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Ex-Marlins star Lowell says team can win back the crowds — in time

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 8:39 p.m.
Former major league player Mike Lowell (center) talks to Miami Marlins infielder Chone Figgins and outfielder Juan Pierre  during the eighth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Cardinals on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP)
Former major league player Mike Lowell (center) talks to Miami Marlins infielder Chone Figgins and outfielder Juan Pierre during the eighth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Cardinals on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP)

JUPITER, Fla. — Mike Lowell grew up in Miami, helped the Marlins win a World Series and knows all too well about the franchise's tradition of humble payrolls and modest crowds.

Back in uniform this week as a special instructor, Lowell says the team can win again and win back fans, but it will take time. And he sympathizes with South Floridians angry the Marlins this season will be near baseball's basement in payrolls — again.

The return to a tight budget comes after a brief spending binge and only one year in the long-sought new ballpark that was supposed to transform the franchise.

“You just had so much hope,” Lowell said. “You've been wanting for this for 15 years, and you get it, and it seemed like it didn't last very long.

“But it's not my team. It's not my money. They have the right to do what they want. But there's going to be a consequence.”

While the Marlins' latest payroll purge will keep disenchanted fans away, Lowell said it might also deter future free agents from considering Miami.

All-Stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell signed free-agent deals before the 2012 season, and all already have been traded.

“Players read contracts and see that Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle got traded in the first year of a long-term deal,” Lowell said. “They're going to think twice about it. It'll definitely be an issue.”

Owner Jeffrey Loria ordered a roster shake-up after the Marlins finished last in the NL East with a $90 million payroll, so Reyes, Buehrle and Josh Johnson were traded to Toronto.

“I understand the team lost a lot of games,” Lowell said. “But I think it would be hard to say they lost a lot of games because of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson.”

Even so, Lowell is rooting for the Marlins, in part, because his close friend Mike Redmond is the new manager. They were Marlins teammates for six seasons after the '97 World Series champions were dismantled.

Lowell was a rookie in 1999, the roster was the youngest in the majors, and the Marlins lost 98 games. Four years later, many of the same players — including Lowell and Redmond — celebrated a World Series championship.

Redmond envisions the same sort of development in the next few years, and he invited Lowell to spend a few days with the team.

“I just want him to be around to be a sounding board for some of our young players who have this opportunity,” Redmond said. “Mike got an opportunity because of getting rid of a lot of the players in '97. It was the same opportunity as now. He made the most of his opportunity, and look what he accomplished.”

Lowell spent 12 years in the majors and was a four-time All-Star third baseman. He was the World Series Most Valuable Player in 2007 when he led Boston's memorable title run, and he wore a Red Sox uniform while visiting their camp earlier this week.

But he's still a Marlin. Lowell attended about a half dozen games in their new ballpark last season.

While it seems fan ire has never been higher in South Florida, Lowell predicted attendance will rise again if and when the team is successful.

“Winning cures everything,” he said.

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