MIAMI — Laurence Leavy is sitting in the exclusive Diamond Club of Marlins Park, eating a huge piece of rainbow cake. He loves this cake. This is the best cake in the world, he tells me, as he scrapes all the frosting off the side. He puts the huge spoonful of sugar and butter in his mouth, then separates the different colored layers from each other. He starts making his way through them, but not in ROY G. BIV order.
I remark that I’ve never seen someone approach a piece of cake this way. A local radio host named Andy, who’s sitting next to Leavy, looks up from his dinner.
“You hang around him for 12 hours,” Andy says, nodding in Leavy’s direction, “and you’ll see a lot of things you’ve never seen before.”
You probably wouldn’t care if another wealthy worker’s compensation lawyer were scarfing down dessert in Miami an hour before the MLB All-Star Game. But Leavy isn’t just a lawyer. Leavy is Marlins Man, the guy who’s become famous for sitting in prominent seats at almost every big sporting event each year, wearing an orange Marlins visor and a jersey. He’s been doing this since 2014, after a cancer scare. He claims he can travel so extensively because he’s able to work remotely, since only 1 percent of his cases go to trial.
People take selfies with Marlins Man. Sports websites write about him. He’s a superfan who became a walking meme, and he has since brought hundreds, if not thousands, of strangers to games over the past three or so years since he became A Thing. He says he demands only that his guests perform random acts of kindness in return for tickets. He donates tens of thousands of dollars to firefighters, the troops, teachers. He refers to these groups of everyday Americans as the “silent majority.”
Marlins Man is on his biggest stage tonight: The All-Star Game of his favorite sport is in his hometown. He gets to play host to the world he spends all of his time traveling to be a part of.
“It doesn’t go to my head,” he says, leaning back in the leather chair as he plows his fork through the green layer of cake. “I’m not trying to be a celebrity; I’m not trying to be discovered. I already have my law firm. I already have my horses. I already have my real estate buildings. When people say to me, like, ‘Oh, I can make you,’ I say, ‘I don’t give a shit.’”
He finishes the green layer and moves onto the orange one before he continues.
“I wouldn’t even do Sports Illustrated when they came up to me at the World Series in 2015,” he says. “They said, ‘We’ll make you famous,’ and I said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t care about that. I already am famous.’
For a guy who claims he doesn’t care about being known, Leavy certainly seems to track how many people know about him. He tells me that there have been 88,000 pictures tagged of him on the internet and 425 articles written about him. He says he has every single piece of press printed out in a binder and that one newspaper from 2015, with a headline referring to him as Mr. October, is framed in his office.
Leavy’s father is the reason Leavy, who at 60 years old has no wife and no children, is a lawyer. Marlins Man Sr. (not his legal name) owned greyhound race tracks, a printing business, TV stations, parking garages, and a few other random businesses in Miami. He had 3,000 employees and 13 corporations and was always getting sued, Leavy says, so he urged his son to become an attorney. That way, the elder Leavy reasoned, his child would have a permanent client.
Leavy’s father was a heavy smoker and died of lung cancer when he was 70. Everyone else in his family lived to be in their 90s. Leavy looks at the purple layer of the cake, the only one he hasn’t eaten yet. He puts his fork down and falls silent for the first time since I sat down with him. I tell him I’m sorry for his loss.
“Thank you, yeah,” Leavy says.
I ask him if he thinks his dad would be proud of him.
“Yeah, I think I’m the most successful person my family’s ever seen. By far. I’ve been in USA TODAY, ESPN Magazine,” he says, and with the mention of national news outlets, Leavy becomes Marlins Man again.
“I’ve been in ... everywhere,” he continues, waving his hand around to indicate where everywhere is. “It doesn’t matter to me. I met this morning with [ESPN’s] Darren Rovell, and I was like, ‘I don’t care if you write about me.’ He goes, ‘That’s what so great about you, you really are a fan; you don’t care.’ I go, ‘Yeah.’”
“You do keep track of your press, though,” I say.
“Yeah, I had to hire two staff members to keep up with it,” Marlins Man says.
‘So it feels like the main thing that you get is attention,” I say.
“No, I don’t get attention,” he says.
“Really?” I ask. “You have all these followers.”
He tells me that he doesn’t have followers, but he has people thanking him for what he does, for standing up for the troops. I ask him how he stands up for them.
“I just told you,” he says. “You weren’t listening? Are you deaf? Are you deaf?”
“No, I’m not deaf, I — ” I say, but he cuts me off.
“OK, so I just told you exactly what I do,” he says, raising his voice a little. “I go around to other cities teaching people how to appreciate those that sacrifice for them.”
“I just meant, how do you do that?” I ask. “Like, how?”
“I fly in airplanes.”
I can tell that I’m not going to get anywhere with this line of questioning, so I change the subject and ask Marlins Man if he’s excited that the All-Star Game is in Miami.
He is excited. So are the nine Mermaids he’s bringing with him, he says. Mermaids is the name he’s given to women he finds attractive and brings to games, since that’s what the Marlins called their cheerleading squad until the team disbanded it in 2012.
“They’re all pretty, all athletic, all with big boobs, all wearing low-cut shirts like Miami, all showing cleavage, every one of ‘em,” he says, showing me a picture of previous Marlins cheerleaders. “You see a lot of ‘em look like Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. They’re showing cleavage.”
“This is what you wanted to bring back?” I ask.
“Yeah, I wanted to bring back energy and positiveness,” he says. “And I asked the Marlins, and they said no. I said, ‘I’ll pay for this,’ and they weren’t into it.”
Marlins Man tells me bringing back the Mermaids would help distract the other team’s players when they’re in the field. It’s worked before, he says, when one of the women recently flashed a Cardinals player.
“Does that not seem a little messed up to use — ” I ask, and Marlins Man cuts me off again.
“No,” he says. “Let me ask you this. You ever go to a football game and sit behind the goal? You jump up to make the kicker miss the kick? What’s the difference?” he asks.
“This just seems more sexualized,” I say.
“Maybe,” he says. He thinks about it for a second before he finishes his cake.
Marlins Man decides it’s time “to walk,” which is what he calls going around and taking selfies with fans. We head out to the field.
He’s immediately swarmed. It takes 10 minutes to make it up one section of the park — people keep coming up to him and asking to take selfies. He’s in his element. When he reaches the concourse, a line forms behind him. One woman takes a picture of her son with Marlins Man using a big DSL camera. Everyone is grinning. Thirty people wait their turn, phones in hand, fidgeting with the cameras open.
After Marlins Man photographs his way through the gathered crowd, he takes me to his seats behind home plate. In addition to his Mermaids, he’s bringing 39 other people to the game tonight, paying for all of their tickets. He asks me if I need a seat, cracks jokes with the ushers, introduces me to them. He knows them all by name, and they all seem pleased to see him.
Marlins Man is smiling a lot out here, energized by the lights of the park. His tone has softened, his defenses dropped a bit since getting out of the Diamond Club. He seems earnest when he tells me he likes me, and he appreciates that I’ve recorded everything on my phone so I can’t twist his words. I tell him I will do my best not to.
Leavy is a three-dimensional human: one who seems lonely, even in a crowd, and hungry for attention while vehemently denying he wants it. This real person has tried to make himself relevant by turning himself into Marlins Man, a two-dimensional image flattened onto people’s screens and social feeds. He wants to matter.
And it’s worked. I witness countless fans light up as it dawns on them that the Marlins man walking toward them is indeed Marlins Man. I see the moment when they realize that if they hold their phone in front of their faces and take a picture, they’ll be in on the joke, or a new member of the club, or whatever it is that Marlins Man commands. They’ll be a part of something that wouldn’t exist without him.
“I’m a talking mascot,” Leavy says, turning away from the latest group selfie to face me. “The Marlins do have a mascot, but it doesn’t talk. I talk.”
Before I leave him, Marlins Man tells me to take a picture with him on my phone. I oblige. After we say goodbye, he immediately turns to the person next to him and strikes up a conversation. I turn around when I reach the top of the stairs. They’re taking a selfie.