Myself and casual Mop-Up Duty writers Daperman and Early travelled to Miami to see the series between the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays, but most importantly we wanted to see the shining beacon that is the Marlins’ brand new stadium.
The Miami Marlins (née Florida Marlins) originally played in Sun Life stadium, from their inception in 1993 until the end of 2011. It was never meant to serve as a baseball stadium long-term. Home to the Miami Dolphins, Sun Life Stadium routinely battled it out in ballpark rankings with Olympic and Shea Stadiums for the infamous title holder of “worst stadium in baseball.”
That all changed in 2009 when Miami-Dade County agreed to finance the majority of a new baseball-only stadium. Miami-Dade County agreed to pitch in $376 million while the City of Miami contributed $132.5 million. The Miami Marlins picked up the remaining $125.2 million for a total cost of approximately $634 million. Built on the site of the former Miami Orange Bowl, Marlins Park is the first ballpark built in a “contemporary” style – that is, it is a rejection of the “retro” style of ballparks popularized in the 1990s and 2000s. It is the 6th ballpark in the Major Leagues to feature a retractable roof and can open or close within 15 minutes.
The roof is composed of three operable panels that slide along two tracks. When fully retracted, the roof at Marlins Park creates an opening that is wider than an NFL retractable roof stadium. What’s really cool about the roof is that it is LEED certified as being energy efficient – it costs only $10 in electricity to open or close the roof.
What’s not really cool is the Florida weather in the summer. In fact, it’s quite hot and humid. As a result, the roof is often closed to cater to Floridian fans who are conditioned to air conditioning. The Marlins estimate that of the Marlins’ 81 home games, approximately 70 will be played with the roof closed. Indoor baseball is a drag.
Another by-product of having the roof closed is that the grass on the field doesn’t get the amount of sunlight that it needs. While the Marlins expected the grass to get between 8-9 hours of sunlight per day, they have only averaged 4. The grass was, frankly, an embarrassment and the worst I have ever seen. Of course, growing pains are to be expected in the ballpark’s first year and the Marlins are exploring the option of acquiring lights to help the grass take root.
Speaking of green (or lack thereof in the case of the grass), Marlins Park has a number of green initiatives. From the official site of the Miami Marlins:
Sports Lighting: The Green Generation Lighting® developed by Musco will enhance
the playing of Americas favorite pastime while cutting energy costs and
minimally impacting the environment. All lamps were aimed digitally within 0.15
degree of accuracy, maximizing the quantity and quality of the lighting while
satisfying today’s high definition broadcasting needs.
Energy Efficient Design: Marlins Park has implemented energy efficient design
strategies that are projected to reduce our energy usage by more than 20% over
the current Florida Building Code requirements.
Cool Roof: While the roof of Marlins Park looks cool, it is also considered a
Cool Roof. The white reflective roofing material installed at Marlins Park was
selected to minimize heat gain within the facility, lowering the demand for air
Recycling: Together with Waste Management, the Marlins have developed a
comprehensive recycling program for Marlins Park. Recycling containers are
located throughout Marlins Park concourses as well as the West and East Plazas
for the convenience of our Guests and to allow everyone to be responsible
stewards of our environment. To enhance our recycling program, our food
concessionaire, Levy Restaurants, Inc. has selected concession packaging and
cutlery that are recyclable or composed of recycled materials.
Reduced Water Usage: Marlins Park’s low flow water closets, restroom faucets,
showerheads and waterless urinals are projected to reduce overall water use for
the facility by approximately 50%.
Regional Materials:More than half of the total materials used in the construction of
Marlins Park were sourced, manufactured, or fabricated from within 500 miles of the
ballpark site, thus limiting the overall carbon footprint of the project.
Recycled Content:Nearly 50% of the total materials used in the ballpark
construction have a high-recycled content, in order to reduce the impact on our
Marlins Park is situated in the Miami neighbourhood of Little Havana, approximately 3km west of the downtown core. The neighbourhood consists of mostly Cuban immigrants and is noted as a centre of social, cultural and political activity. A little over half of the residents are Cuban, but the neighbourhood itself is 90% hispanic (source). It’s a poor neighbourhood; the median household income is slightly above $15,000. With that said, it’s not without its charm. Adobe bungalows, mom-and-pop tiendas, robust street life and baseball-crazed residents make Little Havana an appropriate neighbourhood to place an eclectic stadium such as Marlins Park.
Fans looking for a pre or post-game party zone will be disappointed. There are no bars or restaurants worthy of mention that are within the vicinity of the ballpark. Keep your party dollars in your pocket to be spent later in Miami’s $outh Beach. You’ll need them.
The exterior of Marlins Park is very modern looking, almost futuristic. It looks much like an alien space ship has touched down in Little Havana. In fact, the park looks much like Toronto’s very own SkyDome, but where Toronto has concrete, Miami has aluminum, glass and white stucco. The similarities between the two parks don’t end here – more on that later.
Photo courtesy of the @MarlinsPark Twitter feed.
Parking at the ballpark is plentiful, and it should be: $94 million was spent on the construction of the parking garages. There are four parking garages on the north and south sides of the ballpark and six surface parking lots on the east and west sides of the ballpark. In total, there are 5,700 parking spaces and it costs $15 to park. If that’s too rich for your blood, you can support the Pequeña Havana street hustlers and pay $5 to park in a shady apartment complex’s parking lot.
Tickets are widely available for games. Although Marlins Park is the third-smallest ballpark in terms of capacity (37,442), the Marlins only drew about 24,000 fans for each game we attended vs. the Blue Jays. This is strange. Typically, when a baseball team moves into a new ballpark, attendance skyrockets. The SkyDome sold out for five years after the Blue Jays moved in. Of course, the Marlins attendance was so abysmal in Sun Life Stadium that there is nowhere to go but up, and yes, attendance is up approximately 49% on the year. However, Miami sits at only 18th out of 30 MLB teams in terms of attendance with the average home game having 28,000 attendees – or 75% capacity.
The seats themselves are actually pretty nice: they are wide for those with big booties, and there is ample leg room for the big and tall contingent. The sight lines, however, are inconsistent. For the Saturday game, I sat along the third base line with a clean, unobstructed view:
For the Sunday game, I sat on the first base side in a comparable section. My view was not exactly great:
We tried to visit the club level seats, just to have a look around, but were sternly denied by Marlins Park ushers. These ushers were also fairly militant about letting patrons to their seat during the game. While it is important to not have fans moving around during the play, the ushers would wait for the conclusion of an at-bats or even inning to allow fans to their seats. The SkyDome ushers will at least let you pass through if a player hits a foul ball into the seats.
Speaking of the different seating levels, Marlins Park has it figured out. There are no tortuous ramps to get to the upper decks here. Staircases and escalators will take you from the main level to the upper levels directly and quickly. It’s the way it ought to be. Cheers to Marlins Park, jeers to the SkyDome.
The field at Marlins Park is cavernous, expansive, just plain BIG. I thought that Petco Park was the friendliest ballpark for pitchers in all of baseball, but Marlins Park has wrestled the title from Petco and spat in its face. Not only are the left (344′) and right field (335′) fences further out than an average ballpark, but the fences range from 10 to 16 feet. The power alleys are where balls go to die at 386′ and 392′ respectively. At 422′ to the deepest part of centrefield, Pat Tabler would say that one has to be “country strong” in order to hit it out of Marlins Park. Take for example, this hit to left field from the Blue Jays’ Brett Lawrie:
In the SkyDome, that’s a home run.
The interior of Marlins Park is expansive. The lime-green outfield fence elicits a love-or-hate response as it clashes with the purplish-blue seats. Gregg Zaun said it best: it looks like a Rainforest Café. This is by design. The ballpark was designed with the intention of representing Miami in such a way that its emblematic features would stick out should they be placed in other cities. The dominant colours inside the ballpark are blue (for sea) and green (for grass, palms). Included on the concourses are modernist & contemporary works of art. A food court beyond the left-field fence offers up traditional Miami fare. Even the outfield fence curves upwardly around the base of the home run sculpture in the shape of a wave. Marlins Park also takes into account its significant hispanic population – all signs are bilingual.
The main video board display at Marlins Park is a state-of-the-art screen. It boasts 1080 lines of resolution and 4.4 trillion shades of colour. The video board uses the latest Daktronics HD-16 technology with lines of LED pixels on 16.5 mm spacing. What that means? I’m not entirely sure. The scoreboard looks a little strange because it is asymmetrical, but it is colourful and clear and includes most of the information that you could care about in regards to a ballplayer’s statistics. For the Blue Jays series, a stellar stock-photo of Toronto’s skyline was used as the background for each player profile. Nice touch.
In addition to having a retractable roof, Marlins Park also boats “operable walls.” The left field operable wall is a feature unlike any other in Major League Baseball. Six glass wall panels towering at 60′ tall by 40′ wide open to create a 240′ view overlooking downtown Miami’s skyline. Depending on weather conditions, the Operable Wall may open in conjunction with the Operable Roof or remain open when the roof is closed if the wind gusts are less than 30 miles per hour. The operable wall opens or closes in three to five minutes, depending on wind speeds.
These sliding glass walls are really a great idea, and in theory, a giant wall of glass to let in natural light would do a lot to lessen the dreariness of indoor baseball. In practice, however, the effect is negligible. With the roof closed, often times I found myself thinking I was watching the game at my home ballpark of the Rogers Centre/SkyDome. It’s that similar.
One thing that is certainly NOT similar is the Marlins Park Home Run Feature. Located in left centrefield, this new mechanized sculpture becomes illuminated when a Marlins player hits a home run, displaying Marlins leaping out of the water as well as the sun rotating and sea gulls flapping their wings. This symbolizes the beaches of South Florida along with the vibrant tropical colours of Miami. The sculpture is a creation of contemporary artist Red Grooms and is part of the Art in Public Places Project of Miami-Dade County.
On television, one doesn’t really get the sense of the enormity of the Home Run Feature itself. In person, it is really quite remarkable how large and overpowering it is. I really quite like it a lot.
One of the peculiarities that I noticed about Marlins Park was that it seemed like only half of the fans were in their seats, while the other half were mingling in concourses. These concourses were perpetually rammed with fans and for good reason: there’s plenty to see (works of art, reflecting the interest of the Marlins’ owner, art dealer Jeffrey Loria) and most importantly, eat.
Firstly, the concessions at Marlins Park are the best of all the Major League stadiums I have visited. One caveat: Latin-American food is my favourite type of cuisine. Marlins Park serves it up in spades. Tying in with the “All About Miami” theme, near the outfield fence lies a food court called “Taste of Miami” that contains three restaurants. The “Latin American Grill” serves up tasty Cuban Sandwiches with plantain chips and garlic butter.
“Papo Lllega Y Pon” does all things pork-related. Sandwiches, tamales and chicharrones. They’ll even just hack up a side of pork if that’s what you’re after.
“Don Camaron” serves fresh seafood. Oysters, stone crabs and ceviche are all available. Being allergic to shellfish, I am unable to provide you with a full report, but it certainly looked intriguing and the fans were lined up.
Other hispanic cuisines are represented outside of A Taste of Miami. The “Goya Latin Cafe” serves up empanadas, chimichurri steak sandwiches, rice and beans, nachos as well as mojo chicken.
Looking for Mexican? Miami Mex has nachos, mahi-mahi, chipotle steak and key-lime chicken tacos as well as churros. At least, the churros are on the menu. When I went looking for them in the 5th inning, they were all sold out.
It’s disappointing, but if you know anything about churros, that’s the way it always goes.
If contemporary North American fare is more your style, Sir Pizza restaurants are conveniently found all over the ballpark. The pizzas are good; personal-sized pies are cut into pieces but swim in their own grease. Tasty, but not for the faint of heart (or tummy). Fans bought 1,100 pies during the Marlins exhibition game with Florida International University.
Brother Jimmy’s BBQ specializes in pulled pork, chicken and brisket. Burger 305 has shrimp burgers for $13 and Metro Grill serves a Lime n’ Lobster Roll – a lobster salad on a toasted bun for $17. Farm to Fork has locally sourced ingredients in their offerings, including local Niman Ranch’s ground pork and beef in their Thai Chili Burger.
Diamond Juices was a welcome sight to me. Remembering my inability to find any sort of beverage other than beer or soda at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Marlins Park offers fresh squeezed or pressed juices as well as blended smoothies.
The healthy alternatives don’t stop there: the $8 veggie burger is made from black beans and Marlins’ President David Samson, an avid long-distance runner, eats it as his post-run snack.
Marlins Park serves two distinct versions of the quintessential ballpark item, the hot dog. For $12 you can have the Magnum Dog, a half-pound, foot-long, “all beef,” bacon-wrapped dog. These are Chicago style with pickles, tomatoes, onions and sauerkraut. If that doesn’t sound appetizing, the Sobe Hot Dog has mango slaw, chipotle mayo and potato sticks on it. You can also get yours plain if you’re not the Sobe type of baseball fan.
As far as drinks are concerned, Marlins Park has a decent mix of domestic and imported beers both on tap and in cans. It gets my seal of approval for having the nectar of the Gods, Modelo Especial.
The Dominican beer “Presidente” is here, a pilsner beer that enjoys a cult-following worldwide. At $8 for a domestic brew, beer prices at Marlins Park are middle-of-the-pack for Major League Baseball.
On the concourse near the home-plate entrance lies the Bobblehead Museum. It features a collection of current and former Marlins player bobbleheads, as well as current and past baseball mascots and players throughout Major League Baseball history. This display holds nearly 700 bobbleheads. The entire structure moves ever so slightly, which causes the heads to bobble.
Highlights include a trio of Negro League studs, the Expos lone representative in Randy Johnson, and the Toronto Blue Jays section, of course.
Also behind home plate (but inaccessible to most fans) are the two 450 gallon (1700 litre) aquariums. Each aquarium is constructed of a durable fiberglass, while crystal-clear acrylic panels 1.5 inches thick are used for the impressive viewing windows that run the entire length of the aquariums. To safeguard the exhibits from unexpected impacts, Lexan, a material used in bullet-resistant glass has been installed in front and back of the acrylic panels to protect the aquarium from foul balls, errant pitches or any other unexpected contact.
When I go to the Rogers Centre, or visit any other ballpark for that matter, I always belabour the lack of a “party zone” for fans to let loose and have a good time while celebrating the best sport in the world. The Miami Marlins have partnered with the world-renowned South Beach hotel, The Clevelander, to operate a poolside area that will feature a swimming pool, signature beverages, entertainment and a one-of-a-kind seating location on the Field Level with sight lines through the outfield fence. Located next to the bullpen, Guests of The Clevelander have the opportunity to watch the pitchers warm up and a close-up view of the Marlins outfielders making lays during the game. The Clevelander at Marlins Park opens two hours before the start of each game on game days and remain open after games and on non-game days for private
A ticket to the game (any seat in the ballpark will do) is required to get in to The Clevelander, on top of a cover charge (it ranges between $10-$25) will get fans standing-room-only access to the bar. A seat in the actual Clevelander itself runs $25. Being the clever guys we are at Mop-Up Duty, we purchased a $10 seat at the box office with the promise that for a $10 cover charge, we would be able to get into the Clevelander to watch the game. Upon arriving at the Clevelander, we were told that the bar had been rented out for a private event and would not be accessible. It would be nice if there was some actual communication between the box office and the Clevelander. Regardless, Guest Services was very helpful and courteous when upgrading our tickets for the game.
Following the game, fans can get in to the Clevelander free of charge. This is the way to do it, since the Clevelander is really nothing special at all. It’s worth the 10 minutes we spent looking around, but not much more. The sight lines from the seats in the Clevelander itself are awful; they are situated directly behind a chain-link left field fence:
Drinks are $12 minimum – staying true to the bar’s South Beach roots. The swimming pool? It’s about the size of my bathtub. $10 pitchers of Bud Light might be the Clevelander’s only redeeming quality. Actually, some will dispute that point. The Clevelander will attract a large crowd every game for its dancers alone. Cheerleaders, Carnival-style dancers and spray-painted models shake and gyrate above the pooldeck.
It’s definitely not a place you would want to take your family, and most of the pictures are not safe for work. Of course, I know you want to see them, so if you are at a place where you’re not going to get into trouble for seeing risqué pictures, you can see them here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Not enough? Here’s some video. I give the Marlins an ‘A’ for effort but an ‘E’ for execution.
When it comes to acknowledging the history of the franchise, the neighbourhood and baseball in Miami, Marlins Park executes flawlessly. Outside the Clevelander there is a wall that captures the greatest moments in the franchise’s brief history in photographs. Marlins Park is built on the former site of the Miami Orange Bowl, and ten-foot-high reproductions of the letters that spelled out “Miami Orange Bowl” on the old stadium are scattered throughout the East Plaza as though they had fallen and landed as a result of the demolition. Some of the letters are standing, leaning or on their sides. Depending on the vantage point, the letters might spell out Orange, Game, or another word that sparks a sports memory. It was created by Daniel Arsham as part of the Arts in Public Places Project of Miami-Dade County.
As well, a wall outside “A Taste of Miami” pays homage to the history of great events that have taken place on the site of Marlins Park.
Marlins Park also offers a tip of the cap to Miami Stadium aka Bobby Maduro Stadium, home to the Miami
Marlins minor league baseball team, the Miami Sun Sox, the Miami Amigos, the Greater Miami Flamingos, and the Miami Orioles.
Photos courtesy of Ebbets Field Flannels
The street located on the first-base side of the ballpark has been re-named “Bobby Maduro Way” and an entrance to the ballpark on that same side sports the Bobby Maduro moniker.
Where the Marlins fail, however, is in recognizing the two World Series Championships the franchise has won in it’s short 19-year history. Two non-descript faux-banners sit near the top of the left field foul pole.
Another failing is the lack of throwback items available at the Official Team Store. It’s all Emilio Bonifacio and Giancarlo Stanton jerseys. It’s odd, that, because among fans at the ballpark itself, the franchise’s original teal hats and jerseys are sported among a large percentage of patrons.
Speaking of fans, Marlins fans are some of the best I have seen in baseball. Not to make an egregious generalization, but most of Marlins fans are hispanic and it has been my experience (in both Puerto Rico and Cuba) that hispanic fans are the most knowledgeable, passionate and enthusiastic in all of baseball. A crowd of 24,000 Marlins fans were far louder than a sold-out Great American Ballpark. Marlins fans are also a lot like Jays fans – they boo their own players mercilessly! As well, Marlins fans will also file out in unison when they feel their team is out of the game – just like in Cuba:
Another tradition carried over from the Cuban game is umpire water breaks. In Cuba, between innings, team “valets” will come on to the field with ice water for the umpires. This is also taking place at Marlins Park.
A pleasant surprise, for me, was that Jays fans were out in full force for the series in Miami. I was really shocked at the high turnout of Jays supporters. Usually there are a handful of transplanted ex-pat Canadians or playboy fans who have the luxury of following the team at their whim. However, everywhere I looked, there was someone sporting a blue Brett Lawrie or Bautista jersey. Here’s what I mean:
The player whose shirsey I was wearing was Yunel Escobar and he was exhibiting some peculiar behaviours during the series. Being a Cuban exile himself, Escobar settled himself and his family in Miami following his defection and he resides in Miami during the off-season. Yunel obviously had some friends and family in the stands; he was distracted throughout the game and constantly pointed to the fans located on the third-base side and pounded his heart when he wasn’t searching aimlessly for a familiar face in the crowd. Chipper Jones would not have approved.
Escobar’s former teammate Chipper Jones also hated the fact that Yunel liked to whistle during games, so much so that it became a story in the media. After witnessing the Yunel Jesus-whistle in his natural habitat, I can surely state that finding fault in Escobar’s whistling is ridiculousness, pure and simple.
Yunel whistles in order to get his teammate’s attention to let them know how many outs there are; he’s quarterbacking the defense – which is what shortstops are supposed to do. He whistles to show approval of a fine play. This is not a character flaw in any way. Haters gonna hate.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Marlins Park tremendously. The food is the best in the game, the fans were great and the baseball was exciting and fun. Of course, the biggest flaw is that the roof is closed 87% of the time. No matter how you try to spin it, indoor baseball is a terrible thing. It makes little difference how many movable glass walls are installed; baseball played indoors is not natural. Marlins Park is a layer of AstroTurf away from being an updated version of the SkyDome. In my opinion, this is by no means a bad thing. However, with all of the complaints I’ve heard surrounding the SkyDome as a dated relic, the future does not bode well for Marlins Park.
Want to know how Marlins Park stacks up against other ballparks I’ve reviewed? Check out our Ballpark Review Roundup.
Feature image photo credit: Populous (formerly HOK)