National spotlight on Miami as Marlins open ballpark

Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 10:42 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

MIAMI (MCT) — The dress rehearsals are over. Time, at last, to raise the roof on a colorful new era for baseball in South Florida.

The Miami Marlins will hold a gala coming-out party in their $515 million showpiece ballpark Wednesday night for a national television audience on ESPN.

The World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals share the spotlight for the season opening of baseball in America (two games were held last week in Japan), but the night belongs to South Florida. Specifically, Miami, for the debut of downtown baseball in Little Havana on the site of the former Orange Bowl.

It will begin with a lavish production orchestrated by Grammy-winning producer and Miami resident Emilio Estefan that will pay homage to the city and its musical heritage. Jose Feliciano will sing the national anthem.

With a sellout of more than 37,000 converging on Marlins Park, fans are encouraged to arrive hours early and join the party. Fans can enter the park at 4 p.m. or linger outside for music and activities on the West Plaza.

The pregame show starts at 6:15 and will feature fireworks and a flyover by four F-16s from Homestead Air Force Base. Roof and windows will be open, weather permitting.

The long-awaited event is the hottest Opening Day ticket in baseball by far, averaging $229 on the resale market, according to SeatGeek.com. That is pricier than all but two home games this season for the Miami Heat, who will be playing an important game at the same time a few miles away at AmericanAirlines Arena against the Oklahoma City Thunder in what is regarded as a preview of the NBA Finals.

“It means a lot for this organization, for Marlins fans, for baseball,” Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. “This is a big deal. I hope we play good and make those Marlins fans feel proud and appreciate the way we play.”

The Marlins invested $191 million during the offseason in three free agents, including former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, the 2011 National League batting champion. But a key to the season rests on the right arm of Josh Johnson (coming off a shoulder injury), who will start Wednesday against the Cardinals’ Kyle Lohse.

The opening of the ballpark may overshadow the game, but the Marlins acknowledge that the novelty will wear off quickly. It will take a winning team to keep fans coming to Marlins Park.

Guillen said he is stressing to the players to avoid the hoopla and focus on that objective.

“I don’t want people to come here and say, ‘Let’s watch the ballpark.’ This is a baseball field, and I want people to treat this field that way. If they don’t want to do that, they should go to Miami Beach or someplace. I want people to see a good baseball game,” Guillen said, adding that the ballpark “is not a mall.”

It had the feel of South Beach with a ballgame in the background during the exhibitions against the Yankees on Sunday and Monday with a constant flow of fans making the 360-degree circuit around the Promenade Level. That was reinforced by a hip crowd and pompom-waving dancers by the pool in the Clevelander lounge behind the left-field fence. Above them, fans with drinks in hand stood three-deep around the Budweiser Bow Tie Bar. Some focused on the game, others on the scene, including the view of the city to the east.

“I’m impressed with the place,” said Raul San German, who opted for the view behind the center fielder from the rail next to the bar instead of his ticketed seat Monday. “You get to see much more over here, including this skyline, bro. You can buy a very cheap ticket, and if you come early enough you can just sit here, as good a seat as you can get.”

The retractable-roof ballpark was designed as a multi-faceted fan experience. Fans have a chance to win tickets by predicting various Marlins firsts in the ballpark (details at Marlins.com).

The most-anticipated first is which Marlin will hit the initial home run to trigger the colorful mechanized sculpture of splashing marlins and flapping flamingos. That is one thing you won’t find at the mall.

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