It’s a damn shame nobody goes.
The Marlins’ park is among the most beautiful stadiums in all of baseball. It’s a contemporary, gleaming cathedral in a world of retro red brick designs. With unique color schemes, a fresh modern feel (white stucco, blue glass, clean lines), and a Miami feel that comes through even with the roof closed, it is a stunning building.
But it’s empty. Years of poor on-field performance and lingering ill-will towards former ownership have kept South Floridians away. This awful attendance has resulted in concessions getting shut down, echoes abounding during the game, and an utter lack of mojo in one of America’s mojoiest cities.
I hope current ownership gets their act together, rids the local populace’s distaste for the Loria years and puts a product on the field that draws people to this magnificent place. Because it could easily be a top 10 park (even with the dumb new corporate name).
Exterior aesthetics 10/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 8/10; Sightlines & seating 9/10; Amenities & entertainment 7/10; Flow 4/5; Celebrating history 2/5; Scoreboards 4/5; Grand entrance 5/5; Sense of place 9/10; WOW Factor 24/30. Total 82 points divided by 2 for 41.
How can you get one of the highest scores on the most important metric and finish in this low in the ratings? Let’s just say that the low score is not on the stadium designers.
- This place feels like it belongs amidst the gleaming buildings and swank hotels 2 miles east in downtown Miami. It’s hard to use the word “cool” for something as mainstream as a ballpark, but this one IS cool. Sleek, contemporary, and art directed, it’s as if the owners of the Shore Club or Delano Hotel decided to build a ballyard.
- There’s world-class art sprinkled through the park, although there’s less now they’ve moved the acid trip home run sculpture to outside the stadium. But still some.
- The social area that replaced the home run sculpture grants you a decent view of the game, and provides a chill place to hang with buddies who may be scattered in different sections.
- Even with the retractable roof, you can get a good view of the Miami skyline through the large transparent panels out in left field. There’s always some natural light coming in, even though they seal up the dome too frequently. On a rare day or night when they open up the place, it’s quite nice.
- Built on the site of the old Orange Bowl, Marlins Park pays homage to the old structure’s signage by having the letters of its predecessor “imbedded” into the exterior concourse as if they fell and landed in the freshly poured concrete. It’s a neat touch.
- There’s a super cool bobblehead display in center field, complete with a vibrating floor that gets the heads a-bobbling.
- A colorful tile mosaic leads you from the parking garages to the main gates.
- Concession areas are wide. The game is visible as you walk around the lower deck.
- Between the skyline view, the Floribbean colors, and the bilingual signage, you know you’re in Miami.
- The gorgeous structure sticks out from its working-class Little Havana neighborhood like an overdressed beauty at a casual function. The park fits the city, but not its neighborhood.
- While better than before, there’s still a relative lack of tables, ledges or sit-down communal areas in the general concourse, forcing us average Joe fans to always carry our goodies back to our seat if we wanted to sit and eat
- There used to be a full-bore nightclub in left field complete with an accessible swimming pool (though I feared an STD if I took a dip) and smoking hot servers (the go-go dancers used to be topless, covered only in body paint). But the Clevelander is no more. Its replacement, The Recess Sports Lounge, is more typical of a ballpark bar, and is nowhere near as special.
- When Jeter was involved, he seemed to take out everything that made this place fun for fear it felt gimmicky. Gone: the gaudy home run sculpture; the fish tanks that served as home plate backstops (complete with live critters swimming around); and the vibrant lime green walls. As a stadium chaser, I miss those touches as it made this place different.
I was at some of the earliest games ever played here back when the Miami Marlins still had home crowds. I loved it then. I’ve been back several times since then and I still think the structure itself is amazing.
While the original (and amazing) “Taste of Miami” concession area is gone, local delicacies still abound throughout with a Floribbean and Latin vibe throughout the concession areas. Enjoy empanadas, arepas (occasionally served by a roving vendor no less), mojo chicken, rice and beans, croquetas, pastelitos, Cuban coffee, and plantain chips. There’s also quality local pizza, Latin-style burgers, a good spicy Nashville sandwich, and (for the traditionalist) $3 hot dogs. The only issue is that when crowds are low, some of these concessions close up so you don’t know what will be accessible.
My personal fave: While the sushi and ceviche from SuViche was good, a hungry ballpark visitor would be hard-pressed to top the Choripan from Novecento (Argentine sausage topped with a yummy in-house salsa).
It’s somewhat ironic that this is a relatively low score considering I’ve only been really corked in a ballpark once in the past 20 years, and that was here. After a day on South Beach and a few (many?) pre-game suds, I found out it was Beerfest night at the stadium where, for a flat fee, one could enjoy 4oz samples of as many of the offered local brews as you wanted before First Pitch. I ended up “Century Clubbing” myself by enjoying around 25 4-oz samples in a 45-minute window (about 8 beers), only to feel the effects around the 4th inning. I still don’t remember much of the middle innings at all; I may have napped through them.
The Biscayne Bay Brew Hall is a nice addition and offers stuff from local brewer Biscayne Bay (duh) as well as Spanish brewer Groupo Mahou (they make a decent IPA). You can find Veza Sur beers throughout the park as well as well as the standard A-B fare. But overall, I found the beer selection to be a little soft.
For what it’s worth, if you’re more of a cocktail or frozen drink person, it seems easier to get booze here than in other parks. I’ve seen a few tipsy fans likely as a result of the Sip Shine Bar and/or the Bacardi frozen drink stand.
The Marlins wanted to build this downtown but were forced to use the old Orange Bowl site. This is a more working-class residential area of Little Havana, a mile from bustling part of the neighborhood. As such, there isn’t much in the way of pre-game entertainment; it’s more a “get in and get out” park.
There is a craft brewery in the main floor of one of the garages that’s sometime open pre-game, and some decent food trucks offering a good pregame nosh. But with a couple of the only nearby not surviving the pandemic, that’s about it in the immediate area. Fortunately, the heart of Calle Ocho is just 1 mile south, downtown is 2 miles east, Wynwood is about 3 miles northeast, and (of course) South Beach is only about 6 miles east.
Except for the top of the line seats, tickets are imminently affordable and (obviously) easy to get. Onsite parking is reasonable as well, especially if bought in advance. Concessions are fairly standard, but your overall cost is in the bottom quintile.
Odds are you’re driving and fighting Miami traffic. Ballpark traffic is not obscene given the crowds, and the “free flow” parking in the team garages is easy, especially if you arrive early. You can get a water taxi from Brickell, and it’s a short uber ride from downtown or the heart of Calle Ocho. It’s possible to get there via public transit, but it involves either multiple modes through some questionable areas of town, or a city bus which takes a while.
On a spring game when the whole place is open, it’s as beautiful as anywhere. But between the frequent rain and a tendency to shut the roof in favor of air conditioning for fan comfort way too often, it’s really more an indoor park, hence the dome score.
This is the second worse score among all ballparks, barely beating out the Trop.
I’ve been to 4 Opening Days for the Miami Marlins at the place now known as loanDepot Park (which is odd, because as a lifelong Tigers fan, I’ve only been to a Detroit opener once). I’ve seen the place when it’s full(ish). It can be a fun, bi-lingual, Magic City Party with a baseball game sorta going on.
But I’ve also been to too many games with fewer than 10,000 people in the building. They close off the upper deck for most games, and the park is quiet and totally loses its flare. No matter how solid your game operations is, you need fans in the building for the live experience to take hold.
It also fights other factors. Miami is a transport city, so you don’t necessarily get the fanaticism for the local team as you do in other markets. It’s a city with many “casual fans” just looking for a good time rather than a haven for the baseball purist. And you’re likely going to need some form of transportation to get to the next place if you want to continue the party after the game.
And finally, why have they reigned in Billy Marlin so much? At one time, this mascot rivaled the Phanatic for best in the Bigs. He seems to have a smaller role in the game entertainment. Maybe Miami 10-year-olds are too cool for a cartoon fish … they’re probably busy chasing tail and smoking their cigars in the club.
Bottom line is an empty park is not nearly as fun. And the Marlins aren’t drawing flies right now.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Three fun Miami restaurants:
- Sanguich (Little Havana. One of the best Cuban sandwiches in the area and close to the ballpark.)
- Versailles (Little Havana. The most famous Cuban restaurant in Miami. If you’re not that hungry, order a cortadito and an order of croquetas at the ventanita)
- Joe’s Stone Crabs (South Beach. Venerable upscale restaurant serving Florida stone crabs a key lime pie for over 100 years.)
Three places to imbibe before the game:
- The Nightlife Brewing Company (Closest option. Yet despite being at the base of the Home Plate garage, it’s not guaranteed to be open pre-game.)
- Ball & Chain (a mile south of the park in Little Havana. Restored classic spot where you almost expect Ricky Ricardo to do a set on the Pineapple Stage. Other Calle Ocho bars worthy of a visit include Bar Nancy and Old’s Havana Cuban Bar and Cocina.)
- Gramps. (Wynwood. This would mean starting in a different area, then taking a short Uber to the game, but the neighborhood still has a funky vibe, and any bar with palm trees, a kaleidoscope of color, drag Bingo, trivia nights, a decent beer selection, and great pizza is OK by me).
One bar in the area worth hitting:
- Mac’s Club Deuce Dive Bar (Miami Beach. The South Beach scene can feel like a little much. This dive bar amidst all the pretense is like a palette cleanser.)
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- J Wakefield (Wynwood). My choice for the best Wynwood brewery, but while you’re in the area, you might as well also check out Veza Sur, Dogfish Head Miami, and the Wynwood Brewing Co., and make it a fun afternoon.
- Lincoln’s Beard. “Weird at the Beard” is the slogan of this groovy brewery in the Bird Road Arts District. You can also hit Unseen Creatures for some good farmhouse ales and hazy IPAs while you’re in the area.
- Funky Buddha. Up in Fort Lauderdale. Not as funky now that Constellation Brands owns them, but still a worthy visit for beer nerds.
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- South Beach (one of the glitziest, silliest neighborhoods in the country)
- Jai Alai at Casino Miami (go Old School Miami for a few hours)
- Coopertown Airboats (go see the Everglades and a few gators in an atmosphere as far from South Beach as it gets)
Former owner Jeffrey Loria screwed over Montreal, which is well documented. Given that he got this palace financed by the taxpayer, then cashed out, he sort of screwed over Miami as well. And with all the fire sales and the dubious trades, the fan base has had enough and have stayed away in droves. Hopefully the current owners can fix this problem and reintroduce South Floridians to their magnificent gleaming palace.
loanDepot Park is the freshest stadium in MLB. Coming here is unlike going to any other ballpark, even though they continue to make it a more homogenous experience to other baseball parks. Even with attendance woes, it’s an absolute must stop for any stadium junkie.