The Post-Journal

Lunetta Can't Wait For 'Play Ball'

Dan Lunetta knows what it's like to be humbled by some thing he loves. That's why he wakes up every morning and pinches himself to make sure he isn't dreaming. After 14 years of bouncing his way through the sometimes unkind world of professional baseball, the 37-year-old Jamestown native is like a little kid on Christmas Eve.

He can't wait for tomorrow.

That's when the pitchers and catchers for the Florida Marlins don uniforms for the first time at their spring training facility in Melbourne, Fla., to begin preparation for their inaugural season in the National League.

Lunetta, the Marlins' director of minor league administration, has been anticipating the team's first workout since he took the job in October 1991.

Now, all the front-office's work during the last 16 ½ months – laying the groundwork for the Marlins' minor league system, signing players, overseeing the two Rookie League teams last summer, preparing for and conducting November's expansion draft and getting the Melbourne spring training facility up and running – has been worth it.

The collective efforts of people like general manager Dave Dombrowski, assistant GM Frank Wren, director of scouting and special assistant to the GM Gary Hughes and Lunetta have resulted in a 40-man roster and well over 100 players in the Marlins system.

"To me, that's the most gratifying," Lunetta said last week from his Fort Lauderdale home. "Dave, Frank and I were sitting in my office looking at a roster board. We didn't say much to each other. After a few minutes we looked at each other and gave a nod of approval. It was a sense of accomplishment and we were thinking, 'Here we are fellas, it's time to go, time to basically move on to Chapter Two."

And Lunetta, like a man reading a good book, can't wait to see the protagonists – and in this case, the Marlins – in action.

"We've talked about what kind of feeling, what kind of adrenaline flow we're going to experience (tomorrow) for the first workout," Lunetta said. "For the first time in the history of the franchise, we're going to see bodies in uniforms."

In essence, it's the birth of a team. The last time that happened was in 1977 when the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners joined the American League. What makes Lunetta's perspective even more special is that he is one of a handful of people who can say they've helped build a team. No one has ever been the director of minor league administration for the Marlins because Lunetta is the first one to hold that job. He can forge his own path, not bound by the sometimes rigid parameters established by a predecessor. He is also helped by a unique relationship with Dombrowski, a man Lunetta has known since their days with the Montreal Expos.

"One of the tremendous assets we have here is Dave Dombrowski," Lunetta said. "He is one of the most forward thinking people in baseball. We are conservative by nature – traditionalists – but we have a strong approach to progressive thinking."

To that end, the Marlins carefully studied the rosters of other major league clubs, selecting good, young pitchers with an eye toward the future. At the same time, they signed All-Star free agent catcher Benito Sanchez to add some instant credibility to the franchise. The Marlins' starting lineup will also include such recognizable names as Dave Magadan, Walt Weiss, Junior Felix and Bryan Harvey.

"We don't expect to set the world on fire," Lunetta admitted. "We're very realistic about our expectations this year. We felt very good about what we were able to procure in the draft and through various acquisitions afterwards. Our primary objective in 1993 is to avoid losing 100 games. Finishing between 65 and 70 wins would be a tremendous accomplishment."

Whether that is an attainable goal won't be known for months, but one thing is certain: Lunetta already considers himself the big winner.

"I feel like I'm the most fortunate person in the world right now," he said. "It's just a wonderful feeling to get up in the morning and get to work. Everyday the challenges are excitable and approachable. Nothing is forever, I just hope this lasts for a while."

And there's no reason to think that it won't

Finally, Lunetta, a 1973 graduate of Jamestown High School, has found his niche in his insatiable desire to succeed in as competitive business as you'll find. After hopscotching the baseball map with stops in Jamestown, Buffalo, Montreal, Cincinnati and Rochester, he has finally found his home away from home.

"There were times when I thought about giving up," he said. "But I always looked beyond and had a sense that there was going to be that special, special place on the other side of the rainbow."

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