Friday, September 28, 2012
How to Be a Met Fan in Miami
DISCLAIMER: While I have been to Orlando and Tampa, I have never been to Miami; therefore, all of this information is secondhand. However, I have based it on information from local sources, including the Marlins’ own website, so it is presumably accurate and up-to-date.
Before You Go. It's South Florida: Presume that it will be hot, and that it will be rainy. This is why the new ballpark has a retractable roof. Most likely, it will be closed. Check the Miami Herald website for their local forecast before you go.
Getting There. It’s 1,283 miles from Times Square in New York to downtown Miami. Knowing this distance, your first reaction is going to be to fly down there. This is not a horrible idea, but you’ll still have to get from the airport to wherever your hotel is. If you’re trying to get from the airport to downtown, you’ll need to change buses – or change from a bus to Miami’s Tri-Rail rapid transit service. And it is possible, if you order quickly, to find nonstop flights, lasting 3 hours, for under $600 round-trip.
The train is not a very good idea, because you’ll have to leave Penn Station on Amtrak’s Silver Star at 11:02 AM and arrive in Miami at 6:05 the next day’s evening, a 31-hour ride. The return trip will leave at 8:20 AM and return to New York at 11:06 AM, “only” 27 hours – no, there’s no time-zone change involved. Round-trip, it’ll cost $434. And the station isn’t all that close, at 8303 NW 37th Avenue. Fortunately, there’s a Tri-Rail station there that will take you downtown.
How about Greyhound? There are 5 buses leaving Port Authority every day with connections to Miami, only one of them nonstop, the 10:45 PM to 7:30 AM (2 days later) version. The rest require you to change buses in Richmond and Orlando. (I don't know about changing buses in Orlando, but I have changed buses in Richmond, and I can tell you: It is not fun.) The ride, including the changeovers, takes about 33 hours. Round-trip fare is $318. The station is at 4111 NW 27th Street and, ironically, is right across 42nd Avenue from the airport. It’s worth the fact that it’ll cost twice as much to simply fly down. Plus, you might be reminded of the end of the movie Midnight Cowboy, and nobody wants to be reminded of that.
If you want to drive, it'll help to get someone to go down with you, and take turns driving. You’ll be going down Interstate 95 (or its New Jersey equivalent, the Turnpike) almost the whole way. It’ll be about 2 hours from the Lincoln Tunnel to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, 20 minutes in Delaware, and an hour and a half in Maryland, before crossing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, at the southern tip of the District of Columbia, into Virginia. Then it will be 3 hours or so in Virginia, another 3 hours in North Carolina, about 3 hours and 15 minutes in South Carolina, a little under 2 hours in Georgia, and about 6 hours and 15 minutes in Florida before you reach downtown Miami. Given rest stops, preferably in one in each State from Maryland to Georgia and 2 in Florida, you’re talking about a 28-hour trip.
Tickets. The Marlins are averaging 27,347 fans per game – an increase of 9,000 per game last season, despite their awful season, due entirely to moving from the suburban stadium they shared with the Dolphins and into the new Marlins Park. Although they opened strong as an expansion franchise in 1993 with 37,838, and were doing well in 1994 with 33,695 before the strike hit, only in their 1997 World Championship season, 29,190, and in, this season, have they since topped 24,000. Even in their World Championship season of 2003, they averaged just 16,290. Although Sun Life Stadium (the 7th name the facility has had in its 24 years of operation) has 75,192 seats for football and, during World Series play, topped out at 67,498, much of the upper deck was tarped off, and official baseball capacity was 38,560, turning what could be the largest stadium in the majors into one of the smallest. And still, they couldn't sell it out.
Official capacity of Marlins Park is 36,742 -- and they're still 9,000 short of capacity. So getting tickets will probably not be problem: Pretty much anything you can afford will be available.
Base Reserved seats go for $75 and $45. Baseline Reserved are $35 and $30. Bullpen Reserved, in the outfield, are $25 and $20. In the upper deck, Vista Boxes are $25 and $20, and Vista Reserved are $20 and $13.
Going In. The official address of Marlins Park is 1390 NW 6th Street. It's between 4th and 6th Streets, and 14th and 16th Avenues. Three of these streets have specialized names for the stretches that border the park: 16th Avenue is Marlins Way; 4th Street is Bobby Maduro Drive, after the Cuban baseball executive who was forced to flee his native land during Fidel Castro's revolution and had the old Miami minor-league stadium named in his honor; and 6th Street is Felo Ramirez Drive, after the legendary baseball and boxing announcer who has been the main Spanish radio voice of the Marlins from day one in 1993, and is a winner of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award for broadcasters.
Since 1984, Miami has had a rapid-transit rail service, Metrorail. However, the ballpark isn't all that close to it. You will need to take the Number 7 bus from downtown.
Due to South Florida’s climate – the city probably gets more rain than any other in the major leagues, including Seattle – the ballpark was built with a retractable roof, going from the 1st base side across to left field.
The park points southeast, but is west of downtown, so you can't really see Miami's skyline from inside. Which is too bad, because Miami is undergoing a building boom, including the "Biscayne Wall" along the waterfront. The seats are all a bright blue.
Food. With a great Hispanic, and especially Cuban, heritage, and also being in Southeastern Conference country (hello, tailgating), you would expect the baseball team in Miami to have great food at their stadium. They certainly go heavy on the regional cuisine at Taste of Miami, behind Section 27: Cuban sandwiches, Pan con Lechon, Chicharron, Fish Ceviche, Cuban coffee and Mariquitas. This is not to be confused with the Miami Mex taco stand at Section 4.
Burger 305 (named for the city's original Area Code) has several stands, and includes a "Miami Shrimp Burger." There's 3 Sir Pizza stands -- after all, what would Miami be without Italian senior citizens? There is a Kosher Korner at Section 1 -- after all, what would Miami be without Jewish senior citizens? Brother Jimmy's BBQ, introduced to New York sports at the new Yankee Stadium, is at Section 8.
Team History Displays. Not much. The Marlins hang outfield banners for their 1997 and 2003 World Championships, their only trips to the postseason. The only retired number they ever had was for Carl Barger, their team president, who organized the team for the start of the 1993 season and then died right before it. He was a friend of Joe DiMaggio, who lived in nearby Hollywood, Florida, and threw out the first ball at the Marlins’ first game. In Barger’s memory, and in connection with his friendship with the Yankee Clipper, Huizenga retired Number 5 for Barger, who never wore it – not even for fun. But this year, it was unretired, and awarded to highly-rated prospect Logan Morrison. So, now, the only retired number they recognize is the universally-retired Number 42 of Jackie Robinson.
The team did honor Barger with a plaque, but that's hardly the same thing, unless it's part of a team Hall of Fame display, which they don't have: Not a display, nor a team Hall of Fame. Nor even an all-time team as chosen by the fans, although, with next year being the team's 20th Anniversary, that may come.
There are 2 players who played for the Marlins who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown: Miami native Andre Dawson, and former manager Tony Perez, both of whom currently work in the Marlin organization. It should be noted, though, that Perez never played for the Marlins, and Dawson only did so for the last 2 years of his career, a grand total of 121 games. They have as many broadcasters "in the Hall of Fame" as they do uniformed personnel: Felo Ramirez, and Dave Van Horne, who came down from the Montreal Expos when Jeffrey Loria essentially moved the Expos' organization, if not its players, in 2002.
Stuff. The Marlins have team stores in the stadium, but nothing out of the ordinary: Caps, jerseys, T-shirts, bats, gloves, stuffed Billy the Marlin dolls.
A few books have been written for the Marlins, and may be available in the team stores. Dan Schlossberg, Miami Herald columnist Dave Barr, Kevin Baxter and Marlin star Jeff Conine collaborated on Miracle Over Miami: How the 2003 Marlins Shocked the World. Jenny Reese wrote The History of the Florida Marlins, published in 2010.
One book you will almost certainly not see in the stores is Dave Rosenbaum’s book about how original owner Huizenga “went all in” to win the 1997 World Series, then broke the team up, going from 92-70 that season to 54-108 the next, having practically come out and told everyone that a 100-plus-loss next season was likely. The title of the book? If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame. (Yeah, tell that to the Giants, who they beat in the NLDS and who had never yet won a Series in San Francisco; and to the Indians, who blew a 9th-inning lead in Game 7 of the Series and still haven’t won a Series since 1948.)
Although the Marlins have won 2 World Series and have been around for nearly 20 years now, there is, as yet, no commemorative DVD of their World Series highlight films, and no The Essential Games of the Florida Marlins DVD.
During the Game. South Florida is loaded with people who came from elsewhere, including ex-New Yorkers. The stereotype is that, when a New Yorker gets old, if he has enough money to do so, he moves to Miami. Especially if he’s Jewish. Or Italian. As a result, you may see a lot of Met fans, few of whom switched to the Marlins. You may run into a few Yankee Fans who adopted the Marlins are their “second team” or their “National League team,” although how many of them kept that status after the 2003 World Series is debatable. (Blast you, Jeff Weaver – Alex Gonzalez sure did.)
I don't know if your safety will be an issue. The new ballpark, on the site of the Orange Bowl, is in a questionable neighborhood. However, if you leave your car at the hotel and take the bus in, the police presence will probably mean you're protected from the local criminal element. As for the Marlin fans, you will almost certainly be fine. Miamians might fight if they’re at a Dolphins game -- or a University of Miami Hurricanes game, especially against the University of Florida or Florida State -- and provoked by visiting fans, but not at a Marlins game.
The Marlins’ mascot is Billy the Marlin, whose name was chosen by Huizenga because a Marlin is a “billfish” – and it has nothing to do with Billy Martin, in spite of the character’s large nose. Billy sometimes “water-skis” in behind a golf cart built to look like a boat. Any resemblance to Richie Cunningham driving the boat that allowed the Fonz to jump the shark on Happy Days is strictly coincidental.
Worse than a dopey mascot, the Marlins have cheerleaders. No, I’m not making this up: They are the one MLB team with cheerleaders. Or, as they would put it, a dance/cheer team. The Marlins Mermaids debuted in 2003.
As noted Phillies fan Bill Cosby would say, “Don’t ever say, ‘It can’t get any worse. It can always get worse!’” In 2008, the team debuted the Marlins Manatees, an all-male “dance/energy squad” who perform alongside the Mermaids. You want to blame the Yankees for having the grounds crew dance to “YMCA,” go ahead, that’s one “Yankee Tradition” I don’t like, anyway; but this, as noted Met fan Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman on The Odd Couple) would say, is as ridiculous as Aristophanes.
Marlins Park is 344 feet down the left field line, 386 to left-center, 420 to the furthest point, the left-center "Bermuda Trinagle," 418 to straightaway center, 392 to right-center, and 335 down the right field line. Every bit as much as the Dolphins' stadium, this is a pitcher’s park.
There's funky (or tacky, depending on how you look at it) artwork all over the place, including the tropic-themed Home Run Sculpture in left field. And then there's "The Clevelander." Something the Marlins captured during their 1997 World Series win over the Indians, maybe? Nope, it's something they call "South Beach Comes to the Ballpark!" They have a poolside bar and grill, restricted to fans age 21 and over. In other words, it's the Arizona Diamondback's right-center-field pool kicked up a notch. It's something that does not belong at a ballpark.
The Marlins do not have a regular song to play in the 7th inning stretch after "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Nor do they have a postgame victory song. It could be worse, they could play Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine.
After the Game. As I said, the Marlins Park area is a bit rough. My advice is to get back downtown as soon as possible, and either look for a nightspot there, or get across the Causeways to Miami Beach, or stay in your hotel and try their bar..
I checked for area bars where New Yorkers gather, and found one for each of the city’s NFL teams. J.C. Wahoo’s Sports Bar and Grill is supposedly the home of the South Florida fan club of the Giants. But it’s at 3128 N. Federal Highway (yes, the same U.S. Route 1 that goes through The Bronx and New Jersey) between Northeast 31st and 32nd Streets, 40 miles north of downtown – further north than Fort Lauderdale, or even Pompano Beach, almost up to Boca Raton. It’s not even all that close to the Dolphins' stadium. The South Florida Jets Fan Club meets at Hammerjack’s, at 5325 S. University Drive in Davie, 24 miles north of downtown, although a plausible destination for when the Jets go down there.
Sidelights. Miami’s sports history is long, but aside from football, not all that involved. Marlins Park is, as I said, on the stadium known as the Miami Orange Bowl. It opened in 1937, and was known as Burdine Stadium until 1959. It was best known for hosting the Orange Bowl game on (or close to) every New Year’s Day from 1938 to 1995, and the NFL's Miami Dolphins from their debut in 1966 until 1986.
It was home to the University of Miami football team from 1937 to 2007 (famed for its fake-smoke entrances out of the tunnel). It was also the home of, if you count the All-America Football Conference of the 1940s, the first "major league" team in any of the former Confederate States: The 1946 Miami Seahawks. But the black players on the Cleveland Browns would not accept being housed away from their white teammates in segregated Florida, and in that league, what the Browns wanted, the Browns got. So the Seahawks (in no way connected the NFL's Seattle team of the same name) were moved to become the Baltimore Colts after just 1 season.
The Orange Bowl also hosted the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl, a game involving the 2nd-place teams in each of the NFL’s divisions from 1960 to 1969, a charity game, a glorified exhibition game. Also known as the Playoff Bowl, it was considered so lame that Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi publicly called it “the only game I never want to win” – and he didn’t. The stadium also hosted the Miami Toros of the North American Soccer League from 1972 to 1976.
And it hosted 5 Super Bowls, most notably (from a New York perspective) Super Bowl III, when the Jets beat the Colts in one of the greatest upsets in sports history, on January 12, 1969. Super Bowl XIII, in 1979, was the last Super Bowl to be held here; all subsequent South Florida Super Bowls, including the one the Giants won this past February, Super Bowl XLVI, have been held at the Dolphins’ stadium.
The Orange Bowl was where the Dolphins put together what remains the NFL’s only true undefeated season, in 1972. The Canton Bulldogs had gone undefeated and untied in 1922, but there was no NFL Championship Game in those days. The Chicago Bears lost NFL Championship Games after going undefeated and untied in the regular seasons of 1932 and ’42. And the Browns went undefeated and untied in the 1948 AAFC season, but that’s not the NFL. The Dolphins capped their perfect season by winning Super Bowl VII, and then Super Bowl VIII. And yet, despite having reached the Super Bowl 5 times, and Miami having hosted 10 of them, the Dolphins have never played in a Super Bowl in their home region. (They’ve done so in New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco, and twice in Los Angeles.)
They also haven’t been to one in 26 seasons, or all of their history in their new stadium. Curse of Joe Robbie, anyone? Which brings me to...
* Sun Life Stadium. Better known by its original name, Joe Robbie Stadium, after the Dolphins' original owner (although legendary entertainer Danny Thomas also had a stake in the team in its first few years). The Marlins reached the postseason here twice, in 1997 and 2003, and won the World Series both times. In other words, they've never lost a postseason series. Contrast that with the Dolphins: Only once, in their first 25 seasons in the Dolphin Tank, did they even reach the AFC Championship Game (January 1993, and they lost at home to the Bills). But don't think that the stadium was better for the Marlins: It was a football stadium, with a baseball field wedged into it, and not really adequate for the horsehide game. It is, however, still regarded as one of the better stadiums in the NFL, despite having been built before Camden Yards rewrote the rules of stadium construction.
Now that the Marlins are out, the official address of the stadium is 347 Don Shula Drive, for the number of games Shula was as an NFL head coach -- although that counts the postseason, and the games he won as boss of the Colts. (But not Super Bowl III, which he lost as coach of the Colts.) It's between NW 199th and 203rd Streets (199th is renamed Dan Marino Blvd.), and NW 21st and 26th Avenues. Take Metrorail toward Palmetto, and get off at the Martin Luther King Jr. station. (I doubt if a sports stadium in the Miami suburbs was a part of Dr. King’s dream, although stadiums and performing-arts venues with racially-integrated seating, particularly in the South, sure was.)
* Comfort Inn. This hotel, across 36th Street from the airport, was the site of the Playhouse, once considered one of South Florida’s finest banquet halls. It was here, on January 9, 1969, 3 days before the Super Bowl, at a dinner organized by the Miami Touchdown Club, that Joe Namath of the Jets was speaking, and some drunken Colts fan yelled out, “Hey, Namath! We’re gonna kick your ass on Sunday!” And Joe said, “Let me tell you something: We got a good team. And we’re gonna win. I guarantee it!” He was right. NW 36th Street between Curtiss Parkway and Deer Run. MetroRail toward Palmetto, to Allapattah Station, then transfer to the 36 Bus.
* Site of Miami Stadium. Also known as Bobby Maduro Stadium, this was the home of the original Miami Marlins, of the Florida State League. Seating 13,000, it was known for its Art Deco entrance and a roof that shielded nearly the entire seating area, to protect fans from the intense Miami weather. The FSL team that played here was known as the Sun Sox from 1949 to 1954, the Marlins from 1956 to 1960, the Marlins again 1962 to 1970, the Miami Orioles 1971 to 1981, and the Marlins again from 1982 to 1988. It was the spring training home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1950 to 1957, the Dodgers in their first season in Los Angeles in 1958 (it can be said that “the Los Angeles Dodgers” played their first game here, not in California), and the Baltimore Orioles from 1959 to 1990.
It was demolished in 2001, and The Miami Stadium Apartments were built on the site. 2301 NW 10th Avenue, off 23rd Street. It’s just off I-95, and 8 blocks north and east from the Santa Clara MetroRail station.
* American Airlines Arena. The "Triple-A" has been the home of the NBA’s Miami Heat since 2000, including their 2006 and 2012 NBA Championship seasons. 601 Biscayne Blvd. (U.S. Routes 1 & 41), between NE 6th and 8th Streets, across Port Blvd. from the Bayside Marketplace shopping center (not exactly their version of the South Street Seaport) and the Miami outlets of Hooters, the Hard Rock Café and Bubba Gump Shrimp. The closest rapid-rail station is Overtown – ironically, the same stop for the previous sports arena…
* Site of Miami Arena. Home of the Heat from their 1988 debut until 1999 (the new arena opened on Millennium Eve, December 31, 1999), and the NHL’s Florida Panthers from their 1993 debut to 1998, this building was demolished in 2008. Only 20 years? When the Overtown race riot happened in January 1989, just before Super Bowl XXIII, area residents took great pains to protect this arena from damage (and the Miami area from the public-relations nightmare that would have occurred had there been a riot during Super Bowl week), and succeeded. Apparently, like the multipurpose stadiums of the 1960s and ‘70s, and the Meadowlands Arena and (soon?) the Nassau Coliseum, it served its purpose – getting teams to come in – and then quickly became inadequate. 701 Arena Blvd., between Miami Avenue, NW 1st Avenue, and 6th and 8th Streets. Overtown/Arena rail station.
* Bank Atlantic Center. The home of the Panthers since 1998, and there’s a reason the team is called “Florida” instead of “Miami”: The arena is 34 miles northwest of downtown Miami, and 14 miles west of downtown Fort Lauderdale, in a town called Sunrise. 1 Panther Parkway, at NW 136th . If you don’t have a car, you’d have to take the 195 Bus to Fort Lauderdale, and then the 22 Bus out to the BAC.
* Miami Beach Convention Center. Opened in 1957, it seats 15,000 people. The American Basketball Association’s Miami Floridians played here from 1968 to 1972. The 1968 Republican Convention, and both major parties’ Conventions in 1972, were held here. Why? Simple, they wanted to be away from downtown, putting water between themselves and wherever the hippies and another antiwar demonstrators were staying.
This building hosted the heavyweight title fights of 1961 (Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson III, Floyd won) and 1964 (Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston I, Clay winning and then changing his name to Muhammad Ali). Just 9 days before Ali forced his “total eclipse of the Sonny,” on February 16, 1964, the Beatles played their 2nd full-length U.S. concert here. (A photo exists of the Beatles visiting Ali at his Miami training center, and he knocks the 4 of them over like dominoes.) Elvis Presley gave a pair of concerts here on September 12, 1970.
Convention Center Drive between 17th Street and Dade Blvd. The Jackie Gleason Theater, where “The Great One” taped his 1960s version of The Jackie Gleason Show (including a revival of The Honeymooners) is next-door. This, and any other Miami Beach location, can be reached via the 103, 113 or 119 Bus, or car, over the MacArthur Causeway.
* Coconut Grove Convention Center. This former Pan Am hangar, attached to the Dinner Key Marina, has been used as a Naval Air Station, convention center, concert hall and sports arena (the Floridians played a few home games here). It’s also been known as the Dinner Key Auditorium. On March 1, 1969, The Doors gave a concert here, and lead singer Jim Morrison supposedly committed an indecent act there. (Yeah, he told the crowd, “I’m from Florida! I went to Florida State! Then I got smart and moved to California!”) Pan American Drive at 27th Avenue. Number 102 Bus to Number 48.
* Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. Formerly the Olympic Theater, Elvis sang here on August 3 and 4, 1956. 174 E. Flagler Street, downtown.
Several TV shows have been set in Miami. A restaurant called Jimbo’s Place was used to film scenes from Flipper and Miami Vice, and more recently CSI: Miami and Burn Notice. It’s at 4201 Rickenbacker Causeway in Key Biscayne, accessible by the Causeway (by car) and the 102 Bus (by public transportation). Greenwich Studios has been used to film Miami Vice, True Lies, There’s Something About Mary and The Birdcage. It’s at 16th Avenue between 121st and 123rd Streets, in North Miami, and often stands in for Miami Beach for the TV shows and movies for which it’s used. 93 Bus.
The penthouse used by the Kardashian Sisters to tape Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami is on Ocean Drive between 1st and 2nd Streets in Miami Beach, but I don’t think they use it anymore, especially since Kourtney and Kim have now “taken New York.”
If you’re a fan of The Golden Girls, you won’t find the house used for the exterior shots: It’s actually in Los Angeles.
You don't have to be old to be a New Yorker in Miami -- but it helps to be a sports fan. Who knows, the Mets might even get a little bit of revenge for those season-ending series of 2007 and '08.