The Nationals complete a three game series with the Miami Marlins tonight, the first of three trips to the retractable-roof stadium resting in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. I visited Marlins Park last year during its inaugural season.
Marlins Park is a sad place, despite the fact it’s intended to be the exact opposite.
Art dealer and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria endeavored to design a stadium that is uniquely Miami: avant-garde design, vivid colors, and a festive atmosphere to mirror the South Beach party scene. Loria even commissioned a $2.5 million dollar mechanized sculpture for centerfield, designed to light up and activate for Marlins home runs.
But the stadium is a failure in many ways. Great baseball stadiums are a successful melding of architecture, location, and the fan base tasked with filling its seats on a nightly basis.
Architecturally, Marlins Park is fantastic. Loria appropriately bypassed the old-fashioned brick and exposed-steel framework popularized by Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Cleveland’s Jacobs Field. Instead, stadium designers opted for something modern and sleek. Yet, while the design reflects the city of Miami, it fails to assimilate within its own neighborhood, Little Havana (see the photo below). The stadium looks like a spaceship in a cornfield.
The unfortunate location detracts from the stadium itself. Loria tried to capture the festive spirit of Miami. But the lack of supporting social infrastructure outside the stadium (bars, clubs, etc.) keeps that spirit confined. At baseball’s finest stadiums, like Wrigley Field, the atmosphere spills outside the park and throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. That’s hard to imagine here.
The team tried to compensate by literally putting a nightclub in the stadium (see below). But it might be the loneliest nightclub in the country. When you walk outside, you’re between two parking garages.
Marlins Park sits on the site of the demolished Orange Bowl, former home of the Miami Hurricanes football team, the Miami Dophins, Super Bowls, and, of course, The Orange Bowl. A piece of art work outside the stadium pays tribute the old stadium (see below). Letters resembling the old Orange Bowl lettering are spaced and displayed “half buried” in the earth where they would have likely fallen when the stadium was demolished. This is a fine addition to the stadium complex.
The inside of the stadium has excellent sight-lines from the concourses and plenty of standing room space. There are a variety of bars and restaurants which add to the party-like atmosphere. A large glass pane in left field provides a view of the distant Miami skyline (see below) and natural light, even when the the retractable roof is closed. The team opted for natural grass rather than field turf, but the grass appears to dying in the outfield, where sunlight is the least available.
The roof is necessary because of the unpredictable South Florida weather, but it’s the stadium’s biggest detraction. Baseball isn’t supposed to be played inside. There’s just no way around it. A walk through the concourse feels like a stroll the mall. And too often, an empty mall.
Which leads the biggest problem: the fans. For years, people stayed away from Marlins games because of low payrolls, losing baseball, and bad weather. Marlins Park was supposed to change all that. However, a series of bad decisions by ownership, terrible publicity, and continued losing will keep the people away.
Baseball purists will criticize the non-traditional nature of the stadium. I think that’s misguided. Every stadium can’t be a recreation of Ebbets Field. I have no problem with the attempt to build something modern and uniquely Miami. I don’t even mind the bizarre sculpture in the outfield. The pieces are there for a great stadium experience, but unfortunately they don’t fit.
The Marlins should have built the stadium near downtown Miami or South Beach. I understand that’s easier said than done, but considering the resources put into the stadium’s construction, it’s unfortunate stadium location wasn’t a bigger consideration.
If the fans show up, Marlins Park could be one of the best parties in baseball. But for now, it’s a party everyone forgot to attend.