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FIELD TRIP OF DREAMS

AROUND THE MAJOR LEAGUES IN 49 DAYS


Marlins Park
Miami, FL
Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins

July 29, 2003

By Ken Schlapp

Marlins Park is the first new stadium that I have visited since I started to finish up my stadium writing about a year ago.  Therefore, I was much more prepared to take better notes and use a good camera to take photos of every nook and cranny of the ballpark.  The result of this may be too much detail, but at least I have a lot more facts and memories penciled into my notebook and I am writing this only a month or so after visiting the stadium instead of 2-10 years later.  That being said, the Marlins opened their new Ballpark in April 2012 and although I was not able to make it for opening day, or in June when my flight was cancelled, I was able to make it on September 19, 2012.

My first attempt to see Marlins Park in June was to stop over in Miami for one day on my way home from a business trip to Washington, DC, but the airline computers went down in Washington, forcing me to miss that game.  However, when one of the preliminary rounds of the 2013 World Baseball Classic was moved up to September 19-22 in Jupiter, Florida, I had to go.  Not only was the venue close enough to Miami to make it a go, but one of the teams in the Jupiter WBC bracket was France.  My Mom is from France (not a Conehead) and I have visited France many times, so I was not going to pass up this opportunity.  The first game of the WBC was on Wednesday September 19th, which was also the last game of a home stand for the Marlins, so I decided to miss the first game of the WBC between Israel and South Africa, since France was not playing, and saw the Braves and Marlins instead.

I took the red-eye from Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale on the Tuesday night to give me time to work out of my hotel for the day and still make it to the game very early to see as much of the stadium as possible.  It was a 7 PM game, but I got there before 5 PM to walk around the outside before the park was open.  I paid $15 to park in a lot right next to Marlins Park and actually had to back up to get a good view from afar.  The first thing I noticed was that the roof was open and that I might get a shot to see the game in open air instead of being cooped up in a dome.  The other thing I immediately noticed was that like Nationals Park, this was a modern facility.  They did not try to go “retro” with this new place.  Miami is a young trendy city, so this modern ballpark works.  As I have written before, it does not look good when they try to force an “old ballpark” feel to a place that it does not belong.  Without even making it inside I did like it right away 

In order to purchase tickets, I walked underneath the open roof on the outside of the stadium, which gave it an imposing and daunting look overhead.  Although it was hot and humid, I was still hoping to see an outdoor game, so the outlook was good at this point.  I bought my tickets by the main entrance from Nick who was a nice guy and very helpful in letting me know what to do and see in the stadium, but more importantly, he wanted to make sure that I wrote he was a nice guy…and he was.  The funny thing though, was that he told me there is not much to see on the outside of the stadium, but he was wrong.

Out in front of the ballpark was a giant rainbow colored M with a rainbow Marlin on top, which is, of course, the new Miami Marlins logo (as opposed to how they were previously known as the Florida Marlins).  I had to take a picture by the M, and as I was observing, this did appear to be the place that everyone took their “I was here” photo.  There was also a giant video screen above the main gate plaza outside the stadium, which simply had Miami vs. Braves at this point, but also, had advertisements and I assume Marlins highlights at other times.  I also found it amusing that there was a sale on Marlins merchandise set up on tables that mostly sold Hanley Ramirez materials, since he had recently been traded to the Dodgers.

When I continued walking around I noticed four orange stadium seats, which immediately intrigued me.  I found a plaque next to them indicating that they were from the Orange Bowl, which had previously been located on this site.  Above the seats on the parking lot façade, were murals that were also from the Orange Bowl.  It was good to see that that stadium’s history was not lost.  As I came around to the other side of the ballpark, I noticed a giant inflatable version of the Marlins Mascot Billy the Marlin near scattered huge orange block letters, which I later learned were the letters that had spelled “Miami Orange Bowl” on the demolished stadium.

After I completed my loop around, I was disappointed to notice that the roof had been closed and the game would be played indoors today.  I figure that I at least got to see it open from the outside.  At that point, I also ran into three gentlemen that were also attempting to make it to see every stadium in their lifetime.  One of them was from Arlington, another from the Miami area, and the third gentleman wore a Mets cap and was from Connecticut.  They all became friends somehow at a bar and joined up for this journey to Marlins Park.  Unfortunately, I did not write their names down, but did take photos for them, of them, and had them take a photo of me with the stadium in the background.  The Marlins were playing the Braves today, but when I started to head into the Park as the gates were opening, I noticed one fan in a Pirates Roberto Clemente shirt and laughed to myself in remembering how much grief Rick took from fans in Los Angeles for wearing a Pirates Roberto Clemente shirt at a Red Sox/Dodgers game. 

I have to mention how lucky I was that today was Jose Reyes Bobblehead day, so I was able to get a souvenir of one of my favorite players.  I am still bent out of shape how the Mets let him walk for nothing.  Some Mets fans booed him when I saw him play against the Mets at CitiField, which I do not understand.  The Mets did not attempt to keep him.  He did not abandon Mets fans; it was the Wilpons that abandoned Mets fans by not spending to keep him.  As a side note, I am writing this segment of my journey on a plane going from Toronto to Los Angeles on the day that Jose Reyes was the big news in Toronto.  Last night the Marlins effectively traded everyone making more than minimum wage to the Blue Jays.  Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerle, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck all went to the Blue Jays for Yuniel Escobar, and a bunch of prospects. 

My seats were on the field level by first base, so I figured I would start my inside circle of the stadium with the upper level.  To get to the upper level, I walked up the external white ramps that head up in a triangle and is an interesting piece of art in itself.  I was able to get good views of downtown Miami and other areas from the walkway, which was nice.  This walkway brought me into the upper deck in right field.  I then proceeded to slowly walk through the upper deck concourses and seats to get every view that I could.  I even walked up to the last row of the stadium to get the furthest view of the playing field as possible.  The blue seats and green outfield wall stood out around the beautiful baseball diamond.  Thankfully, despite the fact that most games are played under a closed-roof stadium, the field was natural grass.

The next thing that stood out was the rainbow monstrosity in center field, which has marlins, palm trees, water, umbrellas, the sun, and effectively all things Miami.  Although I did not have the opportunity to witness a Marlins home run, I did learn that this monstrosity lights up when a home run does occur.  I also noticed the bullpens behind the left and right field walls and the Clevelander bar behind the left field wall and next to the bullpen.  My buddy Matt Angle (of ballparksofbaseball.com) told me I have to go there, but since I found out it was open after the game, I would wait until then.  A good thing I noticed on my walk around was that you could walk along an aisle of the upper deck (that separates the upper and lower section of the upper deck) without having to either climb over seats or go back out to the concourse and re-enter in another section.  Most new stadiums would not facilitate this walk.  The other good thing was that there was plenty of handicap seating on this level behind home plate.  The concourses were wide in the upper level, but unfortunately do not give you a view of the field as many of the other newer stadiums do.

After I made my way around the top I headed down one level to the suite section, which I did not have access to, but is called the Legends Level.  I did manage to notice a few paintings of baseball players and a great photo of Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron.  I also took this opportunity to buy a Jose Reyes t-shirt and Marlins cap.  I was hoping to buy a scorecard here too, but I was informed that they do not have any, which was disappointing.  However, when I did reach the main concourse level, I double checked at the main team store and found something better.  They handed out scorecards with the day’s lineup already typed in, just no program.  This gave me more time to observe instead of scrambling to pencil in the lineup to keep score.  They even gave out pencils to score for free.

The highlight of the main concourse is the Bobblehead Museum.  There is a collection of bobbleheads of players from every team in the display.  The players are both past and present too.  It is a unique display, behind glass that many fans flock to, to try to see their favorite players in bobblehead form.  So I was clearly happy to find Mike Piazza, Pedro Hernandez, and Lenny Dykstra Mets bobbleheads.  I also found the colection of Angels to photograph to send to my wife Hiroko.  Some of the other cool things on the main concourse are another wall of dedication to the history of the Orange Bowl, a wall and display dedicated to all the people involved in building and designing the ballpark, and a Wall of Fame honoring the Marlins season ticket holders.  There were also many photos and murals of Marlins players and other baseball photos and paintings throughout that gave the concourse a good Marlins feel.  It was not difficult to tell which team’s home ballpark this was.  I was oblivious at first when I noticed people taking photographs of themselves next to a pillar that has a photo of Jose Reyes on it.  Then I realized that there was a photo of every player in the Marlins lineup posted on the pillars.  They were even in the order that they would come to bat.  I love this and had to take a photo of every pillar with a player in the lineup.  I have recently gotten into the habit of taking a photograph of the home team’s starting lineup when I go to a new stadium and this just added to that new tradition.

Once I finished my stadium loops, I had to take one more loop to search for food.  There are plenty of options within the stadium, and as opposed to the upper level, you can see the playing field from the main concourses while obtaining food.  Burger 305 is one of the popular concession stands in the stadium, with the 305 symbolizing the local area code.  There is a Kosher Korner to facilitate the eating process for the large Jewish population in Miami, but the place that stands out most in this ballpark is the Taste of Miami beyond the outfield walls.  There is a large Latin population in Miami, and this section caters to the Latin food delicacy.  To the Marlins credit, many signs and announcements are in both Spanish and English to cater to their local population.  I decided to go Mexican and have a tomale, but there are all sorts of Latin food from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, to name a few.  I enjoyed the tomale (and my Jose Reyes souvenir soda) and from the looks on other faces, it appeared that much of the food was quite good.  I will have to try some different foods next time.  I guess I am required to report that there is also a Budweiser Bar over the Clevelander in left centerfield.  However, in order to keep my principles intact by never drinking that awful swill, I stayed away.

Finally, after walking miles and miles in and around the stadium, it was time to take my seat and observe the stadium from that vantage point to see what I missed in my walks.  The first thing that stood out were the 1997 and 2003 championship banners down the right field line over the scoreboard and WBC advertisement.  In keeping with the numbers theme, I noticed that the only retired number was # 42 (on the green wall between the Budweiser Bar and the Clevelander) for Jackie Robinson.  This means that the Marlins have not retired the number of any of their players, which is not surprising considering they have only been around since 1993.  Then I also noticed the number 427 in that area, which was strange.  What I finally figured out was that in addition to the distances painted on the outfield walls, they painted the distances from home plate to the back of the stadium seats in many spots too.  I thought this was pretty cool that you can roughly judge the distance of any home run by these back wall distances being posted.

Whenever I visit a domed stadium, I like to take photos of the roof.  When I was about to do this, I noticed a sign on the top of the rafters indicating “To Report Fan Misconduct: Text ‘Fish’ Issue & Location to 69050”  I have never seen anything like that, but think it is a great idea with all the stupid things fans tend to do at games.  Unfortunately, for the Marlins, the numbers of fans have been too few for a new stadium.  In fact, the upper level was quite empty and there were many empty seats in and around my section too. 

Prior to the start of the game, I was subjected to a retirement ceremony for the Mets archrival Chipper “Larry” Jones!  He even had the audacity to name one of his children Shea in honor of his unbelievable success against the Mets in their old home stadium, so it is hard to have good feelings for him. Since this would be Jones last season, and most teams (including the Mets) have been paying him tribute with gifts and ceremonies during his last visit to each city.  I just happened to choose the day of his ceremony to see Marlins Park for the first time.  Jose Reyes came out to honor him with a bag of goodies from the Marlins, and I will admit that I did stand and clap to recognize the great career that he had, but I did chant the derisive “Laaaaarrrrry” while I was clapping in tribute to my fellow Mets fans.

Josh Johnson, the Marlins best pitcher (although now a Blue Jay), was the starter today.  He did not get off to a good start.  Michael Bourn led off for the Braves with a double, moved over to 3rd on Martin Prado’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jason Heywood to give the Braves a 1-0 lead.  Chipper Jones would end up making the last out of the inning with a fly out to center field.  While he was up, I could not help but notice how crystal clear and informative the scoreboards were.  Like the last few stadiums I have seen, they have both lineups on display at all times, which is great.  Marlins Park also has detailed statistics for the current batter and pitcher for both the day and the season.  My favorite part is that they display the previous at bats in scorecard style, even including a line where the ball was hit.  After each inning ends, the next three batters pictures are displayed on the screen on the left field wall along with there in game results.  In between innings, they use this screen to display league leaders, and during the innings, it displays the out of town scores.  Details of both pitchers stats are constantly displayed over the bullpens, so there is never an excuse for not knowing what is going on at this stadium. 

The Marlins threatened in the bottom of the first against Kris Medlen, but did not score.  Gorkys Hernandez singled and stole both 2nd and 3rd base in front of a strikeout by Reyes.  Carlos Lee walked, but Greg Dobbs grounded to 2nd to end the inning.  The Marlins would barely threaten to score the rest of the game.  The Braves, however, were not finished.  Dan Uggla reached on a one-out walk in the 2nd, stole 2nd base and scored on an RBI single by Jose Constanza.  They added another run in the 3rd when Prado led off with a walk, moved to 3rd on a single by Jones and scored on Freddie Freeman’s sacrifice fly to left field.  The only problem for the Braves there was that Jones made a bad decision by running on the crack of the bat and was easily doubled up at first base to end the inning.  Luckily, for the Braves, Prado touched home before Jones was put out.

There was no more scoring after the top of the 3rd, but there were some interesting in-game antics.  In the 4th inning, a fan gets to control one of the TV cameras, with the task of finding Billy the Marlin in the crowd.  If he does, he wins a prize.  There was no prize today.  In the top of the 6th there was an electronic race on the scoreboard to see which fish eats the most between blue, yellow, and white…white won.  In the bottom of the 6th there is a sea creature race similar to the wiener race in Milwaukee, but I could not figure out what each creature was, but the red one won this race.  During the 7th inning stretch, Take Me Out to the Ballgame was played on an organ, which is always nice, then we were serenaded by a Bon Jovi song.

When Chipper Jones came to bat in the 8th inning for his last ever at-bat against the Marlins in Miami, the crowd gave him a standing ovation, and yes, I was standing too.  Unfortunately, for Chipper, his last at bat was a ground out to second base.against AJ Ramos.  Josh Johnson ended up giving up 3 runs on 5 hits, with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts.  As a note, for each of the strikeouts and electronic “K” or backwards “K” was placed on the M K Meter on the outfield wall.  For the Braves, their starter, Medlen, pitched 8 innings without giving up a run, while allowing 4 hits and 1 walk with 6 strikeouts.  The Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel, closed out the game in the 9th, but not easily.  Reyes led off with a single, moved to 2nd when Dobbs was hit by a pitch, moved to 3rd when Justin Ruggiano grounded into a force play.  Ruggiano then stole second to put 2 runners in scoring position, but that would be all.  Kimbrel got Rob Brantly to ground out to second to end the game.

After the game, I followed Matt’s advice and went to check out the Clevelander, which is the bar/club in left field.  This was certainly a unique ballpark bar that completely fits the Miami club scene.  When you walk in the first thing you notice is the pool on the right side of the bar and the women dancing on the bar.  The place was completely packed with dance music so loud there would be no possibility of a conversation.  There is a section of seats in front along the left field wall to watch the game, but I doubt that most of the people that go in there really want to watch the game.  I believe there was a cover charge during the game, but it was free to enter afterwards (which is what I did).  If you are into the dance-party thing, I would say this could be a lot of fun, but that is not my thing, and I would much rather be watching the game than hanging in a club.  I will admit that it was difficult not to notice that the women dancing on the bar were only wearing body paint on top, but I did not stick around.

Once I left the Clevelander, I took another walk around the stadium to get some night photos.  Marlins Park does look good under the lights at night, so I am glad I did take that additional walk before heading back to the hotel.  When I did get back, I looked up information about Marlins Park features, and there was mention of an aquarium behind home plate with thick glass that could withstand the impact of a baseball.  The only problem with that was that I never saw the aquarium, and even when I look at the 200 pictures I took, I do not see it anywhere!  This is a mystery that I will have to solve at a later date. 

Bottom line – I had a good time thoroughly (except for the aquarium) seeing all this modern ballpark had to offer.  However, my bigger excitement began after the game, when I knew I was heading to watch France and three other countries play in the World Baseball Classic over the next four days.

Basic trip facts:
-Stadium  - # 41
-Old Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 40)
-Under construction Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 3)
-Miles traveled – 166 via driving and 4,696 via Air (Totals: Driving – 20,121, Subway - 132, Amtrak – 460, Air - 36,546, Total – 57,259)
-States, provinces, Districts and/or commonwealths passed through – Florida (Totals: States – 48, Provinces – 2, Districts – 1, Commonwealths - 1)
-Seats – Section 7, Row 6, Seat 16 – Field level near 1st Base
-Prices: Parking - $15.00, Beer - $8.00-$9.00, Souvenir Soda (bottomless) - $8.00, Hot Dog - $6.00, Scorecards/Program – None available for purchase, but I was given a score sheet with the lineups prefilled, Tomale - $6.00
-Credit Card giveaway –  None – This does not appear to be anywhere any more
-First Pitch -  7:10 PM
-Results: Braves 3 – Marlins 0, W – Kris Medlen, L – Josh Johnson, S – Craig Kimbrel
-Home team record to date – 29 wins, 23 losses
-Record of “team I was routing for” to date – 22 wins, 30 losses
-Attendance –  25,998
-Lodging – Miami, Florida

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