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Miami's good news

The faces of Miami's television news anchors have been frozen in smiles so long it's a wonder bugs don't fly in their mouths. In the Miami Herald, every issue and almost every section has a picture of video rental mogul Wayne Huizenga, the man who opened his bottomless checkbook and bought baseball for South Florida.

And on the streets, Antonio "Tony" Lopez gloats about how his city, a real macho city, will bring his baseball card collection to life on the lush green grass of Joe Robbie Stadium.

It could have been St. Petersburg's. But in one year, Miami and exotic South Florida worked its voodoo to transform Tampa Bay's years-long dream into dust, smoke and ashes.

So Miami rejoices as St. Petersburg weeps.

But do not expect Miami to feel sorry for St. Petersburg. This racially troubled, corruption-ridden place needed it, needed something, anything to help deliver it from its day-to-day malaise.

In the past week, Miamians have learned that four local judges may have been taking bribes, that a police officer died after stopping a stolen car, that a police lieutenant shot two of his own men in the legs during a drug sting, that city hall wants to evict recovering crack addicts from a group home that has been their salvation...

"You want bad news. Come to Miami. The judges are taking money. Our police get shot down. And the ones who do shoot can't hit anything but each other," said Marion Johnson, a cook in northeastern Miami.

"This baseball thing is the only good news we've got. I hate it for St. Petersburg, but . . . "

"We needed this," said Ron Higgins, who owns a public relations company and real estate holdings in Miami. "It's good for us."

The Neil Rogers show, Miami's most listened-to and controversial radio talk show, rang for days with jubilant callers who forgot to be mean. Instead of talking bad about immigrants and minorities and old people _ popular themes _ they talked baseball. Grown women and men called to discuss what color the team uniforms should be.

"Miami has a major-league team

Finally, something to be happy about," crowed Rogers, a former baseball announcer and a Cubs fan. "Now we can see the Cardinals and the Mets and the Braves and the

We don't have to get on a plane. We just have to get in our car."

The meanness came back when talk turned to the losers. No one feels sorry for St. Petersburg. One caller said St. Petersburg and Tampa didn't deserve a big-league team.

"I hope their dome rots," the unidentified man said.

"They're a yahoo city anyway," Rogers answered.

Others, out on the streets, said the same thing.

Lopez said St. Petersburg didn't deserve a major-league team because "it's not a real city with real people, like here in Miami. Miami is a real city."

People poked fun at the big biscuit in the sky, the dome that St. Petersburg built because it wanted an edge in the expansion hunt. To a lot of Miamians, the really funny thing is that the announcement the city was getting a team came during a monsoon.

As Miami's grip on an expansion team got stronger and stronger, its skies got darker and darker. It rained in Miami every day, on and off all day,for a full week.

Getting in an uninterrupted nine innings could not have happened. But Miami with its open-air stadium will have baseball, and rainouts, while St. Petersburg with its roof, and no possibility of rainouts forever and ever, will not.

The rest of the baseball-loving world can believe what it wants, that it was Wayne Huizenga's millions that brought the National League expansion team to Miami, that it was the collapse of funding in St. Petersburg that killed its chances.

Manolito Suita knows Miami won because it is on the side of the angels.

Suita said it is best not to ask the saints for too much, lest they become perturbed by mortal whining and cut him off from miracles altogether. In the past year he has prayed to heal his father-in-law's aching hip joints, for money for a bigger car, and for baseball.

His father-in-law's hips still ache, his car is still too small. But in the summer of 1993, Suita can squeeze the hobbling old man into his itty-bitty Vega station wagon and take him to see a team called the Marlins play two in the late afternoon. If it doesn't rain.

"There are a lot of Catholics here," said Suita, 32, who lives in South Miami. "I think they are all baseball fans."