Fans, players get first look at Marlins Park
MIAMI — Old-school baseball guy Jack McKeon never thought he'd see the day when there were tropical fish in aquariums behind each on-deck circle.
"I guess you got to change with the times," said McKeon, 81, who last season with the Marlins was the second-oldest manager in baseball history. "If I had known that, I would have brought my fishing pole."
It might have taken some getting used to for McKeon, who is now a special adviser to Miami owner Jeffrey Loria. But, overall, he's impressed with Marlins Park, which will play host to its first game Tuesday when the Marlins face the University of Miami in an exhibition.
So how impressed was McKeon when he gazed out at the stadium from the home dugout at the team's Fanfest on Saturday? Had the Marlins always had a stadium like this, he believes they would have won even more World Series than the two they have claimed in their first 19 years.
"I'd say about four," said McKeon, who managed the Marlins to their second title in 2003 after they had won their first in 1997. "Just getting (top players) to come here and plus the fans kind of push you."
The Marlins drew just 1.3 million fans during their championship season of 2003 and attracted 1.5 million last season to rank third from last in the National League. But a boon in attendance is expected in the first year with their new $515 million, 37,442-seat retractable-roof stadium just west of downtown Miami.
Gone will be rain delays that plagued the team at cavernous Sun Life Stadium, a structure that was built for the Miami Dolphins and never seemed much like a baseball park. Gone will be games outdoors in intense South Florida heat.
"I like the roof the best because it will be air-conditioned, and I don't like to sweat that much," said outfielder Logan Morrison. "I'm looking forward to Opening Day. Everything."
From the 40,000-plus fans who showed up Saturday, there also was plenty of excitement about the various openings. After the Marlins play a second game in the stadium Wednesday against Florida International, their first game in it against a Major League team will be an April 1 exhibition against the New York Yankees, who also will be on hand April 2. Then it starts for real April 4 when St. Louis visits for the regular-season opener.
"It's beautiful," said reliever Heath Bell, who joined shortstop Jose Reyes and starting pitcher Mark Buehrle as big-name free agents the Marlins signed during the offseason as they began to spend more freely due to all the extra revenue the new park is expected to generate. "It really is a work of art. It just brings chills up your spine."
Bell said his favorite feature is the tropical fish, which are behind transparent plastic in aquariums on each side of the backstop, one 600 gallons and the other 450. The colorful fish swim around coral.
The stadium's most noticeable feature is a $2.5 million, 73-foot-tall technicolor sculpture by pop artist Red Grooms that sits beyond the left-field fence. The sculpture of marlins, flamingos and seagulls will light up each time a Marlins player hits a home run.
"The jury is still out," said David Dalton, a fan on hand Saturday from Fort Lauderdale who isn't sure if he likes the sculpture but overall calls the stadium "gorgeous." "You definitely don't miss it (due to its size)."
Behind the sculpture is a view of the Miami skyline, one that will be through transparent panels when the roof is closed. Next to it is a pool, modeled after the one the Arizona Diamondbacks installed in their retractable-roof stadium in 1998, complete with a bar. Fans Steve Kamphues, 30, and Chris Ball, 25, of Miami have bought tickets at $80 apiece to sit in seats in the pool section for a Yankees game.
"It's better than the beach," Kamphues said.
Games at the park will be no day at the beach if Bell doesn't perform. But he has no problem putting the pressure on himself.
During a session Saturday in which he joined other Marlins on a stage in front of the pitcher's mound and fans in the stands asked questions, Bell declared he's "going to be the best closer this organization has ever seen."
"That's being the closer," Bell said later about his boast. "All the pressure goes on me anyway, so why not add some more?"
Bell believes the new venue will be a "pitcher's park" for those able to keep the ball down. As for third baseman Hanley Ramirez, who won the 2009 NL batting title, he says it can be a good enough hitter's park that he "definitely" could win another such crown.
"I can't wait to take batting practice in here," Ramirez said.
As for LoMoing practice in the new stadium, that already has begun. Perhaps the most popular player Saturday was Morrison, who sat at the edge of the stands signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. To get a chance to meet and pose with Morrison, a line of well over 100 people formed that went to the top of the stadium's lower bowl.
Many of the fans took a picture with Morrison that involved some form of LoMoing. Modeled after the Tim Tebow Tebowing phenomena, LoMoing, which Morrison created for a MLB Fan Cave audition video, involves pointing at the camera while reclining on one's side.
The reclining part was not always possible for photos, but Morrison did give Betty Barribaburu the opportunity to get onto the table where he was signing in order to provide a full LoMo while posing with Morrison. The outfielder, though, remained seated.
"I was trying to think of something real good and creative, and what is better than to do a LoMo with LoMo?" said Barribaburu, 21, a batgirl at the University of Miami who will serve in that role for her school's game Tuesday.
Morrison commended Barribaburu for her "good originality." It was soon copied when Morrison let a male teenage fan also recline on the table for a LoMo shot.
While there was LoMoing inside the stadium, outside there was a festive atmosphere that included games for kids, informational booths, food for sale and vendors peddling baseball memorabilia. There was so much going on and so much to see at the new park that McKeon's head was spinning.
"I need to come down here and spend a week and find out where the heck I'm at," McKeon said.
The old-school guy will have four exhibitions and 81 regular-season games this year to figure it out.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@christomasson