marlins Park.
"I'm probably here because they did do the trade," said outfielder Juan Pierre, a member of the 2003 championship Marlins who rejoined the team after the November deal with Toronto. "All we can do is control how we go about our business every day, and hopefully the city will get behind guys, especially a bunch of young guys that are going out and busting their butts every day."
Although the Leons won't be paying for premium season tickets, Jan Leon said she and her husband will watch on television and may attend an occasional game.
"It's not the players' fault. These are kids. Everybody has to start somewhere," Jan Leon said. "Right now they have an equivalent of a Double-A team and they're charging major league prices for it." ___