02/15/11 5:55 PM EST
Marlins christen new park with first seat, BP
Loria, Samson help with construction; players break out bats
By David Villavicencio / Special to MLB.com
On Tuesday afternoon, the Marlins' two top officials grabbed their tools and made section 19, row H, seat 12 the first seat installed at the club's new stadium, which is slated to open for the 2012 season. Thanks to a fan suggestion, the historic seat will be easily found by anyone who visits the ballpark.
"I got an e-mail from a season-ticket holder that he read an article on MLB.com that we were doing the seat installations," Samson said. "He said, 'I have an idea. You have all blue seats. Why not install a seat of a different color so that everyone will know that it was the first seat installed?' I immediately called Jeffrey and said, 'We need to do this,' and he agreed. Then I found out we could order one red seat, and that's what we did."
After Loria and Samson finished their handiwork, the pair watched several of the Marlins' biggest names take a memorable round of batting practice.
"The No. 1 most memorable thing was the first ground ball hit by Hanley [Ramirez]. It was the first swing of the bat in this ballpark. It was an absolute six to three, and it was great," Samson joked. "Then the next thing was when the first home run was hit. Hanley hit it, and you heard cheers. It was the construction workers, and I imagined 37,000 of those. That was the first cheer in this ballpark."
"That makes you feel good," Ramirez said of the cheers he and his teammates received. "For me, it was an honor to be the first player to hit in the new stadium. I want to thank the Marlins for that opportunity. It was unbelievable, and I'm never going to forget it."
Joining Ramirez for Tuesday's first batting practice were Chris Coghlan, Gaby Sanchez, John Buck, Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton.
"It was amazing," Sanchez said. "Just being able to hit down here and see how the ball is going to travel was great. They say that it's a pitcher-friendly park, but the balls traveled pretty good for us."
Each player received cheers from the construction workers shagging balls throughout the area where the outfield will eventually be. But no one received a louder ovation than Stanton, who hit a ball out of the stadium during his second round of swings. Despite flashing his prodigious power, he joked afterward about potentially making the park more hitter-friendly.
"It's a little better without the actual feet sign out there, so you don't know how far you're hitting it, but I was talking with Loria about how we should move the plate closer," Stanton joked.
Not to be outdone by his fellow outfielder, Morrison was quick to point out that he hit some impressive shots himself.
"I've seen it before, but it was pretty cool," Morrison said of Stanton's out-of-the-park homer. "I get it better on the right-field side, because I got to put some in the upper deck."
According to Samson, the new ballpark is about 60 percent complete, and the team expects to have the stadium's naming rights sold around Opening Day.
"We've got the place where the name is going to go. The steel is already up," Samson said. "We're negotiating. I really want that done by the end of this first quarter -- so done by April -- and that's still the goal."
The project is still on time and on budget, and an estimated date of completion has been tentatively set, but that could change if South Florida experiences an active hurricane season.
"We'd like it done for March 1, because we want soft openings with college baseball games and pro exhibition games leading up to Opening Day," Samson said. "We'll start putting dates on that as soon as this next hurricane season is over. There have been some events we've turned down for preseason, because we don't know for sure until we get through the next hurricane season when it will be done."
While Samson has been responsible for a lot of the new ballpark's ideas, the idea for Tuesday's memorable event came from vice president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest. He was in Seattle when they had Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner and several other Mariners take batting practice a few months before Safeco Field officially opened.
"We took it just a step further," Samson said. "We wanted to do it this Spring Training as part of the Caravan, plus for the workers, it was such a great thing. We wanted to see balls hit in here. It felt like a baseball park today."
David Villavicencio is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.