The sun was setting as we passed by it – the phantom of years past. Yet, it wasn’t even technically old, just abandoned. Sun Life Stadium, the place where the Marlins used to play, when they were called the Florida Marlins, sat like a snowbird waiting in the sun for its final moment. As I passed it there seemed to be a last desperate gasp. We were rolling south towards bigger and better things.
We are heading down from Broward County on arguably one of the busiest sports days in South Florida history. The Marlins are christening their new stadium while the Heat are also playing the Oklahoma City Thunder, vying for a playoff spot. Even more historical is the fact that both games are on ESPN. It seemed that ESPN had a blackout policy towards both franchises – my how things change.
Even more unbelievable, in fact, is that it’s the Marlins who are pushing the Heat to ESPN2.
Several parking garages surround the new park, but we think better of this strategy. Maybe not such a good idea on a dry run with a packed house and thinking better of it, we opt to head on over to Magic City Casino to hitch a ride. For $5, you can park and ride in an air-conditioned tour bus and arrive, rock star style, at the foot of the new stadium.
Architecturally, it reminds one of the American Airlines Arena – sleek, modern, turbine of a wave crest spun into the ground with soaring glass and promenades. The atmosphere is one only South Florida could provide, luscious percussion and horns thumping to the steamy Latin-inspired beats that are all too familiar to the area. This is an event, you are being told, no punches pulled here. It doesn’t feel contrived, but you do realize that you are being persuaded to join the party. You are compelled, drawn in, seduced. With a slender finger and a wag, you proceed up to the gate, hand over your glossy ticket, get scanned and admitted. You are handed a shiny new lanyard to put your ticket in, for safe keeping, and off you go ascending the stair case or escalators up to the promenade.
Immediately you feel out of place because, in years’ past when you attended a Marlins game, you felt really out of place. You were watching baseball in a football stadium. Now, you can’t take your eyes off the game as you can literally see the field from every nook and cranny while waiting in line for beer, peanuts, and cracker jack. And there were lines.
Once you get to your seat, there is another surprise awaiting you which will make a huge difference for baseball fans here in Miami – you are actually oriented towards home plate. At Joe Robbie/Sun Life/Landshark, you had to screw your neck to get a glimpse of the game as all of the lines were meant for football, not baseball. Not so at the new park where everyone is facing home plate where indeed, all the action of the game is centered.
The atmosphere is very colorful, yet subdued. The drab green wall runs the length of the outfield and mirrors the color of the grass. Yet soaring above the left center field area is the much discussed Red Grooms commission. The very essence of the piece is compelling – it is a multimedia spin, literally, on the event of a home run for the south Florida fans of the Miami Marlins. There are mechanized flamingos and marlins which spin around almost like straight out of some kind of county fair shooting game. Take aim, boys, it screams, daring anyone to take on the challenge of enlivening the crowd with one swing of the bat. Now you can quite literally shake the place.
Then there’s the roof. The very heart of this issue about baseball in south Florida. This one simple feature will redefine the market and make Miami a baseball haven. Or so the hope is. What’s the big deal, after all? The ancient Romans had retractable roof technology – they hired sailors to unfurl sails over the crowds gathered at the Coliseum to witness gladiator blood sport. Why shouldn’t we, us advanced civilized folk, have anything less? Now we do and the roof was pealed back in about 10 minutes. Complete with fireworks and a flyover, the 8 tons of concrete and steel revealed the sky to the crowd in dramatic fashion.
There was a game to be played, too. In fact, in some ways, it was a relief to get to it – to sort through all of the celebrations and pre-game hype. The Marlins were doing more than just playing a game, they were setting a tone. No, they were invoking a call for a new tradition in Miami, a new rite of summer that will begin with the rolling back of the ceiling to show us the sky. An interior blessed with the art of modern masters to help us see things in new ways. The team, the game, all seem to be less the focus and a bit more of the ingredients. The purist will rue the interchanges between innings with dance teams, loud music, cutaways on the jumbotron, and racing sea life around the outfield wall. Yet this is where things are – a soup to be stirred and enjoyed by a diverse community. Some will come for the baseball, some will come as a curiosity, some will come for the event. All will leave impacted and that is what this ownership team is hoping for – new life into the heart of the city. The football past has given way to a baseball renaissance.