Last winter Florida reaffirmed the importance of spending when it veered from its player-development strategy and dropped $89 million on free agents. That's why the Marlins look a lot like their fans: Everybody seems to be from someplace else. While the three-county South Florida region includes more people born in New York than in Florida, the Marlins' roster includes only one player not imported from another team or another country: catcher Charles Johnson. Even the security guards at Pro Player Stadium have trouble keeping up with this team. During the National League Championship Series one of them collared Craig Counsell, who was acquired in a July trade with the Colorado Rockies, as the second baseman tried to enter the clubhouse. "Uh, where do you think you're going?" the guard asked.
"I'm a player, Craig Counsell," he replied.
"Let's see some I.D.," the guard said.
Counsell produced his driver's license.
The most important newcomer to the club, outfielder Moises Alou, a $25 million free-agent pickup and the Marlins' regular-season RBI leader, provided the biggest hit of Game 1. In the fourth inning he drilled a three-run home run off the leftfield foul pole, which is actually an advertisement painted to resemble a giant yellow pencil. Talk about erasing a deficit. Having been down 1-0, Florida took a 3-1 lead with that hit. Something about clunking one off an oversized writing implement, though: It hardly seemed as classic as Carlton Fisk's 1975 Series homer off the unadorned pole at Fenway Park.
Johnson then became the 10th batter in Series history to follow one home run with another, but the first to do so over a football ring of honor covered with sheeting. He hit the ball so far that it cleared the hidden Bob Kuechenberg nameplate—not exactly the same as reaching the Lou Gehrig monument. Johnson hit it so far that Hershiser had to squint to follow it. He hit it so far that the elder Rodriguez caught the darn thing (barehanded, naturally) way up in section 411. Of course, Rodriguez isn't a native Floridian, either. Like Hernandez, he emigrated from Cuba, arriving in 1970 and becoming a fan of the Cincinnati Reds and fellow countryman Tony Perez. Now he roots for the Marlins and Hernandez. Amid more Cuban, Colombian and Puerto Rican flags than Stars and Stripes, this postmodern Series has such an international flavor, mirroring baseball's diversity in the '90s, that by the ninth inning of Game 2, eight of the 18 players in the game had been born outside the U.S.
The Marlins, who like to call themselves the Team of the Americas, have come so far so fast that none of their fans can claim what is a birthright in Cleveland: the classification of long-suffering. The Indians have not won a world championship since 1948, the year their general manager, John Hart, was born. Cleveland won a pennant in '54 and then not again until '95, by which point Hart had built what looked to be a foundation for long-term success with young players signed to multiyear contracts. But Hart so disliked the undisciplined personality of his team that he broke it apart and remade it. Two years later only 10 players remain from the club that lost the World Series to Atlanta.
If the frosty Albert Belle best personified that '95 team, centerfielder Marquis Grissom is the ambassador for this one. Hart telephoned Grissom last March to tell him that the Indians had acquired him and Justice in a trade that sent centerfielder Kenny Lofton and lefthander Alan Embree to the Braves. A year earlier Grissom had happily signed a contract extension to play in Atlanta, near his home in Fairburn, Ga., through at least 1999. "I'll never forget his reaction," Hart says. "He gets a phone call out of the blue telling him to go to Cleveland, and he says, 'I'm a baseball player. I'll be there tomorrow.' "
What Grissom brought with him was one of the most potent bats in World Series history. He broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning of Game 2 with an RBI single, one of the three hits on Sunday that raised his career World Series average to .441 (26 for 59 in three Series), better than anyone else who has batted at least 50 times in Series play. "I didn't come here to set records," Grissom says. "I came here to win."
That's the one aspect of this Series that makes it like the 92 others. It's not the humidity, it's the heat—the competition with a world championship on the line, wild cards, payrolls and ridiculous pencils be damned. Something happened on that first pitch in Game 1. Leadoff hitter Bip Roberts, who was obtained in a trade only hours before the Sept. 1 deadline for postseason eligibility, stood in the batter's box for the first World Series of his life. He had played 1,204 regular-season games and would turn 34 in nine days. The moment made his knees tremble so much that he prayed right there between the freshly laid chalk lines. "Good Lord, help me," he said to himself. "Give me strength."