I want to embrace Miami’s new half-billion dollar jewel of a ballpark as a newly born symbol of baseball tradition, but something about it just doesn’t sit right.
Owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson seem proud of the work they have put in to create a new brand for the Miami Marlins. Along with the new 37,000-seat retractable-roof stadium (built on the hallowed grounds of the Orange Bowl) comes a new name, logo, colors, coach, and highly sought-after free agents. So far this year, the Marlins are ninth in ticket sales in the MLB —compared to 28th last year — and they’ve seen a 280% increase in merchandise sales, according to ESPN.com. But when you’re inside Marlins Park, it is easy to forget that the main purpose of the Marlins is to play baseball.
Maybe it’s the $2.5 million multicolored sculpture in centerfield, that performs an L.E.D. light show when a Marlins player hits a home run, that distracts me from the game. Loria describes it as a work of art. “You're going to walk into that ballpark and see it, you're going to say, 'Oh, my goodness',” he told The New Yorker. And, while I may agree with his statement, I don’t think we mean the same thing.
I like the essence of the idea; it’s the product that doesn’t sit right with my baseball instincts. Many teams have a home run tradition: The San Francisco Giants built a separate scoreboard in right field to keep track of each “splash hit”—that is, a home run ball that lands in McCovey Cove. The Milwaukee Brewers mascot, Bernie Brewer, slides down a two-story yellow slide after each home run in Miller Park. The Chicago Cubs fans simply make sure to throw every visiting team’s home run ball back on to Wrigley Field. The Marlins tried to follow suit with their neon colored shrine complete with flamingos, palm trees, and all seven colors of the rainbow.
Maybe the organization forgot that it’s baseball we are talking about: a sport known for the simple things, like ivy covered stadium walls. It’s always been a pastime where fans are fueled by beer, hot dogs, and chewing tobacco. In all this dense tradition, the Marlins new ideas don’t fit.
Maybe I can’t see past the smoke and mirrors of the team’s new image, but I have a hard time believing that the Marlins main purpose is actually to play baseball. After all, Loria told The New Yorker, “Baseball is an entertainment business in many ways.” Take, for example, the Ocean Drive icon “The Clevelander,” which is trying to bring a “party atmosphere” to the stadium by providing a 240-seat pool and bar area, fully equipped with flamenco dancers, right by left-center field. As enticing as this new feature sounds, you can throw me a pack of sunflower seeds and a 98-mph fastball and I will be satisfied. The game is what matters.
Maybe, in a city like Miami, Marlins executives can stamp everything with new neon colors and promise fans that their game-day experience will always be 75 and sunny, and maybe fans will flock to the new stadium by the thousands. But the true spirit of the game is old, rugged and long lasting. It is found in pinstripes and peanut shells, not 450-gallon aquariums that serve as backstops for wild pitches. Maybe the Marlins franchise would have been better off moving to another city, where a new ballpark is not another temporary fad for temporary fans. Maybe only time will tell.