Sun to set on Sun Life Stadium
Marlins' home since 1993 featured plenty of memorable moments
MIAMI -- The past and present will unite on Wednesday to bid farewell to the only home the Florida Marlins have ever known.
It won't take long before the focus turns to a new beginning -- as the Miami Marlins -- in a new ballpark that opens in 2012.
After the 2011 season is put to bed, the Marlins are expected to introduce Ozzie Guillen as their new manager. Late Monday night, the White Sox released the fiery manager from the final year of his contract, and he is expected to be named the Marlins skipper after Wednesday's game.
For the organization and their fans, the finale promises to be more than just a day to look toward the future. It will also be a day to reflect on the past.
There will be sentiment and some sorrow to close the chapter on the first 19 seasons of the franchise.
There also will be elation and excitement to leave what is primarily a football facility, and usher in a new beginning for the franchise that will move into a 37,000-seat, retractable-roof ballpark in the Little Havana section of Miami.
Because Sun Life Stadium is owned by the Miami Dolphins, the Marlins have always felt like outsiders in their own residence. Football has always come first at the facility.
In terms of being on the field, however, and games played in Miami, there certainly are numerous memories. The Marlins have won two World Series titles -- 1997 and 2003 -- and Sun Life Stadium has hosted its share of historical events.
"Aesthetically, obviously, there will be no tears shed going away from here," said Jeff Conine, an original Marlin who played on both title teams. "But memory wise, every big moment of my baseball career has been on this field.
"You think about the good times on the field. I always enjoyed playing here. I loved the surface. The heat didn't bother me. So as far as in between the lines, I had a great time here."
|"I always enjoyed playing here. I loved the surface. The heat didn't bother me."|
|-- Jeff Conine|
About 40 former players will take part in a ceremony, and more than 30,000 are expected to be in attendance for the stadium sendoff. On the confirmed list of those who will be on hand are Antonio Alfonseca, Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, Kevin Brown, Jorge Cantu, Conine, Alex Fernandez, Andre Dawson, Darren Daulton, Alex Fernandez, Cliff Floyd, Charlie Hough, Charles Johnson, Rene Lachemann, Al Leiter, Mike Lowell, Robb Nen, Tony Perez, Mike Piazza, Cookie Rojas, Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield and Preston Wilson.
Once the Marlins close the book on 2011, and their tenure at Sun Life Stadium, they will embark on a new beginning.
Everything changes in 2012.
Along with their new building, the franchise will go by a different name. On Nov. 11, the team changes to the Miami Marlins, and the club will unveil its new logo and uniforms.
After enduring years of rain delays and suffocating heat, the Marlins are ready to relocate into their new home. Because of the inconveniences at Sun Life Stadium, current players are looking forward to a change.
"To tell you the truth, I'm not going to be too upset to see it go," first baseman Gaby Sanchez said. "Going into a new stadium, and actually playing in a real baseball stadium, with a real backdrop, with real baseball lights -- all of that makes such a difference.
"People don't really understand. They can't really grasp it. They may say, 'A stadium is a stadium.' But it's not. Baseball stadiums have different lighting than football [stadiums]. They're higher up. So it's going to be a lot darker in our stadium to see pitches and balls."
At the end of each season, the Marlins have had to deal with the deteriorating field conditions created by football. The grass gets torn and tattered from football games played in August and September.
"In the new stadium, you don't have to worry about the playing surface in September being destroyed," Sanchez said. "I think everybody here is going to look forward to being in a baseball stadium, where it is maintained, and always [will] be the same the entire year."
After the final out on Wednesday is recorded, the baseball memories of the Marlins' birthplace will live on. So will the years where the franchise grew from its infant expansion years to an established club.
Sanchez, a Miami native, grew up rooting for the Marlins. Sun Life Stadium was his first impression of the Major Leagues.
"Of course you have the World Series wins, and all those great games," he said. "Those are never going to be forgotten. Those are always are going to be there, and people are going to know the players that have come through. But I think it's going to be a new beginning. It's going to be a great beginning."
For at least one former Florida All-Star, Sun Life Stadium will be missed.
"I've got a lot of great memories here," said Dan Uggla, a Marlin from 2006-10 before being traded to the Braves. "Obviously, it's not the best place to play baseball, but you know what? When I got to the big leagues, it was big league baseball."
Uggla certainly left his impact on the franchise. He's the Marlins' all-time home run leader with 154. And his 78 shots are the most of any player at Sun Life Stadium.
"It's unexpected, because there have been so many great players who have come through the organization," said Uggla of being the ballpark's home run leader. "But some of their times were for a couple-of-year period. It's a cool thing to have the most homers at a certain ballpark."
The legacy of Sun Life Stadium as a baseball building began on April 5, 1993. Then called Joe Robbie Stadium, a sold-out crowd of 42,334 witnessed the Marlins beat the Dodgers, 6-3.
Conine recalls the electricity of the first pitch, a knuckleball from Hough.
"There were 40,000 people here," Conine said. "And to watch Charlie Hough throw that first pitch and watch the place go crazy. There is only one chance to make a great first impression. That was a great first impression."
Probably the biggest game in franchise history at Sun Life Stadium was Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.
In the 11th inning, Edgar Renteria slapped the championship-clinching single to center off Cleveland's Charles Nagy, scoring Craig Counsell with the winning run.
Counsell's leap at home plate forever will be imprinted in the minds of Marlins fans.
"That Game 7 was a classic game in the history of baseball," said Counsell, now a member of the playoff-bound Brewers. "It was a Game 7 that went extra innings, which probably happened only a couple of times. It's a game for baseball history, and it was in that stadium."
Ranking up there with Game 7 in '97 is the finish of Game 4 of the 2003 NL Division Series.
In the ninth inning, Conine's throw and Ivan Rodriguez's tag of the Ginats' J.T. Snow was a historical playoff moment, and it occurred at Sun Life Stadium.
The Marlins were able to hold on to a series win over the Giants on a classic play at the plate.
In left field, Conine collected Jeffrey Hammonds' single. The play unfolded quickly as Snow was trying to score from second. Conine's toss bounced, and Rodriguez secured it while withstanding being plowed at the plate by Snow.
"It's funny how your mind replays it," Conine said. "[Hammonds] took a full swing, so you kind of step back. I thought he hit it harder than he did. Then you realize it was off the end of the bat. I was running in, and it seemed like it was forever.
"As soon as I let the ball out of my hand, I saw where it was going, and I saw where J.T. Snow was. I knew the ball was going to get there in time, but would Pudge hang on? I knew what would happen. It was like everything just fell silent and was in slow motion."
The Marlins went on to win an improbable World Series title, in what was a dream season that turned around with the arrival of Jack McKeon as manager in May.
Then 72, McKeon was the third-oldest manager in MLB history.
McKeon said Sun Life Stadium, which went from being empty to full, emerged into an energizing ballpark down the stretch.
"When we went from 8,000, 9,000 to 10,000, and all of a sudden seeing it grow to 20,000 to 30,000 to 60,000, you saw it build," McKeon said. "To me, those 30,000 coming out really pushed our club. They gave the place some energy, and the players played up to that. They were our 10th man."
On Wednesday, South Florida and the Marlins will have their chance to say farewell to the first home of the franchise.
Conine will be among those who can say he was there when the ballpark opened and closed for Major League Baseball.
"That's an odd feeling knowing where it all started is not going to be anymore," Conine said. "The Florida Marlins are not going to be any more. That's sort of a weird thing."