In my quest to visit all 30 major league ballparks, I had originally planned to get the two in Florida on my summer road trip. But after spending some time with the maps, it became clear that Miami was just too far to go in the time allotted. So I looked at schedules and concluded that May (not being part of hurricane season) afforded the best opportunity to cover the two in the Sunshine State.
I began the trip by flying to Key West for no good reason. Oh, I had reasons (1. As a kid I had a pen pal there [remember snail mail?]; 2. It’s the southernmost point of the continental U.S.; 3. I was curious), but none were sufficient. Key West is simply kitsch – not as concentrated as say, Wall Drug, but there is little reason for the town’s existence other than parting tourists from their dollars. Not a lot of the charm or architectural preservation you’d expect in a sleepy tropical town.
So I left and drove though the Keys to Miami. I’ve been here many times before and must say it is not one of my favorite cities, but it does have a new ballpark, so that makes it worthy of a visit.
Contrary to the modern trend, it does not bear the name of a sponsor. It is simply Marlins Park. Nor is it retro. Rather, it is futuristic, the outside resembling a sleek white spaceship more than the traditional ivy-covered brick ballpark. In fact, there isn’t one brick in sight. It was built in 2012 on the site of the old Orange Bowl and is one of the smallest parks in the Bigs.
It has a retractable roof and huge sliding windows, so rainouts, which plagued the Marlins at their old park, are non-existent. On this night, the windows were open till just before game time and then closed. The grass, however, is natural (to the extent any big league stadium grass is natural!) and perfectly groomed. In keeping with the latest trend, the protective screens extend beyond the dugouts and the Jumbotron is trapezoidal. The closed in nature of the park made the extra-loud relentless music of the p.a. system especially oppressive.
Speaking of the scoreboard, notice the new feature.
This is the result of the new rule adopted by MLB with the goal of speeding the pace of play and making games shorter. It seemed to have that effect in this game.
Another feature not seen in other parks (thank goodness!) – the monstrosity in left center which comes to life when the Marlins hit a home run. Just to be sure their ballpark is the most unusual, the Marlins built into the wall right behind home plate not one but two large aquariums (made of bulletproof glass – and, apologies – I couldn’t get a picture). I guess having fish in the wall has something to do with the name of their team. Huh?
This game didn’t hold a lot of promise. So far, the Marlins this year have simply been bad. The Phillies, by contrast, under their new manager, Gabe Kapler, are over .500 and seem to be resurgent. This pattern held through five innings as the Phils scored one and held the Marlins hitless (indeed, runnerless) through five.
In the sixth, the Marlins got a little wink from God in the form of a bloop to right that none of the three converging Phils could reach that resulted in a double with no outs. So of course, the next batter bunted (badly) and the runner on second was nailed in a rundown. Hard to say that was a baserunning error, since the whole point was to get to third making a run possible on a hit or sacrifice fly. More like a batting error.
Then Lewis Brinson gets a single, so there’s hope. But Phils pitcher Zach Eflin, no doubt under instructions from the bench, made several attempts to pick Brinson off first. As these pictures show, the initial attempts were unsuccessful, but on the last, which was called safe, a challenge overturned the call.
This, while pinch hitter Justin Bour was at the plate, just hoping to move the runner along. Once there was no runner, he did the only thing he could – launched one out of the park to even the score.
No further action till the 10th, when the Phils loaded the sacks but couldn’t score. In the bottom half, the first two Marlins made outs, then Cameron Maybin hit a stand up triple to deep center – no something you see too often. After an intentional walk, another pinch hitter, Yadiel Rivera, got his first ever walk off hit to win the game.
So, a night of very interesting baseball in front of the smallest big league crowd I can remember (officially almost 13,000, but the after-game announcement said 5,000 – I’d be surprised if it was that big).
Oh yes, the food. In a city as cosmopolitan and diverse as Miami, you’d expect a plethora of choices. Not to be. Everything seemed standardized and somehow sterile. Nothing distinctive except for one small stand offering pincho, a sort of kebab. And the prices were more than major league high.
And another thing, during the game, there was a little piece on the Jumbotron featuring Marlins players promoting “Sandlot Day” with quotes from the eponymous movie (a baseball must-see). “You’re killin’ me Smalls.”