Lilwound's recent effort to give a Frommer's review of U.S. Cellular New Comisky Sox Park merits a South Florida rejoinder, so here it is: the "authentic" tour through the Home stadium of the Florida Marlins.
Like USCNCS Park, knowing what to call the edifice is the first order of business. Last I checked its official name was now "Dolphin Stadium" - a living, Huizenga F-U testament to the Marlins' second-class citizenship status. Before that it was Dolphins Stadium, and before that, Pro Player Stadium, and before that, Joe Robbie Stadium. True Fish Fanz - the ones who remember that the first pick in the second round of the expansion draft was Carl Everett, or that the first hit was recorded by Bret Barberie, or that the team once featured such luminaries as Joe Klink, Henry Cotto, and Greg "P-e Wee" Briley, or that Edgar wasn't the first "Renteria" in team history (let this one serve as a quiz for the comments section) -- still call the cavernous yard "The Pro" or "The Joe." I think. Whatever.
Things to know:
Way out in the centerfield upper deck (and I mean waaay out; this is a football stadium, after all; you may need binoculars to see it) flies a small flag with a number 5 on it. This is a memorial to Carl Barger, the executive who was one of the driving forces in bringing the expansion team to Miami. Mr. Barger dropped dead at the winter meetings preceding the first opening day. The "5" is for Joe D, Barger's favorite player. The whole thing is sort of macabre and weirdly disjoint. Meaning it's perfect.
We have fireworks if you hit a dinger, too.
If you're going and want to assimilate like a true fan, wear orange. That's the tradition. In a cleverly conceived effort to lure the other team into complacency, thousands and thousands of Marlins faithful, particularly on weekday nights, don the same shade of orange and sit together quietly. The camouflage effect makes it seem like huge chunks of seats are actually empty. See what I mean:
That's a packed house of orange-clad crazies, executing the plan to a tee.
There was once a radio campaign to christen the wall in left field as "The Teal Tower." I'm not sure it ever took hold. If it did, it must have faded into oblivion during The John Boles Era.
There is only one way to get to The Pro, and it will cost you $2.85 per gallon. There might be bus service; I really don't know. It's located on the northern edge of Miami-Dade County, right off the turnpike. Here's a tip if you're coming from the North: Get off at the first labeled Stadium exit (the stadium will still seem far in the distance), travel west on the little side road, and exit on University Drive going south, make a left on 199th, and approach it from the West. Lot #5 on the southwest corner is where I recommend parking, particularly if your seats are on the third base side.
Parking will cost you a Hamilton, a nice little extorted "add on" to your ticket price, since there's no other way to get there (unless you live in walking distance ...which judging by the neighborhood generally would mean you can't afford a ticket to begin with). This is particularly infuriating when the game gets rained out after you've paid (more on this, below). Also infuriating is that Mr. Huizenga, the former owner, gets to keep this money; you can't even take refuge in hoping your 10 boxes of ziti will go toward helping bolster the bullpen before the pennant drive.
This is a stadium built for 70,000, and typically about 8,000 show up for a Fish game. So getting "rock star" parking is not difficult. This is one of the features of Marlins baseball I point to with pride - "Hey, pal, where else can you park three down from Dontrelle Willis's new Benz?" And getting out is a breeze, too. If you took my advice and parked in #5, exit and go north on University, and then right on County Line Road, and you'll run into a seldom-used turnpike entrance.
Food and drink:
Tailgating is very popular at a Marlins game ... it's a football stadium, fer crissake! There's no better way to start a baseball game than with a picnic and a football catch on so-hot-its-bubbling asphalt. In fact, sometimes I think the few fans that are there are just Dolfans with leftover charcoal from the previous football season.
Perhaps the most depressing sight in major league baseball is found on a stroll around the main concourse of The Pro. As you get just a short distance away from the home plate area, you will notice that the concession stands are dark, shut down. Apparently, management has determined that the cost of manning them exceeds the revenue they generate (and I'm talking about stadium, not team management ... Huizenga, again, who has openly professed that he wishes the Marlins would just go away). So, even though the crowd is small, getting a hot dog can require waiting on a line that will cost you a half-inning. They do have TVs you can watch while you're waiting, so if Miggy pounds one into the Publix Power Alley in left, you'll still get to see it.
Nothing really authentic. No stone crab stand, or anything like that. They used to sell arepas (a fried cornmeal and cheese concoction), but I haven't seen them in awhile. Oh, and for a couple of seasons, the Lebuvitcher congregation operated a falafel and knish stand behind the plate toward the first base side - the lines were long enough to give you tsores, but the nosh didn't cost much gelt, it wasn't treyf, it was so good you'd get nakhes, and it was always fun to buy food from a mentsh who looked like Matisyahu - a real shandeh that it's gone. Outside of Section 108, there's a stand that sells a big pile of homemade, greasy potato chips - that's about as good as it gets.
Enjoying the game:
Your best odds to enjoy the game are to have very good seats. You see, this is a football stadium, meaning the sight lines are not constructed to face the middle of the baseball diamond. So if you're seated down one of the lines, and you're determined to sunbathe watch the game, it would be a good idea to schedule a chiropractor appointment for the next day. Just sayin'.
If it's a day game, don't forget your sun-screen (not much, if any, shade). Day or night, have plenty of money for fluid intake, or a trip to the CPR station may be in the offing. It's also considered common courtesy to bring a small plastic receptacle for when you wring the sweat out of your shorts.
The Marlins Mermaids, though they may be the young ladies who didn't make the final cut at the Heat Dancers try-outs, are a pleasurable diversion between innings. They jump up on the dugout and shake their fishtails for the somnambulant smattering of fans. Though they try their level best, the reaction after a routine is usually so tepid, if not non-existent, it kind of reminds me of the gym pep rally scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (remember the "spirit bunnies?" "Are we gonna beat Lincoln, huh??!!").
Attending a game at The Pro can often be like being transported to another place. Literally. For example, suppose the Fish are squaring off against the Mets. You will soon notice that the lion's share of the crowd is cheering for the visitors! Why ... it's like you've suddenly been cosmically whisked to Shea Stadium (sans the deafening airplane noise pollution, of course).
The eighth circle of Dante's Inferno is The Pro during a rain delay. And during the summer months, they happen regularly, sometimes more than once per game. Even though there are precious few fans, somehow the concourse is teeming with sweaty and now rain-soaked patrons. With the steam filtering through, the place sort of smells like a skating rink locker room. During a really strong gulley-washer, a river of water will flow down the spiral ramping system and form a lake at the bottom, which is your only exit. That can be fun for the kids, at least.
No trip to The Pro is complete without enjoying the creative stylings of Tony the Sign Guy, behind the third base dugout (literally two seats in front of me ... bleh). This is classic South Florida. Tony, one of the team's few season ticketholders, is a high school math teacher ... in New York City! So our sign guy is, I guess, a reverse snowbird. This time of year, his trade is only plied on weekends, but when school's out, you can catch his act nightly. Tony is obviously an admirer of Karl Ehrhardt, the longtime sign guy who entertained for 17 years ('64-'81) at Shea with creative, full-color, two paneled signs that he would casually raise and flip open. Ehrhardt constantly reloaded, so you never knew what you were going to see. And it could sometimes be bitingly satirical ("GRANT'S TOMB" is one he held up during the lean years when Mets' owner M. Donald Grant refused to spend). Ehrhardt's wannabe protégé Tony comes with about 30 or so of the same signs - cheap-looking, black-and-white, and featuring crackling rhetoric like "Marlin Country" (sic) and "Cabrera Time". He stands, raises them over his head, and looks out over the orange seats with an expression like, "C'mon, people!" It's kind of pathetic. In other words, perfect.
After the game:
You go home. There are no bars.
The Pro is a Big Event stadium. That's why they have Super Bowls there (or, at least they used to, until this year's typhoon). It is a great place to have a World Series. Really. Especially if you're an otherwise light-hitting shortstop [Renteria hits extra innings walk-off clincher in Game 7 of 1997 WS; Gonzalez hits extra innings walk-off dinger in Game 4 of 2003 WS]. They pack sixty grand in there, the October weather is beautiful, and the real festival atmosphere of Miami comes to life. I went to Games 1-5 of the 2003 World Series. The first two were in venerable Yankee Stadium, where it was in the 20s, and I spent a good part of each game battling mean Yankee fans cutting in line for the precious supply of hot chocolate. Miserable. Coming down to The Pro for Games 3-5 was like being transported to paradise.
If your seats are good, it really is an underrated place to watch a game. It's very green, the dimensions are creatively obtuse, the Teal Tower is kinda kool, and the Jumbotron is uuuuge. But you can see why Miami has been on an endless, some would say quixotic quest for a new, baseball-only facility. The new governor has come out in favor of it, so once again, hope is abounding. We shall see.
Until then ... I'll be seeing you. ... at the ballpark!