January 30, 2023

Zip Code Sports Reports

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Marlins cheer on Heat, Panthers in playoff runs

3 min read

This story was excerpted from Christina De Nicola’s Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

There’s a certain thrill when walking into a sports venue as a spectator, decked out in your team’s gear and filled with anticipation for the upcoming game. Four Marlins, so used to being the ones cheered on, got a glimpse of the other side last Thursday.

South Florida sports are having a highlight-filled year. The NBA’s Miami Heat and the NHL’s Florida Panthers finished as the top seeds in their respective conferences, and for just the eighth time since 1995-96, both teams reached the playoffs at the same time.

So, shortstop Miguel Rojas attended Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Heat and the Boston Celtics, while relievers Cole Sulser, Tommy Nance and Tanner Scott caught Game 2 between the Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity,” said Sulser, who went with his fiancée Dana. “We usually can’t go based on our [162-game] schedule, so the fact that it lined up with an off-day and they were playing here at home, good opportunity to go support another Miami team.”

The Marlins weren’t alone. Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki and members of the defensive line also went to the hockey game. The Dolphins’ offensive line also stopped by Friday night’s Marlins-Braves game, helping the grounds crew.

Pitchers Anthony Bender, Sulser, Louis Head, Trevor Rogers and Steven Okert also took the opportunity to watch Game 4 between the Panthers and the Lightning — a 2-0 Lightning win that eliminated the Panthers — ahead of the Marlins’ series against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

When the Marlins visited Truist Park last month in Atlanta, it overlapped with the first-round series between the Heat and Hawks. Miami native and longtime Heat forward Udonis Haslem caught Miami’s 9-7 victory, and he was briefly shown on the ballpark’s big screen. He frequents loanDepot park when his schedule allows.

“I love when other sports go and support the other teams in the city,” said Nance, who had only attended one other NHL game. “I think it’s cool. If we’re not playing whatever sport we’re playing, we’re also sports fans, and being physically at a game is always fun.”

In 2020, the Marlins returned to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years, advancing to the National League Division Series. Around the same time, the Heat reached the NBA Finals in the Bay Lake, Fla., bubble. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans weren’t permitted at either postseason run.

“It sucks, because it was a good year for both of us, and we didn’t have fans in the stands,” Rojas said. “But it was really nice to go there and see a packed house all over the place, seeing a lot of baseball fans, too. The community in Miami’s growing together with the sports, and hopefully we can feel the same thing pretty soon here.”

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