St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman was at it again Wednesday night, critiquing the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark with his usual — and sometimes brutal — honesty.
I disagree with one of Berkman’s contentions — that even in Miami, fans would prefer an old-style park rather than the modern, South Beach-flavored experience the Marlins are trying to present.
I’ll reserve judgment on Berkman’s other criticism — that the park is too spacious, too pitcher-friendly — until we see how the ball travels when the retractable roof is closed, which will be the case most of the time.
The ball failed to carry with the roof open Wednesday night, and the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton possibly was robbed of two home runs to center field. But talk about small sample size — it was only the first game!
In any case, Berkman perfectly captures the sentiments of all those fans, players and executives who are wary of the Marlins — their park, their controversial ownership and of course, the expensive, volatile team they’re putting on the field.
A good many people, I’m sure, will view the Cardinals’ 4-1 victory on Wednesday night as a triumph of good, old-fashioned Midwestern values over the garishness and depravity of South Beach.
“I wasn’t real sure we were playing a baseball game, to be honest with you,” Berkman told a small group of reporters afterward. “It seemed more like an SEC football game for a while. But they did intend for us to play baseball. I found out about 15 minutes before first pitch.”
He was being sarcastic. And he was just getting warmed up.
“There were a lot of shenanigans,” Berkman said. “The thing about it is, if I was building a new ballpark … one of the things about baseball that people gravitate toward is nostalgia. That’s why people love Wrigley Field. They love Fenway Park. You can kind of step back in time.
“What they tried to do here is step forward in time. A lot of the things you normally associate with baseball … you don’t see cheerleaders at baseball games. They were there tonight. You don’t see flamenco dancers. They were there tonight. You don’t see DJs and bands during the game. You saw that tonight. … I’m not sure baseball fans embrace that kind of change.”
In St. Louis, they sure wouldn’t. But c’mon, this is Miami. The park should be a baseball funhouse, a reflection of the Marlins’ diverse, vibrant city. Though I must admit, it’s rather distracting trying to write in the press box with bodies gyrating and music blaring in the Clevelander nightclub beyond the left-field wall.
I know, I know — the lime-green outfield walls are not for everyone. That colorful, monstrous structure beyond the left-center-field wall … depends upon your taste. And the women dressed like Brazilian Carnival dancers who escorted the Marlins onto the field during pregame introductions?
Hey, welcome to South Beach, baby!
Berkman said he understood the idea of appealing to the local culture, but added, “Baseball fans are universal. It doesn’t matter where they are … I just feel baseball fans have sort of a universal craving for yesteryear. It’s passed down from father to son. People like to walk into the ballpark and remember.”
That’s an aesthetic argument. Frankly, the bigger issue with the park from a fan’s perspective is that its downtown location is impractical. Traffic jams and parking shortages are inevitable. People may love the place, but those who live outside of Miami might resist attending games.
From a player’s perspective?
The problem is just as Berkman described. The dimensions — 418 feet to center, 392 to right-center, 386 to left-center — could curtail offense, making the park the Petco of the east.
“It’s huge … the biggest ballpark in the game,” Berkman said. “If they don’t move the fences in after this year, I’ll be surprised. I’ll go with two years with the over/under on that.
“I think the stadium itself is really pretty. It’s got some good architecture. But the dimensions leave something to be desired.”
Again, he was just getting started.
“People have tried this big ballpark deal and it never works,” Berkman said. “Detroit moved the fences in. (The) New York (Mets) moved the fences in. There’s a reason why it’s 330-375-400. That’s a fair baseball game. You try to get too outrageous, you end up with something that I think will be detrimental to their ballclub.”
The Marlins were reluctant to draw conclusions — as manager Ozzie Guillen put it, “We can’t judge a ballpark on one day.”
Shortstop Jose Reyes noted that the park has “a lot of space,” and that, “some guys hit the ball hard and it went nowhere.” But Reyes, who became accustomed to this debate while playing for the Mets at Citi Field, added, “There’s nothing to worry about. If a guy hits the ball good, it’s going to go out.”
Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest did not seem overly concerned.
“I don’t know that we designed it to be a pitcher’s park or a hitter’s park. We just wanted it to be fair,” Beinfest said. “We erred maybe a little bit on the side of being spacious. You can always bring (the fences) in. You can’t usually move ’em out. This is a healthy-sized park, which is OK.”
Beinfest then looked at me.
“Why, are you getting complaints?”
At that point, I hadn’t spoken with Berkman yet.
Later, when a reporter told Berkman that the Marlins intended the park to be “fair,” the 13-year veteran again was at his sardonic best.
“I don’t know what that means,” Berkman said. “The weather’s fair when they close the roof. In that respect, I think they’re right.”
Let the debate begin — a debate that will be perfect for this team, this park and this city.