Somehow, Roger Gill got away with it.
A long-time usher at the Miami Marlins clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium, Gill would bundle up on the chilly mornings in the early days of spring training in his favorite jacket.
“Don’t tell, Jeffrey,’’ he would often say to me — only half joking — referring to Jeffrey Loria, the Marlins owner known for strict team etiquette.
When the Marlins open their spring training camp today, there will be a noticeable void outside the team’s clubhouse. Gill passed away unexpectedly Feb. 2. He was 74.
He was looking forward to what would have been his 10th year working with the team in Jupiter when one day in late January he started experiencing stomach pain and shortness of breath, said Sue, Roger’s wife of 37 years.
It got worse in the early morning hours of Feb. 1 and he went to the emergency room. He was told he’d suffered a heart attack earlier in the week. His condition deteriorated throughout the day.
Of course, Gill wore a Giants shirt and Marlins jacket to the emergency room that day, which caught the attention of at least one doctor.
“The specialist said, ‘I’m a little confused. What’s the Marlins jacket doing on the chair?’ He said, ‘I work as a Marlins during spring training but I’m really a Giants fan at heart,’’’ Sue recalled.
Gill, whose family rooted for the old New York Giants, was a fixture at Roger Dean Stadium. His “office” was a metal folding chair just outside the glass doors to the Marlins offices.
His main job was to keep fans away from restricted areas, but he often offered directions and advice on the best spots to see players. If he wasn’t deep into a crossword puzzle, he was quick to open the office doors for arriving officials, media — even fans who asked to use to the restroom.
Outfielder Cody Ross and manager Fredi Gonzalez were among the Marlins who would greet Gill by name as they arrived every morning. Once in a while, the kid in him would come out and he’d snag an autograph.
When spring training ended, Gill’s baseball work wasn’t over.
He finagled his way into getting a part-time job for the San Francisco Giants as a Ball Dude – a guy who sits on the filed on a folding chair and retrieves foul balls. He would make one trip to San Francisco each year, often for a Marlins series, and dress up in a Giants uniform.
He was mentioned a few times during the games by Marlins television broadcasters. And for his pay, the Giants gave him credits to purchase souvenirs.
“He would get on the internet and see which hat or shirt he could buy. He was like a little kid,’’ Sue said.
Nothing matched the excitement he felt a few months ago, Sue said, when the Marlins hired their new hitting coach – Barry Bonds.
“He had so many Barry Bonds books, He’d ask me, Sue, which one do you think I should ask him to sign?’ I said, ‘I don’t know if Barry Bonds signs.’ He said, “Well, I’m going to try.’’’
When Ichiro Suzuki arrived last spring, Gill was asked to make sure autograph seekers didn’t get too unruly.
“He said, ‘I’d let them sign for a while and when it was overwhelming I’d say that’s enough.’ He said, ‘I might have to do that with Barry Bonds,’’’ Sue recalled.
By the middle of January, Gill had arranged his Barry Bonds books and photos at his North Palm Beach home for preparation to take to Roger Dean Stadium.
“He had them all in a pile ready to go,’’ Sue said.
“Roger touched a lot of lives. He was a good and gentle man. He always did the next right thing. My heart will heal eventually, but right now it’s pretty broken.’’
The Marlins will pay tribute to Gill in their game programs during spring training. There’s also a chance the team will erect a plaque at their offices in Jupiter.
“Roger is missed,’’ said Mike Bauer, the stadium’s general manager. “He really made an impact with the Marlins.’’