09/28/11 10:30 PM EST
Marlins bid farewell to Sun Life Stadium
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
Until a ceremony like Wednesday's brings them all back.
Until Livan Hernandez, the Cuban refugee who brought the Marlins glory as a scared 22-year-old, takes the mic and says, "I still love you, Miami."
Until Gary Sheffield, who may one day be the first player to enter the Hall of Fame with a Marlins cap, reminisces about Edgar Renteria's World Series-winning single in 1997.
Until Mike Lowell, one of Miami's proudest products, talks about the clutch Wrigley Field homer that helped the Marlins shock the world in 2003.
And until the guys involved in the franchise's first steps -- from Rene Lachemann to Scott Pose to "Mr. Marlin," Jeff Conine -- remind you that there were times when this disproportionate, out-of-place mess of a stadium could surprise you with a little magic.
"There were still some great moments in this ballpark," said World Series-winning starter Al Leiter, among many who appeared in a postgame ceremony that honored an assortment of ex-Marlins. "We should always remember that."
Wednesday's regular-season finale -- a 3-1 loss to the Nationals -- was about a lot of things for the Marlins. It was about introducing Ozzie Guillen as the new manager that will steer them in a new direction, about saying goodbye to that football stadium they basically rented out for 19 years, and about honoring the luminaries that helped shape this franchise since its beginning in 1993.
Mostly, though, it was about what comes next.
"Today's it," Marlins president David Samson said. "The last rain delay, the last time sweating, the last time being in a football ballpark, the last time going through a football tunnel onto a field, the last time playing on a field that has cleat marks on it and hashmarks and dashmarks and other teams' logos, the last time ever feeling as though we are not in a place that is actually our home."
Finally, the Marlins won't have to feel that. They can now look forward to a new stadium, something owner Jeffrey Loria made official by tearing down the No. 1 from the game-countdown banner that sits in left field.
The Marlins' tenure at Joe Robbie Stadium/Pro Player Park/Pro Player Stadium/Dolphin Stadium/Land Shark Stadium/Sun Life Stadium is done with. Finished. Over. Complete. Done. Finito.
"It's going to be weird," rehabbing ace Josh Johnson said. "But it's a change for the better, that's for sure."
Goodbye, Sun Life Stadium. You gave so many South Floridians -- including myself -- their first and most lasting baseball memories. But I think I speak for everyone in this community when I say: Good riddance.
It's time for a new and better stage -- one that will surely consist of on-time games and a higher payroll, and one that will hopefully lead to better attendance and more success.
"It's a fresh start," Sheffield said. "It gives them a fresh start to show Major League Baseball that it can survive here in South Florida. Now fans, wherever they're coming from, they know when they drive to the park, if it's raining or hailing out there, whatever, they know a game's going to be played."
On this day, there were no rain delays, no scattered crowds -- a healthy 34,615 showed up and stayed throughout the nostalgic postgame ceremony -- and no unbearable heat.
All of that was replaced by the excitement of a better tomorrow.
It began at 1 p.m. ET, when Guillen was introduced in a crowded press-conference room as the man who's expected to breathe new life into this organization.
"Ozzie is a guy that's going to bring unbelievable passion," Loria said. "That's what I like. I've been sitting around for a couple of years here, seeing that ingredient missing from this clubhouse."
Wednesday's game began with a flashback to Opening Day in 1993, with Charlie Hough delivering a first-pitch strike to Benito Santiago.
Then it was overcome by standing ovations. One was for 80-year-old Jack McKeon, who retired as the Marlins' all-time winningest manager. Another was for Javier Vazquez, who plans to retire at a much younger age (35) despite pitching the best baseball of his life over the last three months. And another was for Ivan Rodriguez, an aging backup catcher for the Nationals who will always be remembered for the title he helped deliver here eight years ago.
"We've had a great run here, and I've always enjoyed it here," McKeon said. "I know it's basically a football stadium, but this is our home."
Not anymore. After 776 victories, 720 losses, countless rain delays and six different names, the Marlins are done at Sun Life Stadium.
Better days lie ahead.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.