|Hanley Ramirez has a tough opening night, going hitless in four at-bats with a strikeout. (US Presswire)|
MIAMI -- As if having a collection of stars like Jose Reyes, Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson and Logan Morrison isn't exciting enough for the average Miami baseball fan, the Marlins presented a shiny new stadium on Opening Night that is part-Vegas, part-discotheque and total kitsch. The sights, sounds and shtick are irresistible. But let's hope someone shows up tomorrow.
The Marlins' mundane 4-1 defeat at the hands of the defending World Series champion Cardinals in the opener -- with Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse dominating the baseball portion of the evening by keeping Marlins hitters off balance and keeping the ball in a park that may prove to make Citi Field look like a bandbox -- only spoiled some of the fun. Before Lohse, only a substitute for injured ace Chris Carpenter, took the mound, Opening Day at Marlins Park featured the great Jose Feliciano singing the National Anthem, The Greatest Muhammad Ali being wheeled onto the field, plus scores of toned cheerleaders and a gaggle of scantily clad Vegas-style flamenco dancers escorting out the Marlins' starting lineup in what may have been the highlight for them -- thanks to Lohse.
New Marlins Park reflects this lively, fun, splashy city. There isn't a red brick in the house. The place is glass and steel, and it's colorfully crazy and plenty chaotic. It's a look into the future, and it's totally cool.
"It's lively, it's entertaining and it's so Miami," new Marlins reliever Heath Bell said.
Hopefully, there will be enough fans to enjoy it. No matter the first day's outcome, there was a party going on long into the night at the Clevelander, the famous Ocean Drive night spot that has a branch here in left field. The players heard the music pumping, and the partiers jumping throughout the game. There was a side benefit for some.
"It drowned out the 'knuckleheads,'" the Cardinals' Matt Holliday said.
South Florida fans may be fun. But they are a lot more fickle than faithful. The Marlins built a stunning new stadium and superior new team on the premise that their entire issue was the massive, cold, roofless football stadium that housed them as the Dolphins' tenants for 19 years, not demanding fans who disregard teams that aren't en route to a championship.
"Unless they're really winning they may run into a similar situation to what they had in Pro Player or whatever they call that thing [Dolphins Stadium now]," the Cardinals' Lance Berkman hypothesized.
The new place not only has a beautiful retractable roof, it has a completely gorgeous entire exterior, and wonderful Miami flavor and flourishes. Yes, there really are fish tanks that serve as backstops for balls (and for those who worry about the fish, one tank held up after being slammed by a Rafael Furcal foul). It's a great and quirky place. But is it enough?
Word is ticket sales so far are "just OK" and certainly nothing close to a "blowout." They've got a hot place. But they may also need a hot start.
"It's beautiful. But no matter how beautiful, you need to win," said Reyes, a veteran of the NL East.
It might not be enough to have a hot new design, a hot night spot or even a cool new retractable roof that keeps the patrons from overheating. South Floridians are a demanding lot. A sleek new park and standout individual talents aren't necessarily going to draw the fans.
South Florida loves a winner like anywhere else. But like nowhere else, it really hates anything less. The old place didn't have crowds when the team was less than dominant; it had gatherings. On a good night, there was maybe a quorum. On a bad one, you could hear the hecklers' every last syllable.
The new place is lively with colors and sounds (though we'll assume the siren heard a few times was an accidental fire alarm, a tweak of a new stadium). Steel and glass comprise a modern masterpiece, and the colors are at the very least awakening.
"I thought it was cool," Holliday said, adding, "I would have chosen a different color scheme. But I'm not from Miami."
The whole team is cool, too. Their fun mix of personalities adds to the ambiance with some lively personalities of its own. Reyes is full of spunk (Ramirez called him his cup of coffee in the morning), Morrison is an offbeat, outside-the-box thinker with good power and great tweets as @LoMoMarlins (someone close to him said he was taking a break from his usual mix of humor while he rehabbed his knee, but he's good to go now) and Bell is, well, just plain kooky, but in a very good way. Plus, there's Ozzie Guillen, the ringleader, the funniest manager in two languages. It's like the team was cast for its star power, not necessarily selected for its abilities (though the potential is extraordinary).
Reyes gives the Marlins the type of speedy one-two punch team owner Jeffrey Loria sought. Loria said he recalled the way Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo made the team go in the championship year of 2003, and he wanted to duplicate that. Reyes, the $106 million addition, did not disappoint, opening with two hits.
The homegrown great Stanton, who appears to still be growing, is one guy who won't be held in too often by the expansive dimensions that include 386 and 392 feet in the two power alleys -- though he had at least one home run -- maybe two -- swallowed up by the expansiveness in center field on a night when the Marlins didn't threaten often.
There's no excuse now, South Florida. The park features work by real artists that represents actual art, not the usual cliched ode to the former star featured at most parks. It's like a museum, and a ballpark, which is great because South Florida isn't exactly filled with worthwhile museums (unless you count the Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale).
The massive, brightly colored center-field home run sculpture by noted 1960s pop artist Red Grooms is an ode to the area, with a bright yellow starfish, stately flamingos, glorious palm trees, seagulls, moving parts, pinwheels and porpoises, plus two giant Marlins. It's a home run signaler that makes Bernie Brewer look like a piker. Some may see it as a monstrosity. Some came in from St. Louis and saw it as over-the-top. But they acknowledged that what plays in Peoria (and thereabouts) is different than what works down here.
"That thing out there is pretty garish. I'm not sure what it is," Berkman said, adding, "The stadium itself is really pretty. I enjoyed the architecture." Berkman's other issue with the place was the dimensions, which he called "outrageous" and predicted might be changed within a year or two.
As for the beauty of the park, they shouldn't change a thing. The whole point is that it's over the top. And it all works, especially here. Let's just hope enough folks down here notice how cool it is.