Our only Major League Baseball trip of 2014 was focused on the teams in Florida (Miami and St Petersburg). We chose early May for the trip, since it is just before the heat and humidity typically descend on the Peninsula. Because we were starting the trip in New Jersey (which is just out of range for a road trip, given the time constraints we had for the visit), we chose to fly to Miami, our first stop.
1. New Jersey to Miami, Tuesday May 6th 2014
While preparing for the trip, we discovered that it was more economical to fly into Ft Lauderdale, then drive to Miami, than to fly into Miami International Airport. In addition to being a cheaper flight, there were many more flights to Ft Lauderdale than Miami on the day we wished to travel. This could be due to the fact that Ft Lauderdale is a major port for cruise ships.
We chose to fly out the afternoon before the game in Miami. Even including the nearly three hour flight from New Jersey to Ft Lauderdale, we believed we’d built in enough time to get to Marlins Park before the 705 pm first pitch.
However, shortly after boarding the flight, our carefully planned (and admittedly tight) timing was derailed by a problem with the plane. We have encountered mechanical issues with planes before, but the problem with this plane was new: toilet malfunction. Both toilets in economy were unavailable, though the first class toilet was functional. With just one toilet available for a nearly three hour flight, we were forced to deplane and wait for a replacement.
The delay ensured that we would miss the first pitch in Miami. Disappointed but undaunted, we eventually left New Jersey more than an hour late. After landing in Ft Lauderdale, we rushed to pick up our rental car and sped toward the park. Slackening evening traffic allowed us to get to the park in under 30 minutes. Parking was ample (after all, this WAS a Marlins home game), but still we arrived in the top of the second inning.
The weather in Miami was delightful, with clear skies, temperatures in the 70s and low humidity (at least for Miami). The weather afforded us a view of Marlins Park with the roof open. Built in an area where thunderstorms are common (typically peaking right around 700 pm), getting to see a game with the roof open was a treat. There had been controversy concerning the roof, as the Marlins apparently had a much better record against the Mets with the roof closed. Tonight, however, that was not an issue.
The Marlins’ opponent for this evening was the New York Mets, and the starting pitcher for the Mets was ageless Bartolo Colon. The Marlins scored two runs against Bartolo before we had arrived, but he settled down for the next few innings. Meanwhile, the Mets offense sputtered against Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez III (who had thrown a no-hitter in 2013).
Overall, it wasn’t a bad appearance for Colon, who allowed three runs in seven innings. However, the Mets were no match for Alvarez, who tossed a six hit shutout in a 3-0 Marlins win. With both pitchers throwing efficiently, the time of the game was a mere two hours and eight minutes, one the shortest games we had seen in years.
Our late arrival did not allow us any time to explore the park, and the speed of the game kept our attention on the field, not the park itself. The initial impression of the park was that is was perfect for South Florida, with warm colors and an Art Deco feel. Fortunately, we would have much more time to investigate the park and it surroundings the next afternoon. Shortly after the end of the game, we headed to the hotel and settled in for the night.
2. Miami, Wednesday May 7th 2014
Following breakfast at the hotel just outside Miami, we headed to the ballpark early to explore the area. Unbeknownst to me, Marlins Park was constructed on the site of the former Orange Bowl, in Little Havana just west of downtown Miami. Unlike the trend in ballparks of the past couple of decades, Miami eschewed the “retro” look in favor of a more contemporary feel. From my perspective, the outside of the park was more reminiscent of an art gallery than a ballpark, but seems to fit in well in Miami
Strolling around the ballpark, we quickly discovered that there wasn’t much in the vicinity, outside of parking garages. However, the combination of architecture and landscaping (replete with palm trees) provided a very attractive environment, perhaps one of the finest we’d visited. Waiting outside for the gates to open, it seemed many of the fans we encountered were Mets fans, no doubt some of them transplants from the New York City metro area.
Walking into the park, it became evident that the roof was closed. Like most ballparks with retractable roofs, Marlins Park looked cavernous with the roof closed. It wasn’t clear why the roof was closed; sunshine and temperatures in the 70s made for an ideal early May afternoon in Miami. There was a breeze, but it didn’t seem as though the wind was strong enough to warrant closing the roof. The fact that the Marlins were again hosting the Mets for the Wednesday matinee may have been part of the decision. While I’m not sure there is enough evidence to implicate the Marlins in unsportsmanlike conduct, it DOES make a Mets fan like me wonder.
Arriving well before the first pitch, we had plenty of time to explore Marlins Park. Walking the concourse in the upper deck, we ran into a uniformed Florida State trooper, presumably working security. Since we were walking alone near centerfield, I thought he might give us trouble. After asking us what we were doing, he then followed us halfway across the concourse toward home plate, talking baseball.
Following our tour of the inside of Marlins Park, we hit the concession stand on the lower level before finding our seats. As might be expected, there were more than a dozen eateries and bars scattered throughout the park, not counting the more traditional concession stands. Perhaps the most famous is the Clevelander in left center field, adjacent to the Marlins bullpen. Not surprisingly, there was a fair amount of Cuban and Hispanic food available, but we stuck closer to the standard fare for ballparks.
The closed roof changed the feel of the park, robbing it of whatever charm it possessed the previous night with the roof open. It seemed dark against the light streaming through the glass behind the left field wall, giving Marlins Park an almost drab feeling. It was against this backdrop that the Marlins hosted the Mets for an early afternoon game. The contest was a lightly attended affair, with far less than the announced crowd of 18,000 actually in the park.
On the mound for the Mets right hander Zack Wheeler, who was in the midst of his first full season with the Mets. A highly touted prospect acquired from the San Francisco Giants in 2011, Wheeler finally joined a promising Mets rotation. Unfortunately, after a encouraging 2014, Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015. Recovery from the surgery, and subsequent setbacks, took over two years.
On this day, however, Wheeler was on top of his game. Wheeler threw six shutout innings, striking out seven but walking five, reaching 100 pitches before exiting. Not to be outdone, Marlins starter Tom Koehler matched Wheeler nearly pitch for pitch in what evolved into a classic pitcher’s duel.
Interestingly, the best play of the day was not made by a Met or a Marlin. During the top of the third, the Mets’ Reuben Tejada lined a fastball down the left field line. With the ball headed toward the seats in foul territory , a Marlins ball boy made a lunging catch of the screaming liner, diving into the seats to make the outstanding grab. The catch seemed even better in person, and the sparse crowd gave the kid a warm ovation.
The score remained tied 0-0 going into the bottom of the ninth of the briskly paced game, with each team mustering only two hits. The Marlins scored with one out in the ninth on a sacrifice fly, a seemingly fitting end to a game dominated by pitching (or was it inept offense?).
As the crowd filed out of the stadium following the game, the roof was opened. The timing was curious, which made me wonder further about the conspiracy involving the closed roof and Mets’ losses. Marlins Park was a nice place to see a game, though the closed roof put a damper on its feel. While there was not enough to make me want to visit again in the future, Marlins fans should be thankful they have such a good home ballpark.
Following the game, we made a quick trip to South Beach. Ocean Drive, the main strip along the beach, was lined with bars and restaurants on one side, and a white sandy beach on the other. The ocean was rough that late afternoon, preventing people from entering the water. The setting sun and refreshing sea breeze made the visit enjoyable, but we left before the area got too crazy.
To my great dismay, neither my brother or I could locate our pictures of South Beach. Surely those pictures would have told a better story than me about the area.