Of Major League Baseball’s current crop of 30 ballparks, Marlins Park might be its most polarizing. Not many baseball traditionalists like it — not with its retractable roof and garish architecture, which flies in the face of the brick-and-steel formula most newly built ballparks employ. And if you ask around, you might be surprised to find that a lot of South Florida locals don’t like it, either — not at the cost incurred on the local government, and at the expense of a venerable, much-loved venue in the Orange Bowl, which was razed to make way for the new stadium.
Despite all that, there are things to like about Marlins Park. It’s a nice facility, especially on the inside, with plenty of features to keep you entertained as you walk around and as you watch the game. And the more you think about it, the more you realize it fits right in with the culture of Miami, which likes to stand out in its own unique way. And hey, you’re watching a franchise that, despite its fair share of ups and downs, has won two World Series titles in just over 20 years of existence, a fact that’s easy to overlook.
I got the chance to check out Marlins Park for myself — on Opening Day, no less — along with friend and South Florida resident Backstage Girl. And while I saw plenty of warts, I also found a lot of things that make the park worth seeing.
- The Approach
Marlins Park is visible for miles — nestled in a neighborhood just a few miles west of downtown Miami (technically part of Little Havana), it’s easily the biggest building around. Actually getting there, though, is a bigger issue. Because it’s nestled in a neighborhood, the network of streets surrounding it is mostly residential and thus narrow, ill-equipped to handle the influx of traffic that a large-scale sporting event produces. (One wonders how the neighborhood functioned when the Orange Bowl existed, but at least there are fewer football games than baseball games over the course of a season.) In short, you’ll have to plan ahead and leave early to see a Marlins game, especially if you think it’s going to be a well-attended one.
The most common approach is via the Dolphin Expressway (Route 836), which heads west from downtown; exit at either 12th Avenue or 17th Avenue. Parking lots dot the landscape among the residences and small businesses, but the most common and visible spots are the four parking garages that stand on the immediate perimeter of the stadium. There’s a chance they’ll fill up with each game, though, and the Marlins encourage purchasing a spot in advance through their website — expect to pay at least $20 if you go this route. If you don’t want to pay that much for parking, or you’re the adventurous sort that doesn’t like to think about this sort of stuff until you get there, you can try scanning the neighborhood for available parking lots and/or street spaces, but you might not want to do this if you don’t know the area well. For our part, we found a place to park in a grass lot (it appeared to be officially managed by the team, though) about six blocks east of the park for $15.
Public transportation, generally an afterthought in Miami, is an option as well. Miami’s Metrorail service has two stops (Civic Center and Culmer) within reasonable walking distance. The Marlins also operate a shuttle between the Culmer station and the park on game days.
- The Build-Up
Though you’ll probably want to arrive early to beat traffic, you won’t likely find much to do around the ballpark unless you have drugstore errands to run or are craving fast food. Downtown Miami and the heart of Little Havana aren’t far away, though, so you could spend your pregame time there before heading to the ballpark. (Even though it doesn’t seem much farther away, don’t go to South Beach, though, unless you give yourself at least an hour to get to the ballpark before first pitch. Seriously.)
After finding parking, Backstage Girl and I walked to the perimeter of the park, where we found quite a few long lines of folks waiting to get in. It was Opening Day, after all. But it took us maybe 15 minutes to get in, so at least the lines moved quickly. One benefit of the wait was getting a chance to look at what appeared to be random letters embedded in the plaza — turns out they’re the original letters from the old “Miami Orange Bowl” sign.
- The Ambiance
OK, so there isn’t much to see outside the park. But if it’s your first visit, it’s a good idea to reserve some time for walking around. You’ll find big, spacious concourses and a few cool features, such as a bobblehead “museum” (really a large display full of bobbleheads from around the majors, complete with a vibrating case so that the heads constantly bobble) and a large mural paying tribute to the late, great Orange Bowl. Don’t forget, also, that there’s an actual live fish tank behind home plate, as well as a strange-looking animatronic display behind the left-center field fence that activates whenever a Marlins player homers. You can also walk around the outfield concourse and get a glimpse at the panels that open up to let in air on not-so-hot days.
(Side note: There are enough retractable-roof stadiums around nowadays that the one at Marlins Park isn’t necessarily unique, but it’s still fun to look at it. Especially when they use it, which they do often during those hot, humid summer days in Miami. But on this day, they obviously weren’t anticipating the storm that decided to show up in the second inning. By the time they had the roof closed — a span of about 10 minutes — the infield was already soaked, and it took nearly an hour before they could resume play. During the delay I got a text from Mrs. Fan asking, “How the hell is there a rain delay at the game you’re at?” I have to imagine a lot of baseball fans around the country were saying the same thing at that moment.)
So yes, it isn’t that traditional baseball experience, but if you’re not having a good time at Marlins Park, you’re probably not trying. Befitting the Miami vibe, there are a few club-like areas in which you can spend your time, including a version of the Clevelander, the popular nighttime spot on Miami Beach. For the “regular” fans, there’s plenty of good food options — we were tempted by the “Taste of Miami” section in left field, featuring a few booths operated by local eateries (it’s a popular, but small, area, so expect crowding). The humble Cuban sandwich is also available as well. But we settled for some nachos, which we shared as we took in the game from our upper-deck seats on the first-base side.
One of the things I had heard about Marlins Park before my visit is that there’s no bad seat, and certainly the one I occupied for this game was a good one, with a view of everything on the field you’d want to see. It was sheltered from the rain even while the roof was open, which was a bonus. But I can’t say I got a full Marlins Park experience because the animatronic home-run display never went off — the home team didn’t generate much offense and started the season with a loss to the Braves. Still, I found it well worth the visit.
501 Marlins Way
Miami, FL 33125