Marlins Park a work of art in every facet
MIAMI -- It's an incredibly cozy place to watch a baseball game. Yes, Marlins Park is visually striking, with its glass and steel and lean contemporary design. It's a delight to the senses, with splashes of color, displays of artwork and bounties of regional food and drink. It also does a wonderful job of connecting lines between Miami's rich history to this time and place.
In the end, though, it's still a baseball park, and long after fans have experienced everything this incredible place has to offer, it's the clean sightlines and proximity to the playing field that may be the most delightful touch of all.
Marlins Park is Major League Baseball's smallest ballpark, with just 37,442 seats. To construct as compact a seating bowl as possible, architects created an environment that has the feel of something even smaller.
Some of the seats are close enough for fans to experience the sounds of the game in a way they seldom do. That's true of the seats a few feet behind home plate and the left-field wall, but every seat in the park seems to put the fans close to the action.
Also, the main concourses are open and airy, allowing for a view of the playing field from every concession area. There's also the white steel retractable roof and a mammoth air conditioning system guaranteeing Marlins Park will be a comfortable 75 degrees every day of the year. Players who once dropped 15-20 pounds during games and admit to being worn down by August will have a completely different experience.
Now about that design. When Camden Yards opened in 1992, it marked a departure from the cookie-cutter flying-saucer parks of the previous two decades. It was constructed of steel and brick and concrete, with the hope of taking fans back to a day when ballparks really were parks.
Major League Baseball was changed forever. For the next 20 years, most new parks had a retro feel to them. Albert Pujols and Joey Votto played in them, but Stan Musial and Ted Williams surely would have been comfortable there as well.
When Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria began designing Marlins Park, he wanted a structure that reflected South Florida, with its myriad of cultures and also its climate.
"We were waiting for a client willing to break the mold," said Greg Sherlock, a designer for Populous, the project's architectural firm.
So Marlins Park pays tribute to Miami's art deco designs and grand majestic architecture, as well as its Cuban influence and proximity to the Atlantic.
"We wanted a Miami feel," Sherlock said. "We wanted to be immersed in that. That was No. 1. I think it conveys that a ballpark doesn't necessarily have to be bricks and steel to translate a message about its location. It can be interpreted in a fresh way."
He has succeeded beautifully. It begins with exterior works, from the soaring lighted columns to the intricate multicolored sidewalk patterns guiding fans into the ballpark. On the East Plaza, sculptor Daniel Arsham has paid tribute to the Orange Bowl, which once stood on the site, with replicas of its distinctive letters embedded in the concrete at various angles.
It's most striking feature is the huge gleaming roof and the glass and steel exterior, all swooping and smooth, all fitting into a place both spiritually and physically close to Miami's downtown.
"If you're looking for a label, I'd say contemporary," Sherlock said. "In this particular case, we didn't adopt anything stylistically. It's sculpture quality, and with sculpture, there are no rules. We wanted an experience that connects the fan experience to the city of Miami and its people and its climate and culture."
Inside, the typically muted green of ballparks has been replaced by bright blue seats and bright green trim around the warning track. That dazzling home run sculpture is a monument to Miami's rainbow of colors and personalities.
Behind the left-field wall is The Clevelander, a South Beach-themed club that takes its name from a 100-year old Miami institution. It has food, drink and a swimming pool with some of the best seats in the house.
There's a Bobblehead Museum with a collection of 448 bobbleheads (and growing) on display, and two 450-gallon aquariums containing 50 tropical fish apiece just behind home plate. There are hundreds of small touches. The Diamond Club, which features fruits and vegetables grown within 100 miles of the park, offers a view of the Marlins' indoor hitting cages.
Sections of the ballpark are color coded for fans convenience, and the splashy new logo of yellow, blue, red and white is featured prominently across the park.
There's artwork displayed throughout the facility, all of it overseen by Loria and reflecting his love of art. There are replicas of work by Joan Miro, Roy Lichtenstein and Kenny Scharf, along with images of Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and other historic figures of the game.
There's also some food at Marlins Ballpark. One of the concession areas is "Taste of Miami," which features, among other regional fare, Cuban sandwiches and pork sandwiches.
"The food here is all made from scratch," said Robin Rosenberg, a chef with Levy Restaurants, which is doing the food for Marlins Park. "We don't call 'em concession stands. We call 'em mini-restaurants."
As for the Diamond Club, it's decor reflects the steel-and-glass spirit of the rest of the ballpark.
"Everything is to be eaten in two or three bites, so people can try a lot of food," he said. "We serve so many items, and we want people to try everything. It's all made fresh to order."
There will be stone crabs featured on Opening Night, along with fresh fish, sushi, flat-bread sandwiches, etc.
"It's all made to order," Rosenberg said.
"We've got Milk Dud popcorn, chocolate and peanut butter popcorn and malted milk ball popcorn," he said.
There are apples dipped in caramel and rolled in M&Ms or peanuts.
"We think coming here is going to be a wonderful experience for our fans," said Carolina Perrina, the Marlins' director of business communications.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.