|Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and new skipper Ozzie Guillen are getting along -- so far. (US Presswire)|
JUPITER, Fla. -- Ozzie Guillen's first words were the most telling.
"I believe when you come happy to work, it makes stuff easy," he said Wednesday, as his first Marlins spring training officially opened.
Well then, this should be easy, because there's absolutely no doubt that Ozzie Guillen is coming to work happy this spring. And no doubt that he wasn't happy at the end in Chicago.
His wife knows it. She told Guillen the other day, "You have your smile back."
Joey Cora knows it. Guillen's longtime coach, who moved with him from the White Sox to the Marlins, noticed in recent days that Guillen was anxious for spring training to start.
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"This is the first time in a while that he really wanted to start spring training," Cora said. "He couldn't wait to start. He's excited. Very excited."
The first day of spring training isn't the time to judge whether this Ozzie/Marlins marriage is going to work. But on the first day of spring training, it's already obvious that Guillen needed this change every bit as much as the Marlins believed that they needed it.
It feels wrong to say that Guillen is reenergized, because it never felt like Guillen had lost his energy. It feels wrong to say that there's a big change in Guillen, because he's always been this way.
"He's just as loud as he always is," said pitcher Mark Buehrle, who also made the move from the South Side of Chicago to South Florida.
He's still fun. He's still funny. He's still Ozzie.
"I love to have fun," he told the Marlins pitchers and catchers in their first meeting of the spring -- held on the practice field, with television cameras rolling.
Guillen is also telling the Marlins that he's not always the crazy guy they saw on television.
"Don't believe what you hear," he said. "Don't judge me, because you don't know me."
We do know him, and we'll learn even more about him this year, with a team that added talent and also expectations. And remember, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria always expected his teams to make the playoffs, even before this winter's spending spree.
There could be conflicts to come. Guillen joked Wednesday that he'll ask Loria -- who sits in the front row near the Marlins dugout -- to help him with decisions on double switches and pinch hitting.
But Guillen also said he doesn't expect the owner to second-guess him with any regularity.
As for Loria, Guillen is his guy, the guy he wanted, the guy he wants to love every bit as much as he loves his players.
"Not because he's a personality," Loria said Wednesday. "Because he's a person."
Loria made a surprise appearance at Wednesday's workout, but he ceded the stage to his manager, preferring to make his own opening-of-camp remarks on Sunday when the full squad works out for the first time.
Of course, Guillen's problems in Chicago weren't really with ownership. He often referred to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf as a father figure, although he said Wednesday, "I respect Jerry more than he knows -- and more than I should. He fired me two times."
Guillen sees a similarity, saying, "Jeffrey loves baseball, and so did Jerry Reinsdorf. They're two baseball lovers."
The problems in Chicago were different, many of them the result of conflict between Guillen and general manager Ken Williams. Guillen said that much of the stress came from the question he constantly found himself asking: "Do you want me or not?"
There's none of that here, not now and perhaps not in the future.
Loria loves Guillen, and club president David Samson said Wednesday, "It really is a perfect fit."
And the players?
As Guillen said Wednesday, "Most of my problems are not with players. Most of my problems are with Major League Baseball."
I do wonder how some of the Marlins players will react to Guillen's sometimes brutal honesty. The White Sox players knew him so well, and those who were new could always rely on a Paul Konerko or a Buehrle to help them understand what mattered and what didn't.
But perhaps that won't be necessary here. Perhaps this Marlins team is as perfect for Ozzie as he is for them.
"He's funny," second baseman Omar Infante said. "That's what we need."
He's funny, and he's ready to have fun.
If that really does make stuff easy, then Ozzie Guillen should be just fine.