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Indians enmity even stronger in Homestead

October 22, 1997

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) _ After this city was devastated by mighty Hurricane Andrew, thousands returned to rebuild.

But the Cleveland Indians, set to start their spring training here months later in 1993, struck out for another town.

There was no joy in Homestead.

Lots of people in south Florida are rooting against the Indians in the World Series. But no one is more for the Marlins than the spurned people of Homestead.

``The Indians organization could have been national heroes, and stepped up to the plate and said we’re going to help this community,″ said Homestead Mayor Tad DeMilly. ``They said, `We’re leaving.‴

Honoring the commitment to play in this agricultural community 40 miles south of Miami would have been more than just a game, said DeMilly. It would have buoyed the devastated town. It would have brought badly needed business to town, it would have meant fun for the town that lost to Mother Nature.

The Indians, training instead in Winter Haven, about 300 miles to the north, did come to the facility they had agreed to play in, for two spring training games.

They played the Marlins.

``The thing I resent the most, and I think the community resents, was the whipsaw of emotions we went through,″ said DeMilly. ``The Indians and the Marlins came through and we had a fabulous weekend, everybody _ we took our minds off of the hurt _ and really saw something really good for the morale. And two weeks later, they kicked us right in the butt again and sent us back to our knees.″

The Indians’ two-year agreement to play in Homestead was off.

The Indians won’t talk about it. ``The official comment from the Indians is no comment,″ vice president for public relations Bob DiBiasio said Tuesday as the team prepared for Game 3.

``Management took a look at the community and saw a place that had a 280-mile-an-hour wind blow through it, and they determined that this was not the environment that they wanted to bring their ball players to,″ DeMilly said.

Many others packed up and left, too. But many rebuilt.

These days, bright sun shines on the pink two-tiered stadium, repaired and now ready for play.

But it stands waiting for another team to come to town. The grass is still cut, the scoreboard works, there’s a fresh coat of blue paint on the seats.

And the people are cheering, not just for the Marlins, but against the Indians.

``When the Indians played the Braves in the Series (two years ago), there were a heck of a lot of Braves fans here,″ said DeMilly. ``And you can be sure there are hundreds of times that many Marlins fans.″

``They left us high and dry after the hurricane,″ said Sonja Hoeben, tending bar at the Sports Page bar. ``They could have had a good excuse, but most people don’t know what it was. Even more, we want the Marlins to kick their butt. I guess it was a business decision, but after the hurricane it was even more of a hit.″

And that first game between the Marlins and Indians, back in March 1993? The Marlins won.

Residents here still remember that March when they looked up from the ruin and destruction surrounding them long enough to see the Indians abandoning them.

Many haven’t forgiven.

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