One of my favorite hobbies is visiting all the major league stadiums and then reviewing the newest ballparks for The Hardball Times, so this year I was delighted to travel to Miami to report on Marlins Park.
Miami’s civic leaders must be elated with Marlins Park. It’s close to downtown Miami and Miami Beach, it has a retractable roof, and it looks and feels like a real baseball stadium (not a leftover football field). In other words, it’s everything Sun Life Stadium (also known as Joe Robbie, Pro Player, Dolphins, and Land Shark Stadium) wasn’t.
There are quite a few things to like about the newest major league ballpark:
1. At its core, Marlins Park is a sound baseball stadium. It’s reasonably small (capacity around 38,000) with a grass field, good sight lines, and large nicely-floored concourses that sparkle with modern art. The playing field is just about symmetrical, the seats are comfortable, and the stands themselves are in three tiers, with bleachers in right field and a huge glass window in left field that faces downtown.
2. The retractable roof itself looks massive, sort of like the one at Rogers Centre, and yet it can be opened or closed in only 13 minutes using $10 in electricity. The glass window in left is independently retractable, so if it’s raining but the temperature is nice, the roof can be closed while the window is left open, providing fresh air and rain protection, much like Safeco does. One fun “roof fact” is that if the wind is blowing in the same direction that the roof is moving, there is a regenerative drive system that actually generates more power than it uses!
3. The food variety is fantastic. The stadium of course offers the usual baseball fare, but then it adds gluten-free food, kosher food, Cuban sandwiches, pork sandwiches, and ceviche. To top it all off, it does something I’ve never seen before by having a stand sell a signature food representing the visiting team! Everything I tried was terrific, though I must admit that I didn’t get around to the ceviche.
4. My favorite part of the stadium is the Bobblehead Museum, a huge, glass-enclosed trophy stand that contains nearly 700 bobbleheads from around the majors. The museum has some of the rarest bobbleheads in the world, and new heads are bobbling in all the time. To top it all off, the entire museum shakes constantly, which makes the bobbleheads … well … bobble.
5. The field level concourse columns that support the upper deck are decorated with large photos of Marlins players, as is done in many other stadiums. However, Marlins Park goes one step further and arranges these photos in the order of that day’s starting lineup. Thus, there must be a Marlins employee who goes around the stadium changing fairly large permanent-looking photographs every day. I hate to think what happens when Ozzie Guillen makes a switch at the last minute!
6. Don’t forget the fish tanks! There are two 450-gallon tropical fish tanks on the ground level right behind home plate. They’re protected by bullet-resistant acrylic panels, but they still look as though they might shatter if hit by an Aroldis Chapman wild pitch. I have a 270-gallon tank myself and was very interested in seeing what kinds of fish the Marlins chose, but I didn’t have the right kind of ticket and therefore wasn’t allowed to get close enough to the tanks despite my claim to be writing a review of the stadium. From afar, the tanks look great!
7. And last, but certainly not least, Marlins Park is a LEED-certified Gold structure, making it one of the most energy-efficient sports stadiums in the world.
As you’d expect, there were a few things I didn’t like about the ballpark. The pastel green color scheme is jarring to a traditional baseball fan, but it fits in well with the essence of Miami, and it certainly catches your attention. That’s more than you can say about the playing field configuration and the design of the stands themselves, which are not distinctive in any way and might even become boring after a few years.
And then there’s the sculpture. Smack dab in left-center field is a wildly pastel-hued vision of marlins, seagulls, flamingos, and flowers that jumps to life when a Marlin batter hits a homer. The seagulls and marlins rotate, the flowers appear to vibrate, and the whole sculpture seems to light up and take on a life of its own.
Now, Bill Veeck is one of my idols, but I have to tell you that only the fake rocks and waterfall in left field in Anaheim (uh, Angel Stadium in Los Angeles of Anaheim) come close to being as odd as Miami’s sculpture. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason, but in my opinion, it doesn’t work.
If we try to put everything into perspective, how does Miami’s new stadium stack up with the rest of the majors? Well, the park is a real move up for Miami, but the competition is so tough that Marlins Park doesn’t make the top half of my list, much less the top 10.
However, that’s less an indictment of Marlins Park than it is praise for the current crop of ballparks. This is the golden age of baseball stadiums, and virtually every major league franchise has an excellent place in which to watch games. At this point, there are only two teams (Tampa Bay and Oakland) that need new stadiums, an all-time low, so it might be awhile before I write my next review.
Speaking of my top 10, I’ve visited half of them within the last couple of years, and I’ve made a couple of revisions. Here’s my list:
1. San Francisco (AT&T)
2. Boston (Fenway)
3. Chicago NL (Wrigley)
4. Pittsburgh (PNC)
5. Seattle (Safeco)
6. Baltimore (Camden Yards)
7. Colorado (Coors)
8. New York AL (Yankee Stadium)
9. Los Angeles (Dodger Stadium)
10. Minnesota (Target)