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loanDepot park
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8
5
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79

Miami Marlins

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 Jeter and co get their act together, rid the local populace’s distaste for the Loria years and put 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).

STADIUM 42/50

Exterior aesthetics 10/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 9/10; 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 25/30. Total 84 points divided by 2 for 42.

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.

THE GOOD:

  • 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 color scheme triggers your senses like no other. The seats are a unique cobalt blue. The fences were an electric green until the current owners decided to make them conform more to baseball norm. And there’s color splashed throughout the concourses.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The home plate backstops used to be fish tanks with live critters swimming and living inside. Alas, the new anti-gimmick owners must have thought that was too much fun and took them out. Too bad. I liked it.
  • Between the skyline view, the Floribbean colors, and the bilingual signage, you know you’re in Miami.

THE BAD:

  • 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.
  • There’s 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. I fear the new ownership is trying so hard to distance itself from the old owner, they are killing some of the cool things that made the park unique and special. Let’s see what replaces it, but I’ll miss it.
  • There are no kid areas save a really cool bobblehead exhibit. But in fairness, it’s Miami, meaning the 8-year-olds are likely enjoying a mojito and cigar at the club.

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.

FOOD 8/10

While the new owners removed the amazing “Taste of Miami” concession area, local delicacies still abound throughout. There’s a Floribbean and Latin vibe throughout the concession areas. Enjoy ceviche, sushi, empanadas, arepas (occasionally served by a roving vendor no less), mojo chicken, rice and beans, and plantain chips. There’s also butterfly tacos y tortas, Fruity Pebbles pretzels, quality local pizza 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: the guava and cheese tequeños from the Panna stand were to die for. If those are now gone, the Choripan from Novecento is really good (Argentine sausage topped with a yummy in-house salsa).

BEER 5/10

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.

Overall, I found the beer selection was a tad soft. Perhaps the climate isn’t conducive to hoppy beer because even if you pony up for some of the local brews, the ones offered at the ballpark tend to be crisp and refreshing rather than flavor bombs. I found stuff from Concrete Beach, Biscayne Bay Brewery and Veza Sur (their Mangolandia Blonde Ale was refreshing), but it was more their lighter flavor profiles. You can also get a slew of macro Mexican and Caribbean beers if that’s your thing.

I suspect this score may go up with the introduction of the Biscayne Bay Brew Hall so stay tuned.

NEIGHBORHOOD 3/10

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, 1.5 miles 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, and a dive bar a block west, and some options for the intrepid traveler a few blocks south. Often some decent food trucks park around the stadium, offering a good pregame nosh. But that’s about it in the immediate area. Fortunately, major fun is available a short cab ride away.

COST 5/5

Except for the top of the line seats, tickets are imminently affordable and (obviously) easy to get. Onsite parking is reasonable as well. Concessions are fairly standard, but your overall cost is in the bottom quintile.

ACCESSIBILITY 2/5

Odds are you’re driving and fighting Miami traffic. Ballpark traffic is not obscene given the crowds, and parking is easy (and will be even easier with “free flow” parking coming to Marlins lots). It’s not far from downtown or Wynwood, you can get a water taxi from Brickell, and it’s a short uber ride to and from 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.

WEATHER 4/5

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.

VIBE 10/20

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. It gets 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 and smaller role in the game entertainment.

Bottom line is an empty park is not nearly as fun. And the Marlins aren’t drawing flies right now.

GALLERY


OTHER THINGS TO DO


Three fun Miami restaurants:

  • David’s Café Cafecito (Miami Beach. One of the best Cuban sandwiches in the area.)
  • Versailles (Calle Ocho. 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 (Brewpub at the base of the Home Plate garage.)
  • Edukos (4 blocks south of ballpark. Venezuelan gastropub.)
  • Batting Cage Sports Bar and Lounge (Dive sports bar a block from the stadium.)


One bar in the area worth hitting: I’ll offer three (it’s Miami)

  • Ball and Chain (Little Havana. Restored classic spot where you almost expect Ricky Ricardo to hit the pineapple stage for a set.)
  • 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.)
  • Gramps (Wynwood. Hipster-y bar with live music and drag bingo)


Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:

There are many from which to choose, but I offer these three good ones in the Wynwood neighborhood. Make a pub crawl out of it:

  • Veza Sur
  • J Wakefield
  • Wynwood Brewing Co


Three fun tourist attractions in the area:

  • South Beach (one of the glitziest, silliest neighborhoods in the country)
  • Jai Alai at Casino Miami
  • Coopertown Airboats (go see the Everglades and a few gators in an atmosphere as far from South Beach as it gets)

SUMMARY

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 new owners can fix this problem and reintroduce South Florida to their magnificent gleaming palace.

loanDepot Park is the freshest stadium in MLB. Coming here is unlike going to any other ballpark, even though the new owners 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.