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Marlins hope Fernandez will boost attendance

December 10, 1996

MIAMI (AP) _ Alex Fernandez’s $35 million contract with the Florida Marlins will allow him to buy plenty of tickets for friends and family.

``If I give tickets to everybody who wants one, I’ll fill the stadium by myself,″ he said.

The 27-year-old Miami native signed a five-year deal Monday with Florida, rejecting better offers because he wanted to pitch for his hometown team. The Marlins anticipate that Fernandez will boost sagging attendance because of his local ties and South Florida’s large Hispanic population.

``I’ve been in Miami for four years,″ Marlins executive Tony Perez said. ``And every time Alex pitches on television, the next day everybody is talking about him. Now they’re going to come and see him. He’s a hero here, and he has been for years.″

After seven seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Fernandez became a free agent Saturday when the new labor agreement restored service time from the 1994-95 strike. He accepted $7 million a year from Florida when he could have received up to $8.5 million elsewhere, said his agent, Scott Boras.

``Once he knew he could get that much, he didn’t have to take it,″ Boras said. ``He knew he had the respect he deserved.″

The Marlins’ stiffest competition reportedly came from the Cleveland Indians.

Atlanta’s John Smoltz became the best-paid pitcher in baseball history last month when he signed a four-year, $31 million contract, an average of $7.75 million per season. Fernandez will settle for being the Marlins’ best-paid player, surpassing Gary Sheffield’s $6.1 million for 1997.

``The money was overwhelming somewhere else,″ said Fernandez, who fought back tears at an emotional news conference attended by his parents. ``It wasn’t an easy decision. It all comes down to being at home. I wanted to pitch in front of my fans again.″

Fernandez grew up in Miami and pitched for the Miami Hurricanes before turning professional in 1990. He’s building a new house 15 minutes from Pro Player Stadium.

The burly right-hander became the latest acquisition during the Marlins’ offseason spending spree, but he won’t be the last. General manager Dave Dombrowski hopes to add an outfielder, possibly free agent Moises Alou, and a left-handed reliever.

Florida earlier signed slugger Bobby Bonilla to a $23.3 million, four-year contract; outfielder Jim Eisenreich to a $3 million, two-year deal; and outfielder John Cangelosi to a $1,075,000, two-year contract.

Fernandez rejected a five-year, $30 million offer from the White Sox. He never won 20 games or a Cy Young Award for them, but he was durable and consistent, compiling a 57-34 record with a 3.52 ERA the past four seasons.

Joining Kevin Brown and Al Leiter, Fernandez gives the Marlins three starters who could rival Atlanta’s trio of John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Fernandez was 16-10 last season with a 3.45 ERA.

``Any time you can sign a quality player from the local community, that’s important,″ Dombrowski said. ``And he’s only 27. He’ll pitch here in his prime, and he can get better.″

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