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Sunday, May 19, 2019
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Martin Fennelly: Rays and Marlins at different stages of same mission

ST. PETERSBURG — New York Yankees god and former Tampa resident Derek Jeter, who was once going to save the Rays (or so we thought), was at Tropicana Field on Friday night. The Captain had the gall to show up as Miami Marlins chief executive officer as the Marlins and Rays reconvened after the All-Star break.

Say it ain't so, Jeets!

It's so. Very so. Jeter lives in Miami full time and is in his Marlins office every day, though he has kept his sprawling Davis Islands mansion. Dreamscape: He sells it to the Rays, they knock a few walls out, move a few fences back. Presto change-o … new Rays waterfront ballpark!

Just kidding.

Jeter is trying to build something in Miami. First, he demolished it. It has been painful for Marlins fans, losing the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon in the name of progress. Jeter has ruffled some feathers. At least the Marlins already had a stadium when they began dumping stars.

They also already had a manager, a good one, in Don Mattingly, the ever likable Donnie Baseball. The Yankees great and former Dodgers manager oversees a young, learning Miami team, which loses in front of tens of thousands of empty seats in its spanking downtown ballpark.

Donnie Caretaker.

If that sounds a lot like the Rays' lot in life, it is. Clear the books, move the kids in, get cheaper and eventually better. Rays manager Kevin Cash has that job. Mattingly knows the feeling. He has already been through it. And he says it isn't all bad, though Miami began Friday 16 games under .500.

"I think we came into it knowing what we were doing," Mattingly said before Friday's game. "I think what made it feel good is we knew we had a plan, that we were going to build it from the bottom up. That's the way we're going to do it and we're going to stick to it."

He said he works well with The Captain.

"He sees the little stuff. He sees guys who are maybe having good years, but they should be better. He sees the guys who are playing the game right, playing hard all the time. He sees it all."

I'm not about to bet against Jeter, who has been successful since he first tiptoed onto the field as a Yankees rookie in 1996.

But how long will this take, and who will be left when it happens?

That question includes Mattingly, who was not hired by Jeter, and who is in his third year of a four-year deal. But here is a man who knows things takes time. He was a .307 lifetime hitter, a consummate professional, but it still took him all 14 of his major-league campaigns before making a postseason.

The Marlins are an old hand at dumping salary and remaking themselves, though Miami's $95 million payroll is still bigger than the Rays' accounts payable. Miami has made only two postseasons, in 1997 and 2003, but won the World Series each time. The Marlins are all in or all out.

Mattingly knows what Cash and the Rays do for a living. He hasn't wondered "What if?" very much. If he was ever going to do that, he would wonder what if pitching sensation Jose Fernandez hadn't taken his boat out that September night in 2016? How would Miami baseball history be different today?

"Jose, that was just a rough situation, personal," Mattingly said. "But trade deadline stuff happens all the time. You lose guys who you think are really good players, but you understand the situation. There are certain guys, I'm not going to throw names out there, but it makes sense. They're not going to be here when we get to where we want to go. You hope those are the guys who you're going to get a piece back for, that's going to help you maybe three years down the road. That's where we're at right now."

Mattingly doesn't know if he'll be there three years down the road, any more than Cash.

"You do like to see when your team has a chance, when they're in that hunt, that ownership is in for that," Mattingly said. "Ownership is in it to win. Derek is in it to win. I like to win. Absolutely."

Derek Jeter, back in Tampa Bay, watched Friday from a suite at the Trop. Down below was his manager. When Don Mattingly retired after the 1995 season (the year before Jeter came to New York), he talked about maybe wanting to become a teacher.

He got his wish.

"It didn't happen quite the way I thought it would, but with new ownership and Derek, this is a great situation for a coach to be in, because you really feel like you do have a chance to really grow something," Mattingly said. "Who knows who's here when that finally happens, but you're building something."

Really, who knows?

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029

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