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Exploring the new Marlins Park! April 1 2012 with the Yankees

The Miami Marlins know how to throw a party. As any good party-thrower knows, one of the keys is to invite lively guests. The Marlins picked a good one with the New York Yankees, who brought legions of fans to the dress-rehearsal exhibition game at Marlins Park on April 1, 2012.

Some were expatriate New Yorkers who have been in Florida for years. Some were spring training pilgrims from all over.

But the Marlins had no shortage of supporters there today, and for all the complaints there have been about the team bilking the city, the mistreatment of the local residents over parking issues, and so on, there were throngs of people in brand-new Marlins colors ready to fly their Fish flags. Many of them were hispanic families, with three (or four) generations in attendance together. If this team wins, it appears there will be plenty of folks on that bandwagon already.

The park does look a bit like a spaceship just set down in the midst of a residential neighborhood. But the first impression of the place came not from the visual, but from the sound. From a few blocks away it sounded like the biggest, loudest block party on Earth was going on, and we soon discovered why. In the plaza outside first base, there was a live DJ and emcee, blasting the beat through huge speakers set atop the hundred-foot-high tower that anchored the pedestrian ramps up to the upper reaches of the ballpark. The emcee exhorted us from time to time with the rules (only one bottle of factory-sealed water allowed per person carried into the park, for example) but mostly he seemed like the host of a hip, happenin’ bash.

Mosaic walkway

The plaza itself is beautiful and so very “Miami.” On the outside the ballpark is white, but the walkways are mozaics of colored tiles. One had blue, green, and red stripes, intercut with black stripes of varying widths, which gives the illusion of all the colors of the rainbow being represented, even though they are not. Just like a TV screen, your eye thinks it sees yellow and purple and orange, but it’s just an illusion. Kind of like the Mets’ ability to contend in recent years.

On the plaza we picked up free T-shirts from Brother Jimmy’s Barbecue, which very smartly say on them both “Proud BBQ Sponsor of the NY Yankees” and “Official BBQ of the Marlins.” Equal opportunity emblazoning! BJB is apparently opening a restaurant in Miami, so this is smart advertising. I bet a lot of people who got those shirts today will wear them tomorrow to the game. We also picked up some TaxPro drink coozies and such, but mostly we wandered around and looked at the fans. There was a giant inflatable Marlins logo (the new logo, of course) and families were IN LINE to take pictures in front of it, like Mickey Mouse was there or something. (I’ll refrain from jokes about “Mickey Mouse operations”… I think.)

We went through the virtual turnstiles without mishap and were surprised to find ourselves going… indoors. The roof was closed. It was not quite as weird a sensation as in Arizona, where I took in a game at then Bank One Ballpark in 2003, but it was close. You just don’t expect to walk through the gates of a ballpark and for it to feel so very… indoorsy. But you can sense the roof is closed and the air conditioning is on. I know the roof was open earlier in the day because of pictures some of the beat writers tweeted, but I suppose the front office figured with all us cold-blooded northerners (“yankees”) in the place they ought to cool it down to prevent heatstroke and sunburn.

I had slathered up but good with sunblock before leaving the house, but I wasn’t disappointed to be in coolness for the duration. It was fun looking at the massive windows which will presumably slide on the huge tracks to open the view toward the skyline when the roof isn’t closed.

As one makes the circuit on the promenade level, one realizes that the sections are color-coded. The outfield is green, third base is red, home plate is blue, and first base is yellow. This change is not subtle. Not only do the concession and restroom signs change depending on which section you are in, but the whole color of the floor and all the other accoutrement. Remember how I said outside it’s white? Inside, this ballpark is a riot of color.

One thing the architects definitely did right is that looking at the ballpark from the outside, you think “Wow, it’s so big!” but the moment you get inside and look across the field, you think, “Wow, it’s so small!” Neat trick, that.

Our first order of business at any new ballpark is usually “check out the food options.” Oh, be still my heart, the food here looks scrumptious, and not insanely priced (at least when compared to Yankee Stadium, PacBell/AT&T Park, and Angel Stadium, to name a few I’ve been to recently). It’s ballpark prices, but I don’t mind paying $9-$12 for an entree if it’s actually WORTH EATING.

We did one entire circuit of the “promenade” (main) level, weighing all the options. Every stand has its menus on TV screens which flip back and forth between the English and Spanish versions of their menu. So I learned a new word! “Cracker Jack” in Spanish (“palomitas encarmeladas” if you must know). We were entranced by choices like mahi mahi tacos, shrimp burgers with lime aioli, buffalo wing and blue cheese empanadas, steak BLT, key lime chicken tacos, et cetera.

Amusingly enough, though, the stand that had the longest line at 11:30am when we entered was the Kosher Korner. Not entirely surprisingly, the line was mostly made up of folks in Yankees paraphernalia. I guess not everyone is as enthralled by fish tacos as I am. (And no, that isn’t a euphemism. Jeez, get your mind out of the gutter.)

There were also stands specializing in barbecue (Brother Jimmy’s, of course), sushi, hand-dipped ice cream and candy, pizza, and of course hot dogs everywhere. And bars. There’s one in left field, one in right field, and also a place downstairs by the bullpen called Clevelander: I’m not sure if you needed a special ticket to get in there or what. (It’s unclear from the Marlins A-Z Ballpark Guide whether a separate ticket is needed.

I quote: “[The] world-renown South Beach hotel, The Clevelander… operate[s] a poolside area that will feature a swimming pool, fabulous cuisine, signature beverages, entertainment and a one-of-a-kind seating location on the Field Level with sightlines through the outfield fence. Located next to the bullpen, Guests of The Clevelander will have the opportunity to watch the pitchers warm up and a close-up view of the Marlins outfielders making spectacular plays during the game. The Clevelander at Marlins Park will open two hours before the start of each game on game days and remain open after games and on non-game days for private events.”

By the way, a free copy of the Yankees Yearly ebook to the first commenter to point out the egregious grammatical gaffe in the above quote. Yes, I’m serious.*

Oh, and how’s this for cool? There’s one menu item at the main food stands listed as “Visiting Team Special Item.” For the New York Yankees, it’s knishes! (What is it going to be for the Red Sox??)

The condiment dispensing stations are fancy and well-stocked. However, there were NO NAPKINS ANYWHERE. We had to go up to a stand and ask for them specifically, and the cashier had to dig around underneath to get them. When one is eating fish tacos (as I was) and a steak chimichurri cuban sandwich (as corwin was), one needs napkins afterward. Or a shower. (But napkins are more practical.)

The lack of napkins would be far from the last glitch on the afternoon.

Wait, is that a Roy Lichtenstein on the wall? It is. “The Manager,” from 1963, is reproduced in a seemingly random spot. A multi-storey mural (or is it a tapestry?) also adorns the home plate entrance.

There is one pillar covered with the history of the Orange Bowl, which formerly stood on this site.

Then there is the Bobblehead Museum. Mere photographs do not do this thing justice, because what you can’t see in photos is that this giant shelf unit with hundreds of bobbleheads on it is vibrating just enough to make a good number of the heads bobble. So I took some video of it.

By far the art feature that has garnered the most pre-opening attention, though, is the “Home Run Sculpture” by Red Grooms. I was all set to take video of it in action from my seat right by the right field foul pole. In fact, I did take a good ten seconds of video after a Marlins homer right in the first inning… however the sculpture did nothing. I believe it’s supposed to be a Willy Wonka-esque mechanical thingamadoodle, but the thing didn’t do anything. We don’t know if it was a malfunction, or if they don’t turn it on for exhibition games. When it failed to do anything, the entire crowd was abuzz with disappointment.

The main scoreboard, by the way, is humongous. Not as humongous as the one at Yankee Stadium, but then again it seems like it isn’t as far away, either. And it’s not rectangular. It’s got one slanted edge. Um, how architectural.

Miami is often compared to New York, if for no other reason than because so many ex-New Yorkers live here. But the strongest impression I got from the new Marlins ballpark was of a resemblance to the New Yankee Stadium. The trash and recycling barrels are the same. The grandeur is the same (if more colorful and blinged out). Even the “How May I Help You” people, the customer service reps carrying those paddle-like signs, are the same! (Except the signs are red and there weren’t quite as many legions of them as at Yankee Stadium.) I will admit to having done zero research on whether there is any connection in these management decisions, but it felt very much like several cues were taken from the Yankees. Of course, many of these elements in Yankee-land came from customer experience experts from Florida-based Disney, so perhaps it merely comes from the same wellspring.

(FWIW, the actual architects of the Marlins ballpark is the same as Yankee Stadium, the group formerly known as “HOK Sport” and now known as POPULOUS. They are described on as “a global design practice specializing in creating environments that draw people and communities together for unforgettable experiences.”)


In addition to the aforementioned disappointment over the Home Run Sculpture dud, and the lack of napkin availability, several other things went wrong in the dress rehearsal. I’ll mention just a few:

* AT&T data and ballpark wireless service overload. I could not even get a text message out before the game and for the first hour. No way could I get to Twitter, much less upload any photos. Literally everyone within eyeshot in my section had an iPhone, Android, or Blackberry, even the eight-year-old girl in front of me. (I counted 14 iPhones, 2 Blackberries, and 2 Androids.) Every single person was trying to connect. One guy was able to get on the ballpark’s wireless network for about five minutes in the fifth inning. The rest of us got bupkus.

* On a related note, I got email from the Marlins in the week prior to the game giving me options to purchase parking (no thanks, corwin’s very wonderful Dad dropped us off and picked us up afterward) and also saying the following: “In the coming days we will also be debuting a free Marlins ‘At the Ballpark’ mobile application that will feature interactive ballpark maps, live food ordering from your seats and more! No more waiting in line at concession stands ever again.” I did not find said app in the App Store, but if I had, it wouldn’t have worked, given how overloaded the networks were. I didn’t even have regular phone service much less data or wireless. This would be SO COOL if it worked… I would love to be able to order sushi, fish tacos, and ice cream to my seat. In fact, I cannot think of a more efficient way to separate me from my money at a ballpark. In the days at Yankee Stadium when the vendors used to sell just about everything, my brother and I used to clean out my dad’s wallet by saying yes to EVERY vendor that came by. Peanuts, knishes (they used to sell them hot in the stands, when Yogi owned a stand), hot dogs, ice cream, Cracker Jack, frozen lemonade, you name it. My dad would say “Do you want _____?” And we’d always say “yes.” And we were never full. Oh, to have that metabolism again… Anyway, the point is, I’d eat a LOT more at the ballpark if I didn’t have to go get it myself.

* All the pillars in the infield sections have signs on them that say “Today’s Batting Order” with a different spot in the order on each one, and pins that look like posters are to be hung from them. But no one got around to hanging up today’s Marlins. So they were all blank.

* In the sixth inning, corwin got up to get another round of food. He came back disgruntled by the fact that most of the stands seemed to be experiencing some sort of system crash on their cash registers. A woman came running out from the back of one of the hot dog stands shouting “Stop taking orders! Don’t take any more orders!” He tried the ice cream stand, instead. stood there for five minutes in line, not a single customer was served. Tried again in the seventh, several more stands, and failed to be able to give his money to anyone. Obviously you expect some glitches, which is why they did a dress rehearsal and only sold a limited number of tickets. Hard to imagine what it would have been like with a full house instead of 2/3 or whatever this was.

* Scoreboard operations clearly has some lessons to learn, too. At times the pitchers’ names were not updated. The “closed captioning” often froze partway through a sentence. (And hey, isn’t it “open” captioning if everyone can see it?) The ball-strike counter had to reboot at one point. Minor point: The PA announcer didn’t know how to pronounce Doug Bernier’s name. (He got it right eventually.)

* The air actually got somewhat hazy by the seventh inning. I took my glasses off and cleaned them. So did the guy next to me (also a Yankees fan, from the Bronx but lives in Miami now), then corwin did, and we all concluded it wasn’t our eyes or our glasses. There was a smoky haze building up. corwin said he felt like the AC wasn’t keeping up as well by then either, though I didn’t notice.

* Billy the Marlin made a little girl cry.

What, you’re expect a game recap, too? Well, all right. It felt more like a “real” game than usual, being in a big stadium and all, but it was clear this was actually an exhibition game when Mariano Rivera pitched in the fifth inning. But at the start, anyway, it was CC Sabathia on the mound, backed up by what could very well be the Opening Day lineup.

Jeter led off with a double and scored the first run on a Cano sac fly. Unfortunately, Sabathia struggled with his control and walked Emilio Bonifacio in the first, then couldn’t strand him when he came in on an “outfielder-formerly-known-as-Mike” Giancarlo Stanton single. In the second Gaby Sanchez led of with a home run, leading to the great disappointment over the home run sculpture. A third run came in on two more consecutive hits and an RBI ground out. 3-1, Marlins.

Ricky Nolasco was pitching for the Fish and he kept the Yankees’ bats fairly quiet through four. Sabathis settled down as well, and sat down 8 of the last nine men he faced through the fourth, erasig one walk on a double play but giving up no more hits. But his ball-strike ratio was crummy, 1:1 all day long, and he exited after four.

In the fifth, Nick Swisher, back in the big-league lineup for the first time since his groin tweak (NOT A EUPHEMISM. PEOPLE.), singled. Raul Ibanez, who hasn’t impressed me much but I’m willing to warm up to him if he’ll hit… doubled. Russell Martin reached on an error when Jose Reyes treated the baseball like a bar of soap. Swisher scored on the error. Jeter had an RBI ground out, and then Granderson legged out an infield hit for a third RBI, bringing in Martin. Cano followed with a double that brought in Granderson, and then he scored on an A-rod RBI single. Nine men came to the plate and five scored. The ninth man, Mark Teixeira, struck out. By the end of the game, Tex was the only Yankee in the starting lineup without a hit or a run scored.

Bottom of the fifth, Mariano Rivera came on to pitch, and we remembered it was an exhibition game. We saw something very rare: Mariano gave up a pre-season run for the first time in four years. Not much to worry about, a bloop, a line drive, a ground out, a sac fly. 6-4, Yankees.

Swisher got it going in the sixth with a home run in to the upper deck in right. I would like to think that bodes well. The Marlins added one in the sixth also, of Rafael Soriano, who must have felt that since Mo gave up a run, it was okay for him to, also. (One run on three singles.) 7-5, Yankees.

The Yankees scored again in the seventh, on a Cano double, and then three subsequent walks with some outs sprinkled between. But in the Marlins half of the seventh, they tied the score, as the first three men reached base and scored. Bonifacio doubled against Corey Wade, Hanley Ramirez walked, and Stanton singled in Bonifacio. Logan Morrison struck out, but then Wade walked Sanchez, and a throwing error on what could have been a double play did the rest. Tied 8-8.

Things were still tied going into the ninth. All the Yankees regular had come out of the game after the 5th & 6th, while about half the Marlins came out after the seventh. Facing Chad Gaudin, Bill Hall–in for A-Rod at third–doubled to lead off the ninth, followed by an RBI-double off the bat of Eric Chavez. Ramiro Pena (gee, remember him?) went in to pinch run for Chavvy, moved up on a ground out, and scored on a wild pitch. 10-8 Yankees.

And thus it would stay. George Kontos would get the win, and Juan Cedeno the save.

We will be heading back to the ballpark tomorrow to see these two teams again, this time at night. I hope this time the roof will be open, but we shall see.

The full slideshow of today’s trip, 80 slides:

(* Yankees Yearly is the magazine formerly known as Yankees Annual. When Maple Street Press went under, that left me and the writers in the lurch, so we decided to publish it ourselves! We need to sell a thousand copies to break even, so if you love the Yankees, please have a look. You can get it from in print or ebook, the B&N Nookstore, and the Apple iBookstore. Details here:

UPDATE: In this article today (April 3) in the Palm Beach Post, it says, “More ovens were added to concession stands to meet demand for pizza. A computer glitch that prohibited some souvenir shops from using credit cards has been fixed. The team planned to install a ‘huge antenna’ to improve cell-phone reception for AT&T customers, Samson said. He said there were no reception problems reported by customers of other cell-phone companies.” Read the full Post article here.

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