| MIAMI, March 31
MIAMI, March 31 Get ready, baseball fans. Miami,
the city of sun and fun, wants to bring some flair to America's
When baseball's Opening Day kicks off next week, the Miami
Marlins will inaugurate a new $515 million ballpark built with
all the trappings of South Florida -- two enormous fish tanks,
palm trees and a kitschy (of course) home run celebration
The stadium, named Marlins Park, "screams Miami," team owner
Jeffrey Loria has said.
The white semi-domed stadium is an attempt by Loria and city
officials to reignite fan interest in a team that won the World
Series in 1997, and again in 2003, but finished at the bottom of
the National League East Division standings last year.
They also hope it will help revitalize Miami's Little Havana
neighborhood, a rough-and-tumble district near downtown and a
cultural symbol for many in Miami's large Cuban community.
The stadium's official opening on Wednesday will mark a new
chapter for the Marlins, who have changed their name, redesigned
their uniforms and embarked on a spending spree for a
high-profile manager and free-agent players to breathe new life
into the team.
To win over fans, the Marlins are offering up a baseball
experience with a dash of Latin and South Beach style.
The stadium's signature feature will be its backdrop at home
plate. Two 450-gallon salt water aquariums sit on either side
and will be stocked with 100 tropical fish.
"When you think of Miami, you think of water, right?" said
Claude Delorme, a Marlins executive vice president. "We wanted a
unique piece that identifies where we are."
The fish tanks are built of durable fiberglass and protected
by a material used in bullet-proof glass. To ensure they would
withstand impacts from baseballs, team officials brought in a
Marlins player to hurl balls to test out the glass.
The tanks will be lit with blue lights during games to make
sure players do not lose sight of the balls.
'HOME RUN SCULPTURE'
Behind the outfield is a home run celebration display few
will confuse with being anywhere but South Florida. Team
officials call it a "home run sculpture."
Designed by American pop artist Red Grooms, the 72-foot
yellow, blue and neon pink structure features seagulls,
flamingos, and a pointy-billed teal marlin that will leap every
time a home run is hit. It is set next to - what else - palm
The home run celebration will also include a 34-second
splash effect and laser show.
"Some people have been critical of it," Delorme joked. "But
it adds to the experience of coming out to the ballpark."
No new ballpark in Miami would be complete without a
Marlins Park will be the second major U.S. baseball stadium
after Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, to feature a swimming
pool for fans looking to enjoy the game from a different vantage
"We wanted to have this party area in left field," Delorme
said. "So people would see it on TV and say, you know what, I
want to go there."
About four feet deep, the pool is part of an area that was
conceived with the Clevelander, a well-known South Beach
party-goers hotel. The pool side area includes a bar and DJs.
"There will be home run balls landing in the pool, so people
will have to be alert," Delorme said.
Built on the old site of Miami's Orange Bowl, the stadium
offers an intimate setting that will hold a mere 37,442
spectators - the smallest capacity in baseball.
It also has a host of other amenities that fans complained
were missing from the Marlins' previous home, Sun Life Stadium,
in suburban north Miami, where the Miami Dolphins also play.
The stadium's roof is retractable - key when Miami's rainy
season sets in. Air conditioning in the stadium will maintain an
average temperature of 75 degrees to keep fans comfortable
during Florida's muggy summer months.
The stadium, however, has not been without controversy.
When plans for its construction were first announced, it
drew howls from some Miami residents who complained taxpayers
were picking up the tab for three-fourths of the stadium's
costs. It was financed using municipal bonds.
The stadium's financing is now the focus of a probe by the
Securities and Exchange Commission.
Still, it has generated buzz in Miami and team officials say
they hope it proves to be a draw not only for baseball fans.
"You could bring someone here who does not like baseball and
they could have a really good time," Delorme said. "And they'll
want to come back."
(Editing by Greg McCune and Philip Barbara)