Sunshine State Baseball Part II: Miami Marlins

A look at Marlins Park from our seats in left field

A look at Marlins Park from our seats in right field

To say I was skeptical of our visit to Miami is probably a gross understatement. After all, Miami was home to the Marlins, a team best known for somehow managing to win two World Series titles during their 20 year history, only to blow up the championship teams, spending most of their existence woefully behind their NL East opponents. Adding to the skepticism was the Marlins 2012 rebranding and move to Marlins Park–an actual baseball field–as opposed to their previous home of Pro Player Stadium, Joe Robbie Stadium, Dolphins Park, or whatever the name du jour was for that particular year.

Marlins Park is the source of quite a bit of controversy, and for good reason. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria wanted to keep his team in South Florida and pledged to move the team into Miami proper. Some doubted that baseball could actually flourish and after nearly 20 years of sparsely attended games, no one would blame the Marlins for heading west to Las Vegas or north to Charlotte, North Carolina. Instead–much to the chagrin of Miami taxpayers–Loria got his wish and a big taxpayer funded stadium was built on the site of the old Orange Bowl in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana district.

Before I get into the details of our adventure in Marlins Park, I must detail the hell of driving to Miami. For those that don’t know, Florida is a giant state. It stretches south for eons, as the cities lining the Atlantic coast just blur into one another. Once you finally make your way into Miami-Dade County, you’re headed into a hell-hole of traffic that twists through an endless barrage of highways, toll roads, and drivers that drive 45 in the left lane and closer to 90 in the right lane. Just navigating the streets and highways of Miami turned into an adventure unto themselves, but I somehow managed to guide our car–with some GPS guidance–to Marlins Park.

The park is nothing more than a giant aluminum-looking shell that sticks out like a UFO just to the west of downtown Miami. It’s unmistakable, very large, and about as ridiculous as you would expect. The perimeter of the stadium is lined with parking garages, conveniently placed in locations that make entering and exiting the stadium an easy affair. After securing parking in one garages flanking the third base entrance, we headed toward the entrance of the beast. We were greeted by many thousands of fans, enjoying the gorgeous day (more on that in a minute), and preparing for some baseball.

One side of the ridiculous UFO that is Marlins Park

One side of the ridiculous UFO that is Marlins Park

After a quick visit through the Marlins well-stocked gift shop, we went through the gates and into Loria’s palace. From the moment I walked through the doors, I burst out laughing.

Marlins Park is an insane place and it is absolutely perfect, and by that, I mean perfect for Miami. It’s loud, colorful, and is by far the most gaudy and ostentatious event space I’ve visited. Aside from the aesthetic, Marlins Park has just about everything any fan wants to enjoy a baseball game. Concession stands offered an incredible amount of options, including several spots selling Cuban cuisine, as well as a kosher concession stand, that even offered evening services for Jewish baseball fans attending night games. I was impressed to say the least.

The crowning jewel of Jeffrey Loria's palace

The crowning jewel of Jeffrey Loria’s palace

After a quick tour of the stadium, we made our way up to our seats in the designated “Home Run Porch,” overlooking right field, where we had a fantastic view of the action. We were in the first row, which provided us with an unobstructed view of the game, and gave us ample opportunity to heckle Yasiel Puig. Knowing full well that I had to experience all parts of this park–including the insane home run sculpture that graces centerfield, we spent just over half the game in our seats, and the remainder wandering around Mr. Loria’s Magic Fun Palace.

Marlins Park features a night club called the Clevelander–named after the rather famous hotel in Miami–bars with numerous TVs showing plenty of sporting events not featuring the Marlins, a bobblehead museum, and enough in the way of concession stands to feed a sell out crowd–if one ever materializes.

A brief aside about attendance at Marlins Park: attendance for the game was actually pretty high. The announced attendance was 30,145 and the actual attendance was probably pretty close. It was a beautiful day for baseball, and despite its location, Marlins Park is a solid place to see a ballgame. I was truly shocked by the number of people there, as I was always under the assumption that unless it was a major game (playoffs, opening day, etc.), crowds rarely hit the 30,000+ level. If Loria’s taxpayer swindle was worth anything, it’s occasionally putting a solid number of fannies in seats (assuming they stay in their seats).

The most disappointing aspect of Marlins Park was the roof. For most games, I understand exactly why the Marlins would prefer to play in a climate-controlled stadium: it protects them from the insufferable heat, humidity, and frequent summer thunderstorms that plagued the Marlins during their time playing in a football stadium. However, the weather was perfect for baseballwith temperatures hovering in the low 80s, with absolutely no humidity, and not a cloud in the sky. In typical Marlins fashion, the roof remained closed…until the game ended. That’s right, as soon as the game was over, the roof began opening and sunshine began beaming down upon the field. On our way out of the park, we lamented the fact that the roof was closed for the game, but was opened following the game. A friendly gentleman in front of us shared our frustration, saying it was probably one of the very last days of the year the Marlins could open the roof. I understand the benefits of climate controlled baseball, and it can certainly provide a home field advantage, but when the weather’s that good in Miami, you can’t seal people inside.

The windows beyond center field offer spectacular views of downtown Miami

The windows beyond center field offer spectacular views of downtown Miami

Overall, I recommend Marlins Park if you happen to be in Miami or South Florida for any reason. It’s certainly one of the most interesting parks in baseball, albeit one of the least conventional. It’s odd design and commitment to non-baseball related activities make it less attractive to baseball purists, but the Marlins needed something unconventional to attract the fans they needed to justify staying in Florida.

With that said, I’m not sure I would necessarily make a trip specifically to see the Marlins, unless you want to check out as many ballparks as you can. It’s on the ass-end of Florida (especially for us north Florida folk) and driving in Miami is a hellish experience. If you’re there for business or pleasure and the Marlins happen to be in town, it’s worth going. Tickets were very reasonable, food was average in price, and there wasn’t much in the way of price-gauging on souvenirs (a rarity in MLB).

The game itself was fantastic, despite it being the beginning of the end for Marlins ace Jose Fernandez. The Marlins won on a walk-off in the bottom of the 9th, and it even featured a near-fatal (ok, not that bad) injury to Dodgers’ star and ESPN superstar, Yasiel Puig. He pulled a Bryce Harper and ran full-speed into the wall, and as a result, the winning run scored. While the Marlins celebrated, Puig remained on the ground as his teammates, coaches, and Dodgers’ trainers sprinted out to right field as soon as possible. Based on Puig’s recent Home Run Derby performance, I don’t think he’s recovered from that near-fatal injury.

If at this point you’re curious about the full details regarding the Marlins’ 5-4 win, here’s a link to the game wrap-up and box score.

This is only the fourth MLB park I’ve been to in my life, and just the third of the modern parks, so I don’t have much in the way of comparison, but I shockingly enjoyed my time in Miami.*

We’re hoping to get to the Great Silo in St. Petersburg before the season ends, which would give me another MLB park, but I wouldn’t consider Tropicana Field a gem. However, if Miami can get themselves a gaudy palace, surely the Rays and either the city of Tampa or St. Pete will find a way to get the Rays a new place to call home.

Another personal note of interest, this was my first MLB game of the year and boy, did it feel odd to visit a park not named Turner Field before seeing my home team play. Fortunately, by the time I was able to finish this write-up, I caught three Braves games in Atlanta. Hope I didn’t curse the Braves by rooting for the Fish, if only for one brief afternoon.

With that said, it’s time we move on to the next stop on this year’s tour: Viera, FL to see the Brevard County Manatees!

One of the neatest attractions at Marlins Park: a bobblehead museum!

One of the neatest attractions at Marlins Park: a bobblehead museum!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes: According to his attorney, Jose Fernandez had to change his motion during this particular game after being struck by a line drive in the leg. The change in his motion apparently caused Fernandez to injure his elbow during his following start, and is now subsequently out for the season after having Tommy John surgery.

*I visited Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium a few times during the 1990s. It was a dump.

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