Recap - Marlins 5, Giants 4
Today it was onto Miami and the final of my 3 games on this ‘South East Swing’.
I probably would have preferred renting a car and driving the 4 hours south from St. Pete, but today’s game was a 12 noon start, so rather than hit the road at the crack of dawn, I opted for the short flight. I landed around 10 am, checked into my hotel in South Beach, settled in for a bit then grabbed an Uber to Marlins Park, the newest of all the 30 major league venues.
Marlins Park is situated in the middle of Miami’s “Little Havana” neighborhood. The neighborhood consists of mostly Cuban immigrants and is noted as a center of social, cultural and political activity. If it’s a day game and you have a car – it’s worth taking a trip through and checking out Calle Ocho.
Little Havana is normally about a 20-25 minute drive from South Beach over the I-195 Causeway. But today, the traffic getting to the park was insane. The Marlins are not known for drawing tons of fans, even with their shiny new ballpark and their exciting young trio of outfielders. There are just too many fun things to do in Miami to be bothered with baseball. So, why the crowd today? Maybe because of the family friendly 12 noon start , maybe some field trips? No, the reason is the long awaited return of star pitcher and local Miami resident, the beloved Jose Fernandez who was making his first start in 18 months after recovering from his Tommy John surgery.
Marlins Park is just one block from the freeway exit, but the stretch from the exit to the park was a standstill of cars. After sitting in the Uber for almost 40 minutes listening to salsa music and the driver’s stories about his childhood in the barrio of El Salvador, I excused myself and walked the final 3/4 mile in the searing heat.
My first impression of the stadium once it came into sight was mixed. I can safely say that it’s unlike any other in the bigs. Very sleek and sculptured breaking the mold on all of the ‘retro’ style parks that have opened up in the majors one by one since Oriole Park in ’92. But it’s a little jarring as well since it looks very much like an alien space craft touched down among the huts and bodegas of Little Havana.
The stadium was built on the site of the former Orange Bowl which for years was home to the Miami Hurricanes football team and host to 5 Super Bowls. As a really cool ‘homage’ to that, there are giant 10’ orange letters strewn around the entrance (as though they had fallen and landed as a result of the demolition of the old stadium) that (if put together) spell ‘Miami Orange Bowl’. Some of the letters are standing, leaning or on their sides
The next thing that got my attention was the amazing drop in temperature once I made it through the gate into the parks interior. I went from 95 + degrees outside to a wonderfully soothing 72 degrees inside. The climate control at the stadium is magnificent. I really hate indoor baseball, but today was really grateful for it. How the fans endured summer home games in their old outdoor stadium is something I can’t even imagine. Once inside after my ticket scan I was handed the SGA, A giant photo cutout of Jose Fernandez head on a stick. Of course!
As remarkable as the outside of the park is, the inside may be even more so. It really had a bit of a ‘theme park’ feel to it – or kind of like playing baseball inside ‘Rainforest Café’. The dominant colors are teal and orange. The park has a real aquatic theme to it and is laden with unique features that you wouldn’t expect in a ballpark. But, this is a ballpark in Miami and probably the most unique in all of baseball.
Located outside of left field on the field level is The Clevelander Bar, a mini-version of the popular South Beach resort, complete with two bars, seating for fans, a DJ, scantily-clad dancers, and a pool. And, yes, you can actually swim in the pool. A ticket for The Clevelander is available for purchase like any other seat in the stadium for the game itself, but once the game ends, it opens up for free to the public.
Behind home plate (but inaccessible to most fans) are the two 450 gallon aquariums. Each aquarium is constructed of a durable fiberglass, while crystal-clear acrylic panels 1.5 inches thick are used for the impressive viewing windows that run the entire length of the aquariums. A cool, interesting feature that fits the parks theme.
Without a doubt the most ‘unique’ (peculiar, unusual, bizarre, etc.) feature at the park is the million dollar ’Home Run Sculpture’. It may be absolutely hideous in the eyes of many fans, looking more like something you would find on the shelves of a cheap street vendor than a piece of artwork, but is fun to watch when activated. I personally liked it. The Home Run sculpture is an actual registered piece of art
Another unique (and very cool feature) is the Bobblehead Museum. Located on the main concourse behind home plate, the massive display holds numerous bobbleheads from over the years. It’s a collection of bobbleheads from every Major League team all enclosed in a big glass casing. The best part is the casing is on top of a device that slightly rocks back and forth so the heads are always bobbling.
The retractable roof protects you from the rain or heat of the day (in addition to the soaring temps, south Florida is notorious for the frequent flash thunderstorms throughout the season). When the temperature outside is nice and comfortable (maybe up until early May) the roof retracts and the panorama windows open in the outfield, providing a beautiful view of the downtown Miami skyline.
The seats themselves are actually pretty wide and comfy with considerable leg room and the video screen and PA system are among the best in baseball.
There are some nice displays throughout the park including one showing great moments in Orange bowl history which oddly enough gets at least much real estate as Marlins history (despite the franchise having two World Championships)
If food is one of the main reasons that you go to a baseball game and you happen to have a taste for good Latin food, then Marlins Park is the place for you.
There is an entire section called ‘A Taste of Miami’ where you can get fresh-pressed Cuban sandwiches with plantain chips and garlic butter, café con leche, tamales and chicharrones, stone crabs and ceviche – plus all kinds of sweets and fruit juices. The Marlins craft beer selection isn't one of the best however.
The biggest treat of all was the game. As mentioned, this was the first game back for hometown hero Jose Fernandez following his TJ surgery. He was opposing the Giants Matt Cain also making his 1st start of the year following a forearm injury rehab. Jose got off to a shaky start in the first allowing 2 runs, but settled in nicely afterwards showing total command of all his pitches and cranking up the fastball into the upper 90's. Trailing 3-1 after 5 innings and 81 pitches, Fernandez was allowed to bat for himself. He cranked a 1-1 Cain pitch into the upper deck of left field which caused the crowd noise levels to shake the stadium! Later that inning, Justin Bour blasted a titanic 3 run shot to right giving the Fish a 5-3 lead. AJ Ramos would come in for the 9th to close out the victory giving Fernandez a W in his first game back. The win brought Fernandez Marlins Park lifetime record to 13-0. All of the fans left the ballpark really happy.
After the game, I went back to South Beach and later in the evening met a childhood friend of mine from NJ for dinner who years earlier, burned all of his Winter clothes and moved to Boca Raton.
So, a nice 3 day 'South East Swing' comes to and end. I'm back on a plane to NJ tomorrow. Next trip is in a month.
Fans - B – A packed house of highly enthused fans. An anomaly for Marlins park from what I’m told. A great deal of energy in the park. Everyone behaved and got along.
Features - B+ - Bobblehead Museum, Home Run sculpture, Lots of natural light, Great Climate Control
Location - D – Tucked away in Little Havana – not the best neighborhood to stroll around after the game.
Food - A - The ‘Taste of Miami’ section had some amazing Cuban food options
Game - A+ - the triumphant return of Miami favorite, Jose Fernandez. He pitched a gem and hit a HR.
Overall Experience – B+ - Getting to the park was stressful and I don’t really like indoor baseball (although I would have hated sitting in 90+ degree South Florida heat) – but it is actually a fun park with a great ‘Miami feel’ to it and it was a fun and exciting game. Spending time in South Beach didn't suck either.