Fast forward to Monday April 6, 2015.
On a cool, breezy spring morning, there's a buzz in the air around Marlins Park in Miami for the first time since the infamous dud that was the 2011-2012 free agent flop and subsequent hoodwink by Jeffrey Loria. As a sold out crowd enters through the turnstiles, the Marlins are baseball's biggest story.
Coming off an improbable run to 88 wins and the one-game wild card playoff last October, the Marlins roster is loaded with young, inexpensive and talented players, positioning the franchise to compete for a sustained run in the NL East.
From the 2014 NL MVP and Cy Young combo of Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, respectively, to the hitting machine duo of Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick to the slick fielding of Adeiny Hechavarria, the Fish had been projected to compete with Washington, Atlanta and New York atop the division before their two notable offseason acquisitions.
In most years, the signing of a free agent starter like Homer Bailey would have shattered the radar screen in South Beach, but, as you would expect, the trade for the embattled, embarrassed and aging Alex Rodriguez has caused the biggest stir around baseball.
After sitting out the entire 2014 season as punishment for the Biogenesis fallout, Rodriguez is back in baseball. Until an agreement was reached with Miami, the sentiment in New York leaned towards the Yankees eating the $61 million left on his contract by releasing him outright after a tumultuous decade in the Bronx.
When the edict came down around baseball to unify the designated hitter rule, the Marlins front office worked out a trade to bring Rodriguez home to Miami, just minutes from where he grew up, in an effort to solidify their third base and designated hitter spots.
Due to a combination of ownership demands, fan outcry and ridiculous media pressure, the Yankees agreed to pay $50 of the $61 million owed to Rodriguez over the next three seasons in exchange for a mid-level prospect.
This will be Rodriguez's first game since mid-September of 2013, just weeks after Commissioner Bud Selig, in an effort to show his regime's progress on ridding performance enhancing drugs from the sport, made an example out of the then 38-year-old third baseman.
Despite hitting .276/.335/.475 during 35 games in 2013 during the Yankees improbable late season surge towards a wild card berth, the specter of Rodriguez's suspension appeal and arbitration hearing lingered over the franchise and season.
Although Bud Selig's preposterous lifetime ban wasn't upheld, the arbitrator suspended Rodriguez for the last two weeks of 2013 and the entire 2014 season for evidence in connection with Biogenesis.
Now, with a young, impressionable team on the precipice of true contention, the Marlins are taking a flier on Rodriguez's bat, love of the game and fondness for working with young hitters.
While most fans detest the owner-player combination of Loria-Rodriguez, the symmetry is too perfect to deny for this franchise.
Loria, the reviled owner, is looking to prove that he can preside over a winner, pack the stadium and put the ill will of 2012 and 2013 in the rear view mirror. Rodriguez, the reviled cheater, is looking to play the game he loves, finally settle down in Miami and change the narrative of his career one last time.
After fervent expectations, mostly by The New York Daily News, that Rodriguez would never, ever play again, the scored slugger called the Yankees bluff, working out meticulously and preparing to show up in Tampa in late January for an early start at Yankees spring training.
Rather than see the charade through and causing a major distraction for the 2015 Yankees, the team moved on, swallowing $50 million to watch Rodriguez resurrect himself with a National League contender.
Despite how dominant the 2015 Marlins could be, Rodriguez isn't expected to carry a large role. According to Nate Silver of ESPN, A-Rod's projection of .243/.302/.401, with 11 home runs in 97 games is probably optimistic for a 39-year-old with two surgically repaired hips.
Of course, that hasn't stopped media outlets from setting up camp in Miami for the spring and summer, akin to ESPN's Heat Index when LeBron James arrived to play for the Heat.
The final chapter of Alex Rodriguez's long, storied and soiled career begins now as a part-time slugger on a championship contending Marlins team.
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