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02/10/08 11:30 AM EST

Stadium talk highlights FanFest

Marlins fans also get a chance to see new, old faces

MIAMI -- FanFest on Saturday was yet another reminder of how close the Marlins are to finalizing a new stadium deal that will secure the long-term future of the franchise in South Florida.

At one of the town hall-like meetings Saturday at Dolphin Stadium, Marlins president David Samson was asked to give an update on negotiations for a baseball-only ballpark in Miami.

"I'll promise you this," Samson told an audience of about 100 who attended the meeting. "At next year's FanFest, we're not talking about the stadium deal. We're talking about the construction. We're talking about how it's being built. What it's going to look like."

For more than a decade, three different Marlins owners have tried to get the ballclub their own facility.

Now, that reality is closer than ever.

Negotiations with city of Miami and Miami-Dade County leaders progressed dramatically this past week. Many unresolved issues were being worked out for a retractable-roof park at the Orange Bowl site.

Samson told the FanFest crowd that stadium talks had been ongoing late Friday and even at 7 a.m. ET on Saturday, three hours before the team's annual FanFest.

There is strong optimism that the deal for the $525 million stadium will be completed within the next three weeks.

"It's going to be an unbelievable building," Samson told the energetic audience. "We're going to get this deal done. It's very, very close.

"We're going to teach everyone on how to get to the [new] stadium, and really change the future of our organization."

Stadium talk was just part of Saturday's FanFest activities.

In all, an estimated 17,000 fans filtered through Dolphin Stadium, and more than 30,000 individual-game tickets were sold. Tickets remain available at www.floridamarlins.com.

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The event featured a high number of Marlins players, who were available for autographs.

FanFest was the first time fans got to see newly signed outfielder Luis Gonzalez, pitcher Mark Hendrickson and third baseman Dallas McPherson in Marlins uniforms.

There were only a few no-shows among players, including pitcher Sergio Mitre, infielder Alfredo Amezaga and reliever Renyel Pinto. Some Latin-born players were not there Saturday because they are still working out their visa issues before Spring Training begins on Saturday at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla.

Mitre, expected to compete for a rotation spot, was not on hand for personal reasons. Amezaga, meanwhile, has been busy of late competing for Mexico in the Caribbean Series, which was completed a few days ago in the Dominican Republic.

Overall, there was a successful turnout at FanFest.

Yet, the event featured a reminder of why the Marlins have longed to play in a retractable-roof stadium.

Early in the afternoon, heavy rains doused the fans, causing FanFest to close down about 3:20 p.m. It was slated to run until 4 p.m.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.