Marlins Park shines in first big league test run
Excitement pervades Miami's exhibition game vs. Yankees
MIAMI -- Day literally felt like night under the roof at Marlins Park.
Miami players, who endured years of stifling heat playing on Sunday afternoons, welcomed the refreshing change.
In the first of two exhibitions against the New York Yankees, the roof was closed at the Marlins' sparkling retractable-roof building on Sunday.
"It's night and day," Miami pitcher Ricky Nolasco said when comparing Sun Life Stadium to the team's new home. "It's funny, with a dome, you don't realize it's 1 o'clock. The atmosphere was a lot of fun, and exciting."
The Yankees claimed a 10-8 victory before a capped crowd of 25,000, who experienced the new atmosphere of Marlins' baseball.
Marlins Park holds 37,000, but the team intentionally limited sales on Sunday to 25,000, in order to ease in the operations of the building.
On Monday night, the maximium will be bumped up to 30,000 tickets.
Once that final test-run is completed, the Marlins will be ready to accommodate a full house against the Cardinals on Opening Night on Wednesday.
Rather than finish up Spring Training playing at the 7,000-capacity Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., Marlins players are enjoying having the Yankees to spar with before taking on the defending World Series champions.
"It feels like we're in season. I like it," said Gaby Sanchez, who homered off CC Sabathia on Sunday. "There was definite excitement with the fans. There were a lot of people here today. It was electric out there. It's definitely a nice feeling coming from Spring Training to actually playing in this stadium.
"Soft opening or not, we were still playing the Yankees. We were still going out there trying to win. There was definitely some good electricity by the fans."
If image is everything, Marlins Park presents a dramatic upgrade for the newly rebranded Miami Marlins.
Trendy and colorful, Major League Baseball's newest building is first-rate and futuristically designed.
The Marlins anticipate the roof being shut for about 70 of their 81 home games. Pretty much every afternoon game will be played in climate-controlled conditions.
But to allow the natural grass to grow, the roof remains open most days, but closes when rain is in the forecast.
Until about 10:45 a.m. ET Sunday, the roof stayed open, as the sun beamed down. By 11 a.m., the roof was closed, and the air conditioning kicked in.
"It was like we were playing a night game," Sanchez said. "It felt great. The weather inside was real nice. We weren't sweating. It was just comfortable baseball. I'm sure the fans felt the same way, the whole entire time.
"It was a comfortable environment. We didn't have to come in and change our jersey three times. There was no need for it."
The result on Sunday didn't count, but the energy of the day gave the afternoon a big league atmosphere.
"It feels like a [big league game a] little bit more, obviously," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We're playing New York, and a lot of people are in town. They're very excited about this. They're very into the games. I'd love to see this city [keep] being the way they are about baseball right now.
"Right now, what the Marlins' front office people did, they put this club together. Hopefully, the fans enjoy it. There is only one thing they'll remember us for, [and that] is winning. You can have a beautiful house. A beautiful view. But if the people in the house stink, it ain't going to be so beautiful."
Adding Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle, along with Guillen, gave the club immediate credibility, as well as transformed them into likely contenders.
The Yankees, of course, are a perennial powerhouse, adding to the attraction of the new ballpark.
"No doubt, it was exciting," Reyes said. "Every time you play against the New York Yankees, it's going to be exciting. For us, even in Spring Training, it was fun for us to be out there today."
New York's star power was immediately displayed on Sunday as Derek Jeter slapped Nolasco's first pitch of the afternoon into the corner in right field for a double.
For the Marlins, in the second inning, there was a fitting moment when Miami-raised Sanchez belted a home run off Sabathia.
It was an opposite-field drive. The blast gave an indication that the field will play pretty fairly with the roof closed, and winds aren't a factor.
"I knew I hit it good," Sanchez said. "Now, you never know, especially when you're going opposite field. I don't hit too many home runs that way. I knew I hit it. I feel like it's going to play fair."
After the Marlins took a 3-1 lead, the Yankees stormed ahead with five runs off Nolasco in the fifth inning. Curtis Granderson kept the inning going with a two-out, RBI infield single. Robinson Cano added a run-scoring double and Alex Rodriguez delivered an RBI single as New York sent nine to the plate.
The Marlins tied the game with a three-run seventh, keyed by Giancarlo Stanton's second RBI single of the day, but the Yankees took the lead for good when Eric Chavez's RBI double scored Bill Hall in the top of the ninth.
Rodriguez, who grew up in Miami, used to go to the old Orange Bowl -- where Marlins Park now stands -- to watch University of Miami football.
"I used to come to all of the University of Miami football games," A-Rod said. "It was fun bargaining with neighbors and trying to say, 'I'll pay you $4 for parking,' and they'd say $8. Then when the game started it came down to $2. It was fun. It reminded me a little bit of the Bronx -- just a very special place."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who managed the Marlins in 2006, understands the importance the ballpark has to Miami. Before this season, the Marlins shared a stadium with the Miami Dolphins.
"I think it was important for them to get their own home," Girardi said. "Because I think, at times, they were losing players that they would have liked to hold onto, because they didn't have revenue sources.
"I think it's really important for the organization. I think everyone saw what they did in free agency, which they haven't been able to do for a while. And I think that's good for the organization. I think it's good for the community."
Marlins Park was designed to represent Miami.
It does in the use of bright colors, as well as the installment of two, 450-gallon fish tanks literally built into the wall behind home plate.
There are 10-12 different species of fish, and about 35 fish total. The number will grow in the upcoming weeks.
Some of the finishing touches are being put into place.
"You don't notice the fish tank when you're out there when you're catching ground balls and looking in," Sanchez said. "That was one of the big things when we came in. Are we going to notice the fish tanks? Are they going to hinder anything when the ball gets hit? They don't. It's off in the back. They actually keep it pretty dark, and you don't really notice it when you're out there."