Marlins’ 1997 champs to reunite, revive memories during MLB All-Star Week

When Moises Alou reflects on the then-Florida Marlins’ run to the World Series championship in 1997 he is struck by how close they were as a team and how quickly they were split up.

“We were a family. I remember 10 of us going out to dinner or two of us going out for a beer. We acted like a team on and off the field,” says Alou, who was heartbroken when he was the first to be traded away, two weeks after the dramatic walk-off victory in the 11th inning in Game 7 against Cleveland.

“I was so disappointed. We just won the World Series and I get traded. You start thinking, what did I do wrong? Then a few days later they started trading everybody away. Then I kind of realized what was going on.”

That was the bitter aftermath of the Marlins making the fastest rise from expansion team to champion. The players never got a chance to savor their victory.

Alou is looking forward to that opportunity during All-Star Week, with a number of the ’97 Marlins playing prominent roles as part of the season-long 20th anniversary celebration of the franchise’s first title.

Alou, Jeff Conine and Cliff Floyd are ’97 Marlins alumni scheduled for appearances during FanFest, which begins Friday.

2017 MLB All-Star Game coverage

Eight members of the ’97 team are listed as coaches in Sunday’s Futures Game. Edgar Renteria, who had the World Series-winning hit, will be managing the World Team in that showcase of baseball’s top minor leaguers, while two-time All-Star catcher Charles Johnson will manage Team USA.

“It’s kind of crazy, right? Twenty years. I mean, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since Edgar had that big hit up the middle,” Johnson says.

Renteria’s single off the glove of Cleveland pitcher Charles Nagy found its way into center field to score Craig Counsell and set off a wild celebration at what is now known as Hard Rock Stadium.

Johnson, during a recent appearance at Marlins Park, recalled that after the revelry on the field and in the clubhouse settled, the team gathered in the privacy of the trainer’s room and continued the party into the wee hours of the morning.

“Just about the whole team gathered in the training room and we all had a chance to really express how we felt about that season,” Johnson says. “That was one of my special moments.”

Expect there will be some revival of that this weekend, perhaps after the Futures Game. Floyd, Al Leiter and Charlie Manuel (bench coach in ’97) are aiding Johnson as coaches on the U.S. team.

Marlins greats Edgar Renteria, Charles Johnson to manage in All-Star Futures Game

Luis Castillo, also a key component of the Marlins’ 2003 championship run, will serve as Renteria’s bench coach, and former pitcher Alex Fernandez (now director of baseball operations for state champion Archbishop McCarthy High) is also on the staff. World Series pitching hero Livan Hernandez is also listed as a coach for the World Team.

Also on Sunday, Leiter will play in the All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game along with prominent former Marlins Pudge Rodriguez, Andre Dawson, Benito Santiago and Tim Raines. Rodriguez — a driving force of the Marlins’ 2003 title, who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame later this month — is featured in a bobblehead giveaway to the first 10,000 fans Sunday.

While many of the major players in the 2003 championship remained with the Marlins for two additional seasons, the immediate breakup of the 1997 club left a sour aftertaste that remains 20 years later.

“I thought one of the best things about winning a championship was going back the next year in spring training and talking about it as a team,” Alou says. “We didn’t have the opportunity to do that, so I was very disappointed.”

In his only season with the Marlins, Alou made the second of six All-Star appearances, along with Johnson and pitcher Kevin Brown.

Marlins All-Stars through the years

Alou’s biggest All-Star moment came in 1994 when his 10th-inning double in the gap in left-center scored Tony Gwynn from first for a National League walk-off win at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium. It has been ranked among the 50 most memorable moments in All-Star history. Coincidentally, Alou and Gwynn flew to the game together, playing cards all the way on a flight from San Diego.

Alou wasn’t even sure he would get a chance to be a factor as he didn’t enter the game until the ninth inning. He would go 5-for-10 as an All-Star while representing five different teams.

“I think [Gary] Sheffield and myself might be the only guys who did that before,” Alou says. “I love being part of the All-Star Game.”

Alou’s walk-off hit in ’94 came amid a run of notable performances by players who would figure prominently on the Marlins ’97 championship team.

Marlins' most memorable All-Star moments

In 1993, the Marlins’ inaugural season, Sheffield homered in the first All-Star at-bat by a Marlin. In ’95, Conine hit the decisive homer as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and was named MVP.

Conine will join Alou and former Marlins Floyd, Antonio Alfonseca, Derrek Lee, Dontrelle Willis and Juan Pierre in one of the diamond clinics at noon Monday at FanFest. Conine and Tony Perez will be co-grand marshals for the All-Star Red Carpet Parade in downtown Miami on Tuesday, hours before the game.

“It’s very special just to finally be involved in another All-Star Game,” says Conine, who didn’t play in one after 1995. “To be on this side of it now hosting is a long time coming in Miami. It’s going to showcase not only our stadium but the city of Miami.”

Alou managed the World Team to victory in last year’s Futures Game in San Diego. He would offer the same suggestion to former teammates Johnson and Renteria that he adhered to.

“I remember ’94 when I wanted to get in that All-Star Game so bad and I almost didn’t,” he said. “I was going to make sure everybody got in the [Futures] game, and everybody did. And we won the game, so that was awesome.”

cldavis@sun-sentinel.com; Twitter @CraigDavisRuns; here on Facebook

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