The event was billed as “Venezuela Heritage Night” at Loan Depot Park in Miami’s Little Havana, and the place was sold out. The Detroit Tigers were in town for a weekend series against the home town Marlins a couple of weeks ago, but the crowd of 33,900 were mainly there to see one player, beloved retiring slugger Miguel Cabrera. Now 40 and enjoying a farewell tour of sorts, “Miggy” is a certain first ballot Hall of Fame candidate when he is eligible in five years. And although many fans in south Florida are still bitter over the fire sale trade that sent Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers in 2007, the fond memories also linger back in 2003 when the Marlins beat the New York Yankees in six games to become World Series champions.

That was a magical year in Miami with Cabrera, a 20 year old rookie from Maracay, launching a bomb off Roger Clemens in Game Four to help tie up the series at 2-2. That tournament roster also included a 22 year old Willis, ace hurler Josh Beckett, just 23, and a slick 24 year old shortstop named Edgar Renteria, the pride of Barranquilla, Colombia. It’s true that the team was anchored by HOF catcher Ivan Rodriguez and a few other veterans. That said, it was basically a young, unproven bunch who were not expected to upset Derek Jeter and the Bronx Bombers.

Ironically, the 2023 Miami Marlins are built a lot like that championship team 20 years ago…a loose group of guys playing with house money. That’s why when Miggy jogged off the field to a loud standing ovation after a 2 for 4 hitting performance on Venezuela night, many fans had flashbacks of better times. Cabrera’s success at Pro Player Stadium and Loan Depot Park could transform into today’s Marlins. Maybe it will be a walk-off hit by Luis Arraez, another Venezuelan super star who is certain to win the National League batting title. Or possibly a clutch pitching performance by Jesus Luzardo, Jorge Lopez or Sandy Alcantara, all in the prime of their careers. Bottom line, this season’s Marlins are surprising, scary and legit.

Miguel Cabrera’s career statistics are jaw-dropping. He is one of those rare players who could not only blast the long ball but also hit for average. During his career, his shots have left the yard 508 times, but he has also racked up 3,145 hits, recently passing Robin Yount. He has a lifetime batting average of .307, has won 7 Silver Slugger awards, won the AL Triple Crown and has played in 12 All-Star games. Miggy currently earns $30 million per season and will walk away with two years left on his deal with Detroit. His estimated net worth is $150 million.

“I think it’s time (to retire),” admitted Cabrera during a short spring training. “I talked a lot with my family and spend more time with them.

“I want to stay in baseball, work with the young kids coming up and concentrate on my foundation.”

The Miguel Cabrera Foundation, launched in 2007, had originally focused on projects to renovate youth ball fields in Detroit, Miami and Venezuela. In addition, it has been instrumental in helping young athletes through sports, education and health. But recently, it has branched out into providing college scholarships.

“I always say it’s not just about coming here to play baseball,” Miggy confirmed just the other day about his future plans. “It’s also about helping the community.”

Cabrera has been incredibly loyal to the fans in Motown, understanding that the city has fallen on hard times. However, home has always been in south Florida during the winter, and very soon, perhaps most of the year. Will Miggy be a good luck charm. That would be a stretch. Will the current Marlins sneak into the post season? Maybe or maybe not. Here’s what is certain, though. For the first time since my late friend Jose Fernandez was blowing hitters away, baseball is the talk of the town in Miami…albeit a distant second to Leo Messi.

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Esteban "Steve" Randel is a veteran journalist specializing in current events, sports, politics and Hispanic cuisine. He is the former publisher of "The Latin Athlete" and a longtime activist in the SoCal Hispanic community.

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