The Marlins fan 5,000 miles away

Tomi Korkeamäki roots on Miami from Finland

June 28th, 2021
Art by Tom Forget

It's Saturday night in Miami and the Marlins have just wrapped up a tight, 3-2, win against their division rival Nationals.

Fans, some avid, some tourists out to see the local ball team, celebrate by cheering and high-fiving others in the stands. Strangers at the beginning of the game have now become friends. It's only 10 p.m., and the whole city is wide open for them to continue their night of joy.

Across the world, 5,145 miles away, traversing seven time zones -- another Marlins fan, one Marlins fan, quietly pumps his fist after watching the victory on his laptop.

He's by himself, working the overnight shift at a hotel in Vaasa, Finland -- a small industrial town on the west coast of the country. It's 5 a.m., and the sun has been up for more than an hour.

"Yeah, I watch baseball during my work time," Tomi Korkeamäki told me over a Zoom call. "I work from 11 p.m. to 7 in the morning. I get to watch a lot of games."

A Marlins fan? In Finland? With a podcast and robust résumé of baseball-writing bylines? How does this happen? Where does it all start?

Korkeamäki on his honeymoon in Miami

"It was 2016," Korkeamäki said. "My wife and I got married and we decided to take our honeymoon to Miami."

While planning their trip to South Florida, along with enjoying the hot weather and beaches, Korkeamäki and his wife, Teea, decided they wanted to do a tour of all the major sports in the area. They'd hit a Dolphins game, a Panthers game and, hopefully, get a chance to see the local baseball team.

"It was the sport we know about America here, that baseball is a really old game," Korkeamäki told me. "All I knew about baseball is that they play a lot of games, so I started Googling and I found out they play 162. We were coming in October, so I thought they'd still be playing."

Korkeamäki quickly realized that the Marlins would have to make the playoffs for he and his wife to be able to see them when they were in town. So, during the summer of 2016, he purchased the MLB package and started watching nearly every game while he worked overnight at his hotel job -- hoping, pleading, wishing they'd pile up enough victories to make it to October. Just so the two of them could watch baseball in America.

"That was the starting point [of my fandom]," Korkeamäki told me.

Korkeamäki quickly fell for the Fish. The promise of a young outfield that featured Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcella Ozuna; the once-in-a-generation superstardom of José Fernández.

If you remember, the Marlins' 2016 season ended up being a tragic one. The team was fairly solid all season long -- hovering at or above the .500 mark for most of the year and contending for the NL Wild Card. They finished in third place in the NL East.

But in late September, Fernández was killed during a boat crash. He was just 24, and had a promising future ahead of him as a cornerstone of the young Marlins core. His talent and personality made him a must-watch every time he took the mound. Teammates and fans gave heartbreaking tributes, with Dee Strange-Gordon's at-bat the next night maybe being the most memorable of all.

Seeing this all unfold during the final few weeks of the season, Korkeamäki developed a deeper emotional connection to this team he'd watched all summer. Even though they'd miss the playoffs and he wouldn't be seeing a live game after flying in on Oct. 1, he wanted to check out the stadium they called home.

"It was the final day of our vacation and we were driving around in Miami," Korkeamäki told me. "And we decided to go to Marlins Park to at least see that place where they played those games. I walked around the stadium and I saw these tall pillars and they had José's name and number there. Then I saw all the messages that people had wrote there. I don't know what it was, but it really hit me how big he was for the team and Cuban culture. It hit me really strong. He was a big deal. That's when I realized I wanted to see where this franchise was going, what's going to happen to this club when its best player suddenly dies. So, the next year I started to watch more and more Marlins games and baseball in general."

Korkeamäki has since followed the Marlins over the last five seasons, and although he isn't feeling super great about their chances this year, he's not giving up hope.

"Before the season, I was feeling a lot more positive than now," Korkeamäki said. "We will see, I don't know."

His favorite current Marlin is breakout starter Trevor Rogers, and he loves Brian Anderson. Seriously, whenever Anderson comes to bat he tells his wife, "that's the man I love."

His favorite overall star in MLB is Tim Anderson.

"I like the way he plays," Korkeamäki said. "He has the confidence that I think I will never have. He talks like he talks, but he also has something to show for it."

Korkeamäki has continued to build on his fandom, turning his passion into a mini career. He has a podcast called Baseball Terapia (Baseball Therapy) with another Finnish baseball fan he found via Twitter -- Ville Pavola. Korkeamäki told me Pavola became a Blue Jays fan because he was a Toronto Raptors fan, and that he's never actually met his podcast partner in real life.

"There aren't so many people on Finnish baseball Twitter," Korkeamäki laughed. "There's basically me and Ville and a handful of other guys."

Their pod started up earlier this year and is in Finnish. The two talk about the Marlins and Blue Jays, but also broader baseball topics from the past or narratives currently taking place in today's game. They've surprisingly seen a decent amount of listeners from the tiny Finnish baseball fan community, about 100 listens per episode.

"More and more people have popped up and said they're into baseball. Some new fans," Korkeamäki said. "And that's the main focus of our podcast. To try to get people interested in baseball. We try to find stories to tell. It's not like we're going over standings or stats."

Korkeamäki is also a Marlins writer for the popular UK-based baseball site Bat Flips and Nerds. He recently wrote about Rogers' breakout season, and has a great attitude when it comes to covering the sport.

"I see baseball as a fun sport. I'm not trying to say I know a lot about baseball," Korkeamäki told me. "I just like to keep it funny. There are thousands of other writers who know about baseball -- a lot more than me. So, I just try to focus on the fun parts."

With the closest baseball stadium nearly 200 miles away and the games he covers happening in another hemisphere, you'd think it'd be hard for Korkeamäki to find baseball connections outside of the internet. Yet, somehow, he's found some signs of Marlins fandom in real life.

A few years back, in an even smaller town than his, Korkeamäki told an astonishing story. A man was selling bats and balls at a marketplace. This, of course, piqued Korkeamäki's interest. He went over and picked up one of the balls.

"I didn't even see what ball it was, but I turned it around and it was the ball from the first Marlins game in 1993," Korkeamäki told me. "Marlins versus Dodgers in 1993."

Korkeamäki couldn't explain how it got there and didn't ask the man how he came upon it. He figured the vendor must have lived in Florida at some point in his life. Either way, he had to get it and purchased the ball for 10 Euros.

Korkeamäki also claimed he's not the only Marlins fan in Finland.

"I know one other Marlins fan in Finland and I've heard rumors that there's also another one," he said.

Let's hope the rumors are true and the three of them can get together someday to have a catch. Or maybe to talk about what it's like loving and following a team from the other side of the globe.