Editor’s note: This is part of a continuing series reviewing Major League Baseball stadiums and desperate plea for its fans not to visit all of them. You really do have more important things to do with your life.
I get into arguments all the time about movies featuring characters from DC Comics — “Man of Steel,” “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” etc. Usually, the debate goes something like this: I posit that instead of the same superhero movie told in a paint-by-numbers approach, they’re trying to tell different stories. Some of it fails or is overblown, but much of it works and I want Hollywood to take risks instead of predictable reboots and sequels.
The counterargument is usually: Zack Snyder sucks. Robert Downey Jr. rules! And then I sigh and pick my spirits up with a tasty Hostess fruit pie.
Marlins Park is the “Batman V Superman” of sports stadiums. In other words, it is an ambitious failure that I admit I enjoyed driving to when I lived in Florida. Former owner Jeffrey Loria instructed the architects to avoid the faux retro look of so many other stadiums. Miami is a forward-looking city, he told them. Look forward. Let your imagination go.
The result is a beautiful mess of a retractable roof stadium that encapsulates as much South Florida tackiness as a pack of designers can create with a bag full of narcotics and a doodle pad. But considering it seats just about 36,000 people, there’s a lot more focus on Miami-Deco, 1980s neon colors and the music of Pitbull than there is on getting fans in the seats.
Which is another thing that makes Marlins Park symbolic of Miami: South Florida simply doesn’t like professional sports that much. But we’ll expand on that later.
The stadium — built on the site of the former Orange Bowl football stadium in Little Havana — would feel cramped if the Marlins were ever popular. In the eight MLB games I attended, I never saw a fan sitting in the upper deck. You can get a seat behind the dugouts on some nights for less than $20. I did when the Dodgers were in town and witnessed Rich Hill pitch seven perfect innings against the hometown team. If you are a fan of the visiting team, $20 is a nice investment for the climate control and proximity alone.
Special events can be a treat there. When the World Baseball Classic was held in Marlins Park, fans of Central American national teams showed up with drum lines, dancers and sang for nine innings. Imagine an international soccer flavor to baseball. Imagine people in that upper deck. It was a wonderful memory.
I also like the crazy mash of colors around the park. I never realized there were that many shades or turquoise and chartreuse. I liked the garish fountain in centerfield to celebrate home runs. Regrettably, that was removed prior to this season because the Marlins don’t hit home runs. The wall paneling has the feel of a motel swimming pool, but it seems to fit. The bar with a swimming pool behind the left-field fence. The aquariums behind home plate. The 60-foot tall glass panels that provide a glimpse of a real party in Miami a few blocks away.
So as crazy as the place looks, I like it because it makes sense for South Florida.
But Miami hates the Marlins, and that makes a lot of sense, too.
And this is why Marlins Park ranks No. 24. Miami loathes the Marlins because Loria threatened to move the team unless it ponied up for the stadium. Prior to Marlins Park, the team played in a football stadium about 30 miles north. Which football stadium? Hell if I know. The NFL’s Dolphins change the damned name every six months.
Anyway, Loria swore on a stack of Too Live Crew CDs that if Miami built Marlins Park, he would pay for a competitive team. Instead, he traded away its best (nee: well-paid) players just a couple of months into the Marlins first season in their new digs. The Marlins have stunk ever since. Their supporters never forgot, because it appeared to them that Loria inflated the value of the franchise on the basis on the new stadium alone. He eventually sold the team for $1.2 billion. I’m a conservative in politics. When a liberal complains about corporate welfare, this is a case study. And even a guy like me nods his head and understands.
Loria had a six percent approval rating in a 2012 poll by the Miami Herald.
I admit I go back and forth about sports in Florida. Sports are a quality-of-life benefit to me. The major leagues, the NFL, NBA, NHL, even soccer, are all represented in the Sunshine State. I liked that.
But nobody goes to the games unless they’re in the running for a title. SEC or ACC football? Sure, college football sells. But the professionals? Who links the phrase “die-hard” to a fan of any Florida team? How often do you have to be reminded that the Jacksonville Jaguars exist? Hell, the Florida Panthers play next to a giant mall where you can park for free and still can’t get attention. I attended a Panthers game once and the crowd cheered loudest when it was announced Barry Manilow would play a concert there in three months. I’m not kidding.
So Marlins Park is affordable, memorably funky and comfortable. But should you make a cross-country trip to see an unpopular baseball team?
Of course not, unless you need to get a few hours of relief from your elderly relatives who retired there. Or maybe if your kids have dropped the director’s cut of “Suicide Squad” in the Blu-ray player.