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Indifferent reception makes Ozzie's return much easier

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Ozzie Guillen gets back to the bench with bench coach Joey Cora after a five-game ban. (US Presswire)  
Ozzie Guillen gets back to the bench with bench coach Joey Cora after a five-game ban. (US Presswire)  

MIAMI -- Out beyond left field, where the go-go girls are dancing above people playing in a swimming pool, the actual baseball games going on at Marlins Park sometimes go unnoticed.

Out there, they didn't seem to care who was managing the Marlins on Tuesday night.

Did they anywhere?

Ozzie Guillen admitted after the Marlins' 5-2 win over the Cubs that he stressed about this return to the ballpark. He didn't know how he'd be received. He couldn't.

He didn't know if he'd be cheered. He didn't know if he'd be booed.

"Are they going to forgive me?" He asked Tuesday afternoon. "I expect that. I hope that. I want that.

"Are they going to do it? Time'll see. Time will talk."

We still don't know for sure that they have forgiven him, but we're starting to have an idea that they will.

What we do know is that there were no visible signs of protest Tuesday outside Marlins Park, and there didn't seem to be any angry fans inside the stadium, either.

The Marlins, no doubt because they weren't sure what the reaction would be, didn't show Guillen on the video board. The way the game went, the only time he appeared on the field was for a brief seventh-inning argument.

The fans booed, but it certainly appeared that they were booing the call by umpire D.J. Reyburn, rather than the manager.

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But they weren't exactly chanting "Oz-zie! Oz-zie!" either. They weren't wearing Guillen jerseys, or carrying Guillen signs.

They actually seemed fairly indifferent, but you can be sure that Guillen and the Marlins will take indifference in this case.

"Everything was pretty nice," Guillen said. "It made my day easier. I appreciate the way the people were, not just with me, but with the team."

The most dire predictions don't appear to have come true.

Tuesday's crowd, announced at 24,544, was more or less what the Marlins would have expected for a Tuesday night in April, even before the Ozzie/Fidel mess blew up. Marlins president David Samson said that while 13 people originally called wanting to cancel season tickets, 12 of them changed their minds after he spoke to them on the phone (and the other, he said, came away undecided).

Samson also said that no advertisers pulled their support, although two (both owned by Cuban-Americans) asked that their in-stadium ads be switched to support the Liga Contra el Cancer charity.

"I think we have the support of our partners," Samson said.

I think Guillen still has the support of Marlins ownership, and also the support of the players in his clubhouse. It's hard to know if that support could survive another crisis as bad as this one, and given Guillen's history, it's hard to say with any certainty that there won't be another crisis.

Barring something totally unforeseen, though, Guillen has survived this. If the Marlins play as well as they could, he may survive here for a long time.

He still fits this franchise and this city, every bit as much as the nightclub and the dancing girls do.

So what if the manager is a little outrageous, too?

Like any other manager, though, Guillen will ultimately be helped by winning. That's why closer Heath Bell said after Tuesday's game, "I think he's relieved that we're creeping up to .500."

It's why Guillen opened up his postgame press conference by saying that what made him happiest was that Josh Johnson and Bell had both pitched well, after struggling in the early days of the season.

The Marlins have had a crazier start to the season than any other team, with the opening of the new park followed soon after by the Ozzie/Fidel mess. They crave normality, or as much normality as you can have in a park where baseball sometimes seems to be just a sideshow for the nightclub.

With three wins in the last four games, the Marlins have improved to 5-6. They have two more games with the awful Cubs, before heading off to Washington to play the early-season National League East leaders.

By then, we may well be talking about Hanley Ramirez, whose crushed three-run game-winning home run Tuesday gave him seven RBI in the last three games.

Or maybe Ozzie will say something else that will have us talking. He can't help himself, you know?

Even after Tuesday's game, when someone mentioned the Miami-Dade Police cap that Guillen was wearing, he had to say, "I always wear this hat, just in case they're going to give me a ticket."

In this case, the laugh line was harmless. By the end of this day, Guillen was back in his comfort zone.

"I spent three hours where I want to be," he said. "Every time I step in the dugout, or put on a uniform, that's Ozzie Guillen. That's what I know the best."

The Marlins have asked him to remember that. They've told him he can be as outrageous as he wants when talking about baseball, but that non-baseball talk, for the most part, will not be seen as funny.

They'll be paying close attention to what he says, even if they weren't before.

They don't need a comedian for their nightclub/ballpark.

That's what the dancing girls are for.

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