In 1991, just before the wave of retro stadium openings began in Baltimore, the Orioles played the final game at Memorial Stadium in that East Coast city. They trotted out Hall of Famers from Brooks Robinson to Frank Robinson to Jim Palmer, and when Cal Ripken Jr. was the final Oriole to take his position on the field, the old yard shook with the thunderous ovation.
Nine years later, they closed County Stadium in Milwaukee. Laughter was copious with the event emceed by Brewers radio voice and wit Bob Uecker, and when Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor took the field, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Fans of both those teams, and the White Sox, who closed an 80-year-old stadium fans still wax nostalgic about in 1990, still cherish memories of the ballparks they went to as kids.
Wednesday afternoon, the Florida Marlins will play the final baseball game, facing the Washington Nationals in... well, it's currently called "Sun Life Stadium", but that is the sixth different name the Marlins' home has had in their 19 seasons there. It began as Joe Robbie Stadium, named after the owner of the NFL's Miami Dolphins. In 1996 the name became Pro Player Park and then Pro Player Stadium. That's not because professionals played there, either; "Pro Player" was a sports apparel line owned by the Fruit of the Loom Company, better known for its underwear. Unfortunately, Fruit of the Loom filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and the apparel line was no longer produced, but the name stuck on the stadium for four more years until it was renamed Dolphins Stadium, then Dolphin Stadium, then Land Shark Stadium on a one-year naming rights deal with singer Jimmy Buffett, and finally in 2010 renamed for an insurance company.
No wonder no one liked the place -- they couldn't even decide what to call it.
Even players who should have nostalgia for the place don't care that it's closing. Jeff Conine, an original expansion Marlin who is one of only two players (Luis Castillo is the other) to play in more than 1,000 games for the franchise and who played on both Marlins World Series teams, recently told ESPN.com:
"If I was to say I'm sorry to see it go, I'd be lying -- big time," Conine said. "There are some good memories here for sure, but I won't shed a tear when we move."
The design favored football; sightlines were terrible and the lack of sheltered seats meant that the frequent tropical downpours during summer and fall caused rain delays nearly every day -- but few rainouts, because the showers would clear as fast as they fell. Few fans showed up; the Marlins have ranked last in the National League in attendance for the last six seasons and have finished no higher than 13th in NL attendance every year since 1998. They had to dodge hurricanes, too; when the approach of Hurricane Irene forced the team to move a game against the Reds up a day and play it at an unusual late-afternoon time, Marlins fan (yes, they appear to have a few) Justin Cohen counted only 347 fans in the stands. The capacity is officially 38,650 for baseball.
The stadium holds up to 75,540 for football, and for the 2003 NLCS, the Marlins opened the upper deck in the outfield, seats not normally sold for baseball, to accomodate what they thought would be increased demand. As a Cubs fan, I flew to Miami for that series along with several friends. Through miscommunication and other confusion, we wound up with two extra tickets for Game 5 of that series -- a game in which the Cubs could have won and made the World Series.(Josh Beckett had other ideas).
We tried to sell the tickets at face value in the parking lot. No dice. We tried selling them below face -- no takers. Finally we found a couple of ticketless Cubs fans and gave them the tickets for nothing.
No Marlins fans wanted NLCS tickets to see a team that eventually won the World Series. (Granted, they were not-great seats in the outfield upper deck. But still.) In most other cities, even those with larger stadiums, they'd have been breaking down the doors to get in.
In south Florida? Not so much. The team is so eager to put
Joe Robbie Pro Players Pro Player Dolphins Dolphin Land Shark Sun Life Stadium behind them that they are not only moving into their spiffy new stadium on the site of the old Orange Bowl but are also changing the team location designation (to "Miami Marlins") and their logo and colors.
No tears, then, will likely be shed Wednesday afternoon in south Florida -- it isn't in Miami, nor Ft. Lauderdale, it's somewhere in between at the junction of a bunch of interstate highways -- when the Marlins play in their old stadium for the last time. They won't even have a full house; as of the time I wrote this, about an hour before game time, thousands of tickets were still available.
The new ballpark doesn't have a name yet, either, but just its temporary name, "New Marlins Ballpark", suggests baseball, rather than the football co-tenants with whom the Marlins had to share their soon-to-be-old stadium. That alone is a significant improvement, and a good new beginning.