There's no place like home for local Marlins

September 23rd, 2021

MIAMI -- Marlins infielder follows the same route to loanDepot park as he took to University of Miami football games at the Orange Bowl as a kid. The 31-year-old Alvarez, who attended Christopher Columbus High, is one of four players on the Marlins' active roster -- along with , and -- from South Florida.

"Playing for the hometown team is an absolute dream come true," Alvarez said. "I grew up just a few miles away from here. I have a house now just a few miles away from here. This is like my backyard. It's still kind of surreal, to be honest with you. It's so weird to be home. When I'm on my couch and I'm watching TV after a game or something, it's absolutely surreal. I can't use any other word, really, because the amount of support I've received, the amount of love I've received, especially here in the city, it's been unbelievable."

It's a novel experience for Alvarez, who made his Major League debut last season when fans weren't allowed in the stands. He began 2021 at Triple-A Jacksonville, then stepped away to become the sixth athlete to medal in both the Winter and Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Alvarez received another MLB callup on Sept. 7, and he has had family and friends in the stands ever since. Those who were part of his journey also are getting to reap the rewards of life in The Show.

The same goes for the other three Marlins. Brinson was born in Fort Lauderdale and attended Coral Springs High before being selected by Texas in the 2012 MLB Draft. He spent five seasons in the Rangers' organization prior to a trade to the Brewers. Two years later, he was dealt to his childhood team.

The 27-year-old outfielder's outlook on the situation has changed over time.

"At first, I was a little nervous about playing at home, because obviously all the pressure of playing at home, you always have people at the game," Brinson said. "But you get older, you spend more time here, it's just another game. And honestly, it gets cooler every time somebody can come out and see me play that I grew up with, and I played with or played backyard baseball with or something. Now they're seeing me play in the big leagues."

Brinson, like the other locals on the club, also experiences an interesting dynamic with family members living nearby. His mom comes to every other game. His sister and her kids, as well as his uncle, sometimes do. Every Sunday when the Marlins are in town and it's not a getaway day, Brinson visits his mom for dinner in his childhood home in Coral Springs.

Bleier, who was born in Miami Beach, attended South Plantation High before playing at Florida Gulf Coast University. Though Bleier is in his sixth season in the Majors, he made his debut in 2016 with the Yankees and was dealt to the Orioles, playing with them from '17-20. When the Marlins experienced a COVID-19 outbreak last season and needed to replenish the bullpen, the club traded for him.

During the early part of his career, Bleier's parents would visit Baltimore once a year. They also caught a few games when the Orioles played the Rays in St. Petersburg. Now with everyone residing in South Florida -- his parents in Davie and his sister in Miami Shores -- Sundays have become a family affair. Like Marlins fans with children, the Bleiers run the bases following the game, commandeering the outfield and playing baseball so long they "usually close the place down."

The 34-year-old has a home in West Palm Beach. During the 2021 season, however, the left-handed reliever has been staying in Hollywood with the in-laws.

"That's fun," Bleier said. "We have a young child, so it's been great for her to be able to spend time with her grandparents. We get help with the baby when we need it, and my wife gets to spend time with her parents, too. I get along well with my in-laws, so it's been working well for everybody."

Luzardo, who was born in Lima, Peru, but grew up in Parkland, attended Stoneman-Douglas High. He spent just a year in the Nationals' organization before being dealt to the A's. The week of this July's Trade Deadline, Luzardo found himself headed to the hometown team.

The left-hander, who turns 24 in a week, has a house three minutes from where his parents live. He regularly stops by to say hi. But during the early part of last offseason, Luzardo had to set some boundaries because his parents would show up unannounced.

Still, he loves being able to see them at the ballpark for all of his home starts. They no longer have to travel across the country to watch him pitch. There are family dinners, with his mom preparing sancocho soup or his father grilling on the BBQ. His older sister and her boyfriend will come over. Sometimes, an aunt or uncle will drop in.

What's the best thing about being back home?

"Just the tranquility," Luzardo said. "I like being in my own house. I like sleeping in my own bed. I like Parkland. Not a lot of traffic, not a lot of people. Kind of know all the home spots that I grew up going to. I still go to the same sub shop that I grew up going to, the same bagel spot, all these places that I like. It's like a routine for me when I'm home. They know me as the kid that used to go to Douglas, and I grew up going there. They don't know me as the Marlins player."