This is a long-form abbreviated review written in 2013. Full, in-depth review coming in 2017.
Small sample of games attended:
April 13th 2012: The Clevelander
April 14th 2012: Clubhouse Box
April 15th 2012: Lexus Legends Level seats
September 28th 2012: The Clevelander
September 29th 2012: Diamond Club
Septemeber 30th 2012: Lexus Legends Level seats
March 14th 2013: Clubhouse Box (WBC)
March 15th 2013: Diamond Club (WBC)
By: Cole Shoemaker
Before you jump to conclusions, let me cut to the chase of what I mean: yeah, I get it more than anyone, because I’ve been preaching this for years. I think that it’s fantastic that we finally demonstrably deviated from the red brick retro years, even evolving past the self-acclaimed “organic” faux-regional stone ballparks like Petco Park and Target Field. Marlins Park is a 21st century modern piece of art. I get it.
For a website that claims it doesn’t do “original research,” Wikipedia sure has had fun labeling Marlins Park the world’s first “contemporary ballpark,” in what is one of the wiki’s largest ballpark pages, sighted with scores of articles of high acclaim in terms of vague modernity. But just because the Marlins built the first “contemporary modern” ballpark in baseball history, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great ”contemporary modern” ballpark.
Don’t get me wrong. Design wise, Marlins Park is a breath of fresh air by default, and I love the exterior design even on its own merits, as the architecture is clearly the design’s strongpoint in comparison to the inside. I love that they showed a modern ballpark could reflect it’s city without resorting to bricks and steel. And I don’t even mind that fish sculpture home run feature in center field or the flashy outfield scene in general. But Marlins Park is simply not the paradigm breaking ballpark everyone seems to be portraying it as.
By labeling Marlins Park a visionary modern contemporary ballpark, and it is indeed a radical departure from 20 straight retro or quasi-retro parks, the media seems to be implying that this structure reclassifies the nature of the major league ballpark, akin to what Camden Yards did.
And on multiple levels, that just seems ridiculous to me.
First of all, Marlins Park is going to benefit from a great coincidence of timing, as it opened at the very end of the ballpark building boom. Critics seem to be inevitably associating Marlins Park with some sort of revolution in ballpark aesthetics, which is totally unfalsifiable because we aren’t going to see another ballpark (Oakland’s Cisco Field, which has retro treatment in the renderings as of now anyway) for at least 5 years.
While the retro movement was somewhat inevitable due to the coming ballpark building boom and the flow of the country, I would most importantly argue that this movement in ballpark architecture was so pervasive because Camden Yards was so transcendental. Camden Yards wasn’t just the first retro park. In many ways, according to my analysis and others, Camden Yards was, and still is, one of the best retro parks in terms of interior design. You’ll read much of this coming in my Camden review later this year, but we have taken much of what that ballpark did for granted, as it is no hyperbole to say it’s the most influential sporting edifice in modern time. The attention to detail, the aesthetic balance, the perfect downtown location, and the contextual integration of the warehouse is still unmatched.
My point is Camden Yards is certainly one of the greatest retro ballparks of all time. I don’t think Marlins Park would be one of the greatest contemporary ballparks ever, especially on the inside. And this is assuming we do see a contemporary ballpark boom later in the next two decades.
Camden Yards was a once in a lifetime thing. And what it did for a generation of retro parks, Marlins Park isn’t going to do the same thing for a generation of “contemporary parks,” or whatever fancy classification you want to give it.
So what are my specific complaints? First of all, I don’t understand why they went for an enclosed retractable roof design, a la Chase Field and Miller Park. In terms of traditional climate controlled retractable roof parks (not like the umbrella styled Safeco Field), I thought Minute Maid Park established that the sliding glass door technique is superior. In Houston, all of left field and most of center field is open to the sky when retracted, and it even lets a surplus of light in when closed. The outside is outstanding (but with caveats in relationship to the area, which I will get to), but the interior lines fail in comparison due to an enclosed environment, poor sense of place, and mediocre articulation of space around the left-center field area by the home run feature and batters’ eye.
Here, even when the roof is open, you still feel like you are in an airplane hanger that happens to have a small retractable window in left field. Although it is better than Chase Field and Miller Park on all levels, and I like the bold, controversial color scheme.
In terms of interior design, reading all of my reviews by now, you should know how much I stress the importance of contextual appreciation of the site. While I won’t beat the drum too much in this review (because I always did in past reviews), all great ballparks serve as amphitheatres that connect the fans to the community. Except for Minute Maid Park, retractable roof ballparks fail in this accord; pretty much guaranteeing they won’t be timeless jewels like PNC Park, AT&T Park, or Camden Yards. Marlins Park takes this failure to a whole new level.
Now I actually love that the ballpark is in an actual neighborhood (as opposed to downtown or in suburbia), but I’ve never seen a structure so obstinately opposed to the sensibility of the surrounding area in both style and scope. Marlins Park dwarfs, then proceeds to spatially overpower, the intimate Little Havana neighborhood, in what is clearly the most contradictory site/structure relationship in the majors. This is in spite of the fact that I like both the Little Havana neighborhood and the exterior design alone. They show their awareness of this contradictory dynamic by meekly designing the parking garages in palm tree pastel tiles in order to connect the massive facility to it’s small-scale Little Havana environment. I like the idea, but it still doesn’t solve the problem.
Like the majority of retractable roof ballparks, the interior doesn’t recall the true nature of the area, as the distant skyline view through the windows mischaracterizes the site. Marlins Park is as insular as a community structure you will ever see, despite being artificially connected to downtown. As Janet Marie Smith said in one of the earlier articles, “It’s not the steel trusses and brick arches that I think of as being the formula for success. It’s rather the relationship to the city.” Marlins Park is “All About Miami” on a superficial design level, and that deserves some credit, but it has no tangible contexual connection to the area. It’s like if PNC Park was built with Kasota stone, ochre limestone, and blue steel trusses but had no visable mention of the similar North Shore context, concept of the blue river, or Pittsburgh skyline to match it. I know that’s a bit unfair because Marlins Park has a retractable roof, but it’s a fact that interior aesthetics are inherently compromised like this when you have a roof (Minute Maid came closest to overcoming this).
Other than the design, Marlins Park scores surprisingly mediocre in many objective criteria as well. Perhaps I take a critical tone in the introduction because Marlins Park has many odd logistical flaws in their amenities compared to other parks of the past 20 years. The concourses are plenty wide, but they seem to have a surprising amount of spatial issues for a new ballpark.
Probably the most peculiar oversight is the complete lack of restaurants or sit-down areas on the ballpark’s accessible levels. Without a doubt, this is the only ballpark built in the last 25 years to lack such a feature and only the second ballpark to lack an accessible restaurant. All parks have something somewhere, maybe a set of picnic tables, a bar (meaning a sit down bar), or some sort of watering hole. Just somewhere in the ballpark to sit down along the concourse or a restaurant. Not here. If you’re not in a club seating area and you buy food, the only place to eat it is at your seat. While critics don’t notice this, it is something that matters for the average fan. Weird.
Also, this is the only ballpark built in the last 20 years other than Yankee Stadium and Target Field to lack a kids area or significant entertainment feature (the Clevelander is premium seating). Yeah, I don’t really care, and most of you reading certainly don’t care, but it’s a significant oversight and something that is an inevitable part of every viable 21st century ballpark, whether you like it or not. It seems particularly important for the Marlins as well, so perhaps they’ll add something overtime. Also, the ballpark is mysteriously absent of any references to Marlins history, which is odd for a team who has won two World Series titles (although this is somewhat mitigated in the ratings due to the profusion of baseball art around the park).
So what does Marlins Park do right? Plenty, as I probably bash it too much here, which is more my response to its total immunity from any criticism whatsoever just because it’s “not retro” and “modern.”
In all areas, the Marlins represent Miami culture perfectly, which as I always say, is all you have to do to at least be a good ballpark. I actually love the bold palette of primary colors throughout the concourses (though I can’t see this feature aging well, which looks more like 80s faux-modern than 21th century contemporary), appropriately labeled Miróesq, in addition to the lime green throughout the outfield, which would indeed be construded as contemporary. All of the authentic art throughout the concourses is fantastic. Again, I even like the home run feature, as its so artisticly kitschy it manages to transcend the usual thematic gimmicky kitschy seen in some retro ballparks. Because it’s art, it can’t really be judged in the same context as other “gimmicks” around major league ballparks.
The Clevelander night club is flat out incredible and a huge cash cow for the Marlins, as they make much of the revenue from alcohol sales hours after the game. The Clevelander might be the coolest amenity in all of baseball, and that is saying a lot.
After Citi Field and AT&T Park I didn’t think this was possible, but Marlins Park takes ballpark food to a whole new level, with a cooking station at each concession stand (real queso for ALL ballpark nachos!). The local food is of extremely high quality. The sightlines are outstanding, as the curvilinear grandstand system works perfectly here. And most importantly (in my particular experience at least), the Clevelander pool section is the coolest amenity any ballpark has ever offered! The fusion between club entertainment and baseball has arrived, as fans are individually escorted to their seats by waitresses in skimpy outfits, with an excellent fan to staff ratio. Fans get access to high quality food, a bar, tabled seating, live music, dancers, bullpen views, a locker room, and of course a pool! It’s certainly a provocative exhibition for a ballpark, but one that also offers great sightlines, with three rows of fully padded seats against the left field fence.
One more thing I have to add as of December, especially in light of the massive fire sale: this is a ballpark that’s going to suffer big time from the massive exodus of fans, because it was already apparent to an extreme degree in September. It’s not necessarily about the empty seats, its about how the ballpark operations respond to the empty seats. Marlins Park completely shuts down at an unprecedented level. On September 30th, more than 3/4s of the upper deck concession stands were closed, and this is in a ballpark with a tiny upper deck.. Even on the main concourse, comparing the ballpark scene between April and September was like night and day, as certain popular concessions like Lobster Rolls and Mahi-Mahi tacos were phased out.
I’ve been to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Houston, ect, during their worst times, and I’ve never seen anything like the scene in the upper deck that day. And this is 2012, not 2013. It’s clear that the hyper cash conscious Marlins are cutting back, and just think how much worse its going to get in 2013. Some say the Marlins defrauded their fans by signing players to hype up interest and then selling them off. It appears they might do the same with their ballpark operations. This is a shame, because ballparks in their 2nd and 3rd years are usually supposed to make enhancements and additions.
Anyway, honestly, I like Marlins Park more than I indicated in this introduction, at least as an architectural building, just not necessarily a ballpark, mainly because it fails some of the central tenets of interior design and urban integration aesthetics. Unlike other critics, I give Marlins Park a distinctly mixed review. But we desperately needed something new to a derivative ballpark arena, and Marlins Park certainly brought something original. But just because you built a new kind of “contemporary ballpark” that is indisputably “modern”, doesn’t mean you necessarily built a great ballpark. Overall, I’d guess Marlins Park would probably score in the low to mid 80s.NEXT - Setting