Marlins Park is Loria's masterpiece in Miami
MIAMI -- Jeffrey Loria is a renowned art dealer and collector who also owns the Miami Marlins. His latest masterpiece is a futuristic sculpture called a ballpark.
In Loria's world of baseball and art, it could be his version of a Picasso.
"It depends on which Picasso," Loria said on Tuesday as the Marlins worked out in preparation for their season opener. "This ballpark is going to have to stand as an important milestone in my life. It's an accomplishment, that is, for the city.
"Art and baseball all fit together. Art has to go with other good art, the players have to fit together to go with each other. There's really no distinction between the two. It's all about quality."
When it comes to the latter, Loria should be commended for the magnificent venue that will be unveiled to the world on Wednesday night, when his recast Marlins open their season against the Cardinals.
Long before this stadium -- built on the grounds of the famed Orange Bowl in Little Havana -- took shape, Loria told me how he'd conceived the design. It happened four years ago, in London, during a meeting with the architect who'd eventually build the stadium.
"I happened to be in London, and the architect was there, too, doing a project," he said. "We had to think about some kind of design and what it might look like. We met in the lobby of the hotel. I really didn't want it to be just another ballpark. I wasn't interested in a 1970s or '80s doughnut. I wanted it to be a statement of what Miami is all about -- a contemporary city.
"Architecture makes your city great. The idea was to create something very contemporary. So I sketched out this idea of a building on a napkin and told the architect to bring me some real drawings. Two weeks later he came back, and the net result is this glorious building."
Loria, 71, was introduced to art and architecture as an undergraduate at Yale, a student of Vincent Scully, who taught the history of art in architecture.
Those lessons learned explain why Loria is so serious when he calls Marlins Park "a work of art. Great architecture is a work of art, and this building is that. I was very excited the other day to see the architectural critic of the Miami Herald call it a dazzling building. It really is."
More than a decade ago, when Loria was the majority owner of the Expos, he invited me to Montreal to hear his plans for a new baseball-only park to replace Olympic Stadium. He drove to the site downtown where he hoped to build Labatt Park.
That stadium never happened, as baseball ended in Montreal. In 2002, Loria sold the Expos to Major League Baseball and purchased the Marlins from John Henry. The Marlins won their second World Series the next year.
"That's a distant memory, the Montreal stadium," Loria said. "We would have loved to have done it, but it didn't work out."
The road to this 37,442-seat home for the Marlins was rough, and there was enormous agony most of the way.
"We went through a lot of trying times," Loria said. "People who work with me in this organization aren't quitters. They're enthusiastic, and they are passionate about what we were trying to do. There will always be activists in a community who don't know what they're talking about. They have their own agendas. There are people who do not understand [that] we didn't take one dime away from anybody's public services in this city."
Today, Marlins Park -- with its 450-gallon aquariums behind home plate and the home run sculpture in center field -- is the star.
It won't take too long before this great venue will no longer be the attraction. The Marlins, and how well they do in the rugged National League East, will demand fans' attention.
Or, as Miami's outspoken manager, Ozzie Guillen, says, "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."
Loria has done his best to make sure that the team on the field complements the ballpark.
"I wasn't looking for a honeymoon; I was looking for a good marriage," Loria said. "We've had the beginnings of that with this team. We've had it for a while."
Shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell have been brought onboard at a cost of $191 million. Guillen, who coached third base for the Marlins in 2003, is a perfect fit as manager.
"All of a sudden, I'll put my guys up against anybody," said Loria, who also made a strong pitch for free agent Albert Pujols before he signed with the Angels.
Even with all the superlatives flowing, Loria insists that he doesn't have to pinch himself when he looks at his creation.
"I have a great feeling of enjoyment, not satisfaction," he said. "Walking around the outside of this building and seeing what the architects were able to do from the vision we had -- the glass, the steel, the white concrete, the right angles, the surfaces -- it's an amalgam of beautiful forms. And forms fit the function, which is a baseball stadium.
"The colors come from the palette of the great Spanish artist Miro -- the four bright colors [red, blue and yellow, plus the grass green of the field]. It sets the tone for 'I'll meet you in the red zone.' You have a way of knowing where you are in the ballpark. Plus, color is what Miami is about. We needed to see something that goes with the spirit of the community."
After all the talk about art and architecture, Loria almost contradicted himself when he said, "This is not about art. This is about a great sporting venue and starting something in a city that deserves it."
And for all that, Jeffrey Loria should take a bow.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.