Marlins ready to steal spotlight from park
MIAMI -- Opening the Marlins' new $634 million palace has been like getting married. Rehearse and rehearse, rehearse some more, and then say the vows.
When the Marlins played the Yankees in Monday night's exhibition, it was the fourth dress rehearsal in the magnificent ballpark. These Marlins are more than ready to stand at the altar and shout, "Play ball!"
There have been two games against college teams, Sunday's duel with the Yankees, and then Monday night's game, which finally ended Spring Training. By the time the Marlins play the defending World Series champion Cardinals in a for-real game on Wednesday night, the retractable roof will be well greased.
It has taken 19 years for the Marlins to finally get their own home. This franchise is more than deserving, and just as excited.
This ballpark is as good as it gets. It's even better than the press clippings.
As the Marlins took batting practice on Monday afternoon, their president, David Samson, stood near the batting cage telling reporters about how well the air conditioning system worked on Sunday, that the concessions need to cook more hamburgers, how they had to relocate 15 season-ticket holders and that some adjustments need to be made to the traffic flow outside the huge, futuristic, stucco structure.
Samson talked like a best man at the wedding, but just like everyone else he will be more comfortable talking baseball -- when the players go off on their "honeymoon."
But frankly, it's time for all the hoopla to end and to get this much-anticipated season under way. In the end, the game on the field is what counts, and no one believes that better than outspoken manager Ozzie Guillen.
"To be honest with you, I cannot wait for the day off [on Friday] in Cincinnati," said Guillen. "I'm going to sleep. Opening this park is a big deal. It's the talk of the town. This franchise won two World Series, but everyone is talking about this. We want to make Marlins fans feel proud."
With Wednesday night's opening being telecast nationally by ESPN, there's a good chance that the new stadium may be more of a story than the recast Marlins playing the team that won the 2011 World Series.
After that, the highly publicized, 70-foot Home Run Sculpture; the retractable roof; and those fish tanks behind home plate won't be the story.
Whether the Marlins -- with the $191 million additions of shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrie and closer Heath Bell -- can unseat the five-time National League East champion Phillies will be the story line.
Regardless, this will be a magical season for the Marlins.
But if the team on the field doesn't live up to expectations, the honeymoon will be over in a hurry.
Or, as the fast-talking Guillen quipped: "It's like having a beautiful house and your marriage [stinks]. We have a beautiful house here, but if the people who live in it are not good, you're not going to have fun.
"To me, this is all about winning. I don't care where you play or who you are. There are only a few clubs in the big leagues that can lose games and still bring people to the ballpark. We cannot."
Marlins Park "is not a mall," he added. "I don't want people to come here and say, 'Let's watch the ballpark.' This is a baseball field, and I want people to treat this field that way. If they don't want to do that, they should go to Miami Beach or someplace. I want people to see a good baseball game."
The Marlins have been inundated with requests and visits from national media outlets. There's been a cover for Sports Illustrated, ESPN has been in and out, MLB Network has been around, Showtime is working on its reality series on the franchise, USA Today is doing cover pieces. It goes on and on.
The new ballpark, the addition of the free agents, the signing of Guillen, plus the potential to make the postseason has ignited the hype.
After 19 years of playing at a football stadium with few fans, life has changed for the Marlins. Now they'll be content to merely play baseball.
"My wife didn't even want to go to games [at Sun Life Stadium]," said Guillen, a former Marlins coach. "She preferred to stay home. Right now these players are going to see what real baseball is like. We want this to be a great ballclub to watch."
Third baseman Hanley Ramirez and Reyes have died their hair orange in preparation for the opener.
"We're a couple of days from Opening Day, so we have to take this day to day," said Ramirez. "We have to get ready little by little. You have to come every day and do what you have to do to get ready. When it's game time. you put everything else behind. This game is all about instinct."
Said Reyes, who was in the Mets' lineup when Citi Field opened in 2009: "I was a little nervous that day. It's going to be nice here. Frankly, I can't wait for the season to start. There has been a lot of expectation about us. We just want to be on the field and win some games for the City of Miami. The game on the field is the thing."
Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, a special assistant to Samson, said that the numerous distractions that come with the long-awaited opening of the stadium "are all a part of it, the change in everything -- the new ballpark, the new uniforms, the new name, fan enthusiasm and excitement. [The players] have to enjoy this moment. It's like signing autographs. They cannot get consumed by it; they have to buckle under and play the game. Once the bell rings, they have to be ready to go."
Samson has worked untold hours making certain that every detail has been taken care of, but he is not caught up in the hype.
"Comfort is more important than pomp," said Samson. "The players are ready and the fans are ready. So it's good."
Guillen reiterated that he cannot wait for all the stadium hoopla to end so his players can get down to the job at hand.
"My job is to make sure [the players] respect the game and respect the fans," Guillen said. "We're going to put the best lineup on the field. We paid a lot of money to those guys. Meanwhile, I'm not going to baby-sit anyone.
"We don't have a team to just cruise around this season. We have to compete. We've built this ballclub to try to win. I think the pride is out there, and it's my job to make it happen."
For now, Marlins Park is the star attraction, which is fine.
The sooner the players take over that role, the better it will be.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.