As a long time Florida Marlins fan, I had a lot of anticipation for the opening of Miami Marlins Park. It was years in the making and the hype began last year with the team doing a countdown to this Opening Day during home games. The night was magical, but also a little underwhelming for the build-up.
As I stepped off the bus that took us from our cars, the Park was right in front of my eyes. I had seen it from the highway before but had never been to it. The sight of it that close is almost breathtaking and the modern look it had was magnificent. When I walked up to the gate the Clevelander bar was right there and seemed to be buzzing. I went through the gate and up the escalator where I came onto the concourse getting a glimpse of the field in person for the first time. Fans were whizzing by me in every direction and you could just feel the energy. As soon as I arrived a woman’s voice came on the loud speaker and told the fans to take their seats to witness history. My dad and I quickly found our seats for the festivities.
The celebration began with a girl running a marlins flag into the park amongst a shower of sparks. The raising of the Marlins’ two World Series flags followed. Jeff Conine, “Mr. Marlin,” himself raised the 1997 flag and Mike Lowell raised the 2003 flag. There was some song and dance going on when finally the roof was ceremoniously opened for the first time. Almost immediately you could feel the hot air from outside rush in through the sliver that was now open. Once the roof and the side panels, which allow for a great view of Downtown Miami, were all the way open, the view was amazing. The temperature was nice, giving the feeling that you were at an outdoor ballgame, while still being able to feel a gust of cold air from the A/C every now and then. It was a great night for baseball. The players were eventually announced from each team and then the first pitch was to be “thrown” out. The Miami Marlins were very tight lipped about whom this would be.
Suddenly emerging from midfield was a golf cart. There he was in all his glory, the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali. As someone who has always loved and admired Ali this was very exciting for me. But then the camera cut to the golf cart and you could see Ali and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. Ali looked a lot worse than the last time I had seen him and Loria was holding him to prevent his severe shaking due to Parkinson’s Disease. It was really a sad and disappointing sight for me as such a huge Ali fan. Chants emanated from the crowd: A-LI, A-LI, A-LI!! He was driven on the cart to the mound where Hanley Ramirez handed him a ball and that was the first pitch. Kind of disappointing after all the hype around the opening day of the stadium. I would have at least liked to see Ali throw the ball, even if it was only 5 feet. Even though it was somewhat of a letdown, it was still great to see Ali, and have him “throw” the first pitch.
Jose Feliciano would sing the National Anthem in a unique way, which I actually really liked, and then it was PLAY BALL!! I wish I could stop the story here because this is the part where the night gets forgettable. The Cardinals would get hits from Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, and of course World Series MVP David Freese woul pick up right where he left off. Ultimately the Cards would score 3 runs off of Marlins ace Josh Johnson in the first inning and JJ would go on to give up 10 hits in the game. Not only would that spoil the night, but Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse took a no-hit bid into the 7th inning.
When it was all said and done the Marlins would lose the game 4-1. A win would have sent a great vibe throughout Miami for the night (especially with the Miami Heat beating the OKC Thunder a few miles away) and carried some momentum for the team going forward. Despite the loss, the night was still electrifying and Marlins fans could not be more excited. The stadium is literally a work of art and the team on paper is solid. They have strong batting and fielding (although Hanley to 3rd Base will definitely be a transition), a greatly improved pitching rotation, and a bullpen that only got better after being the 7th best in the MLB last season. The Marlins have a recipe for success with their team and facility upgrades, but the question is can they turn that recipe into a fabulous feast of success.
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