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The Mission of Marlins Man

Miami lawyer Laurence Leavy — Marlins Man — in St. Louis. He watches the best games from the best seats and takes strangers along.

Photo courtesy of Laurence Leavy

Miami lawyer Laurence Leavy — Marlins Man — in St. Louis. He watches the best games from the best seats and takes strangers along.

If it's Thursday, it must be Kansas City, must be Game 1 of the Royals' American League Division Series against Houston and must mean his second-row-behind-home-plate guests will be an engaged couple he invited to a previous Royals game this year.

"They've invited me to their wedding now," Marlins Man says.

Marlins Man might be busy that day, being on your TV screen more than Flo from Progressive. Tuesday night he was on it behind home plate in New York for the Yankees-Astros wild-card game. Wednesday it was Pittsburgh for the Pirates-Cubs game.

Friday is Indianapolis or St. Louis — depending on the WNBA and Cardinals schedules. Saturday is Tallahassee for the Miami-Florida State football game. He rented a Greyhound bus to bring 48 fans from South Florida, free of charge for them, of course, because that's how he rolls. But 40 cancelled after Miami lost to Cincinnati. "Now I'm renting a couple of cars," he says.

The week's tickets cost him upwards of $8,000, but that's not Marlins Man's concern right now. The concern is his uniform. He packs eight orange Marlins jerseys that make him look radioactive on America's TV screens. Six are dirty.

"I need to get wash done, and I might be at a game every day until Nov. 4," he says.

•••

Marlins Man Story No. 1: Oklahoma City. NBA playoffs. He has been to 18 playoff games in 20 days, each in a different city.

"Do you have a clone?" asks Shaquille O'Neal, on hand in his TNT analyst role.

"No," Marlins Man says.

"Are you the same guy I saw last night?"

"Yes," Marlins Man says.

"Why do you do this?"

"Why not?"

•••

So why does he do it? And how does he afford it? How can he live a sports-gasmic Groundhog Day of an existence by watching the best games from the best seats, day after day, month after month and taking strangers along for the ride?

South Florida's descending sports teams are partially to credit. They freed him. Marlins Man was just Laurence Leavy then, owner of a Broward law firm with 37 employees, specializing in labor law and owning multiple season tickets to local teams.

"I was spending between $200,000 and $300,000 on season tickets for clients," he said. "It helped me build my practice. It was great in the '90s when Pat Riley was the Heat's coach, Jimmy Johnson the Dolphins coach, (Jim) Leyland the Marlins coach and (Doug MacLean) the Panthers coach."

Then as a pox fell on every South Florida team but the Heat, he realized he couldn't give away his tickets just as this week's Miami-Florida State game underlines.

"No one wanted to go," he said.

Then he was diagnosed with liver cancer. It turned out to be kidney stones and an enlarged blood mass on his liver. But he examined his life. This health scare made him decide to attend more events for more fun — and to take people who might not be able to attend, free of charge, for even more fun. And to ask them to help someone else for even more fun still.

"I used to say, 'One day I'll do this, one day I'll do that,' " he said. "I thought one day I'd find the perfect wife who didn't want to do anything but go to sporting events, but that never happened. I just decided I'd better make 'one day' today."

He attended 148 baseball games this year. He went to Stanley Cup games, NBA playoff games and horse racing's Triple Crown. He became a fixture on America's TV sets.

He also kept working. He performs several billable hours a day from hotel rooms. He runs the law firm from the front row. He often takes employees to games, too.

How much does it all cost?

"A lot," he says. "But you know what, without a wife, without kids, helping all these people see something they otherwise couldn't, I've never been happier in my life."

•••

Marlins Man Story No. 2: Citi Field. Mets-Yankees in September. Marlins Man is in his usual seat behind home plate. A teenage boy approaches, asking to take a picture with him. "You're a living legend," the boy says.

"No, I'm just a guy at a game," Marlins Man says. "A Living Legend is someone you respect like your parents. Where are you parents?"

The boy points across the way. Sara Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick wave.

•••

Dustin Pruett best tells the Marlins Man Experience, though. Pruett is 28, a sales rep to convenience stores in Springfield, Mo. He friended Marlins Man on Facebook (Marlins Man was capped by Facebook at 5,000 friends). He dressed up as Marlins Man at Halloween. Pruett then got in touch with Marlins Man on Facebook. He was invited to a Cardinals game in April — "Totally out of the blue," he says. His father went with him. They picked up another random fan invited to the game by Marlins Man.

They sat in the best seats, ate and drank whatever they wanted and didn't pay a cent. It was such a good night Pruett became friends with another random Marlins Man invitee and will be in his wedding next year.

Pruett also embraced the pay-it-forward ideal Marlins Man preaches. Every fan he invites to a game must do something nice to a stranger. Pruett? He bought two beers for fans behind him in line. "It's a small thing, but it was something," he said.

Pruett's story is common. Marlins Man took Jon Deller, 63, of Billings, Mont., to the All-Star Game in Cincinnati, paying for his tickets and hotel. He took Alma Serrano of Los Angeles and 23 others to a Dodgers game and gave her an autographed bat of her favorite player, Christian Yelich.

He has done this for countless others. When asked for such stories, Marlins Man said to wait a moment. Within an hour, 14 people he took to games called. Within two hours, 27 had. Within a day, 68 people called or emailed. And not just anyone.

"Hi, my name's Bill Allen, I'm minority owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and I'm calling about Marlins Man ..." a voicemail message said.

Allen never heard of Marlins Man before they sat beside each other at a game in Pittsburgh. He quietly observed this man who brought in a few fans to the game. He befriended strangers and ushers. He bought drinks for a couple of rows of fans.

"I'm a believer," Allen said.

•••

Not everyone embraces Marlins Man. Kansas City asked him to change his garish orange jersey to a powder-puff blue jersey. He flatly refused. Someone once posted negative comments on Twitter every two hours.

Marlins Man invoked his followers of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to tell them about the good deeds he had done. The critic wrote within the day that he'd stop after receiving hundreds of notes supporting Marlins Man. But what mystifies Marlins Man is that the team he touts like a billboard is standoffish. He's suggested a "Marlins Man Night" where fans wearing an orange jersey get a discounted ticket.

"I even said, 'Let me throw out the first pitch to a game,' " he said. "They wouldn't do that."

Marlins president David Samson admits people think he was hired by the team to be a Marlins evangelist. "He's not a team employee," Samson said. "He does great work as a fan, but as for the idea of throwing out a first pitch or other things, there's a protocol to follow for allowing that."

•••

Marlins Man Story No. 3: New York. Marlins Man attends the Heisman Trophy ceremonies (in a suit) before going with several former Heisman winners to Times Square in his orange jersey. Bystanders want their picture with him.

"Why do people keep giving me dollars after they take my picture?" Marlins Man asks.

"They think you're one of the characters like SpongeBob or Spider-Man who work Times Square for tips," Matt Leinart's wife says.

The kicker: Within a week, a Marlins Man character had set up to work Times Square for tips.

The Mission of Marlins Man 10/08/15 [Last modified: Friday, October 9, 2015 5:23am]
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