Under the Hood of the New Marlins Park
By Robert Andrew Powell
The view from Marlins Park center field, with the roof fully retracted over the west side of the stadium
In the basement of his new Marlins Park baseball stadium, back on the November evening of its public preview, Jeffrey Loria told his napkin story. Loria, the owner of the recently rebranded Miami Marlins (new team colors, better players, the entertaining Ozzie Guillen as manager) said that when his long-desired stadium finally got the go-ahead, after securing the billions of public dollars required to pay for it, he sat down with his architects and sketched out his vision—on a napkin.
“We received excellent advice from a team of consultants,” he told a scrum of reporters, all of whom wore white plastic hard hats for protection from construction debris. “But it all started with my vision.” The new stadium was to be a sculpture, he explained, a statement building in a city already famous for its architecture. It was to be youthful and hip and fun, like Miami. There would be the amenities everybody expects, such as a retractable roof; the need to combat Miami’s rainy summer weather was the main argument for the stadium in the first place. But there also would be the kind of features baseball fans had never seen before. Miami isn’t Boston, a city rooted in baseball traditions as old as the game. We remain a frontier, an opportunity. A stadium project in this city, Loria said, was a chance to build something original, to dream wildly, to be different.
From those first few pen strokes on a paper napkin has grown the most identifiably Miami stadium since a dolphin swam circles in a tank behind an Orange Bowl end zone, and the most original stadium in baseball since Bill Veeck planted ivy along the outfield walls of Wrigley Field. There are palm trees in the outfield and a colorful sculpture to fire lasers after every Marlins homerun. A branch of the rather playful Clevelander South Beach is being transplanted from Ocean Drive to the left-field pool area. VIPs will lounge in private rooms with flowing white drapes inspired, it seems, by the Delano hotel. Oh, and a couple of aquariums behind home: two 450-gallon saltwater tanks stocked with tropical fish. (Will foul balls mean flopping fish in the infield?)
“I’m very excited about the new park,” Guillen said in a press conference when he was introduced as the Marlins’ manager. “It’s pretty nice! I hope the fans will be excited about the new era for the Marlins. They should be excited. I want the fans to go there and say, ‘This is a beautiful ballpark, but let’s watch the guys play.’”
Another artful inspiration: The color schemes sewn into the team’s new uniforms and incorporated throughout the new stadium directly reference the palette of Joan Miró, Loria’s favorite artist. Discerning eyes will recognize those same blues, oranges, yellows, greens, and blacks in such Miró sculptures as his Dona i Ocell and in many of his abstract paintings. And for all the attention paid to the new stadium’s retractable roof—three panels glide open or shut in only 13 minutes—the architects focused first on the game itself. Very deliberately, and acting under Loria’s command, they designed a pitcher’s ballpark, a home for a team built around ace hurlers, speed, and defense. It’s a long 416 feet from home plate to center field and an imposing 392 to the right-field power alley.
The defense-first action will unfold in a much more spectator-friendly way than before. Fans accustomed to swimming in a sea of orange seats at Sun Life Stadium now will settle among only 37,442 seats, down from 38,560 at the cavernous old home and 12,845 fewer than the new Yankee Stadium. Most of those seats in Miami will be in the lower bowl, where the distance from the front row to home plate is just 47 feet—unusually intimate.
As with nightclubs, client hierarchy is part of the business plan of any modern stadium, and this one is no different. “There are a lot of people in Miami that have a lot of money,” says Claude Delorme, Marlins executive vice president of operations and events, who oversaw the stadium’s design and construction. The most exclusive top dog/top dollar seating is contained in the 45 private Founders and Legends Suites. These are 720 square feet, which is enough space for 22 people, and are served by private attendants. Thirteen suites occupy the Founders’ Level; Fox Sports Network has one of these, as does Loria. Smaller suites along the baselines sell for $150,000 a season and can hold 16 fans. While there is a variety of finishes to these high-end rooms, the overall design approach will be part art gallery, part luxury living room. Walls made of Opustone green quartzite add an overall bright and airy feel. The whole stadium, in fact, is supposed to evoke an art gallery, Delorme explains.
At field level, the privileged few sitting closest to the action will occupy what is being called the Diamond Club—384 padded seats right behind home plate and along the aquariums. That means private parking and entrance; food and drinks before, during, and after the game; private restrooms; and access to that South Beach boutique hotel-inspired VIP lounge. A step down from the Diamond Box, and also already almost sold out, is the Dugout Club. While these 300 or so seats along the firstand third-base lines are exclusive property, as well, the concept for the Dugout Club is more grab-and-go, says Delorme. Unlike food, alcoholic beverages are not included in the ticket price, and each seat costs as (relatively) little as $125 per game.
What about a dad who wants to spontaneously catch a game with his kids? There are $15 seats available in the upper bowl. With an awareness that the stadium has been built on the hallowed grounds of the beloved Orange Bowl in a working-class neighborhood populated for decades by first-generation immigrants, the architects have tried to connect the building to Little Havana. “The Orange Bowl sat behind a 10-foot-high wrought-iron security fence,” says Greg Sherlock, project designer and principal of Populous, the Kansas City-based firm that designed the park for Loria. “You can walk right up and into this building. Retail shops will carry the Little Havana [lifestyle], too. I expect there to be a cigar shop, for example. A ballpark is an urban anchor. The plaza outside the stadium will be an open, community affair.”
Sherlock and his firm created designs for baseball stadiums in Kansas City and Cincinnati, as well as a new soccer home for the famous Mexican team Chivas, in Guadalajara. On their baseball projects, Populous senior principal Earl Santee has come up with the concept of the “Third Inning Stroll”—a baseball fan’s inclination to get up during a game, walk around, and explore—which they’ve worked hard to incorporate into Marlins Park.
“Baseball is such a unique sport,” Sherlock says. “It has breaks in it. It’s not like a soccer game or even football in that it has a uniquely relaxed nature. We’ve noticed that fans in the modern day like to get up out of their seats for a moment or two. They like to experience the game from different locations, with different perspectives on the action. Mingling with people is part of the joy of going to the game as well.”
Wandering the park between any inning, not just the third, is meant to pay off. Croquetas and famed Papo Llega y Pon pork sandwiches will be served in a Taste of Miami food court out by the third-base line of the Promenade Level. Here, you can belly up to the railing to enjoy an elevated view, or look down at the aquariums or the palm trees and take note of how every video screen inside and outside the entire building is working together in one coordinated light show.
The grandest sight—other than the game itself—will be a half-acre retractable glass wall located in left-center field. Once opened, it will offer a view of downtown Miami and the ocean beyond, providing a real-time abstraction of America’s pastime and “water merging with land,” which is the original concept Loria had for the stadium. It’s an exclusively Miami visual, captured initially on a plain paper napkin.
Photography by Claudia Uribe