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Pro Player Stadium (Sun Life Stadium)
Miami, FL
Chicago Cubst at Florida Marlins
July 18, 2003

By Ken Schlapp

After having a great time in Tampa with Uncle Norman, I headed out early to take the 5-hour drive down to Miami.  The good part about this stop was that I had some extra lodging perks.  Kathy Casper of the Wyndham Hotel chain arranged for me to have a hotel room at the Wyndham Bonaventure Resort & Spa in Ft Lauderdale.  This was the 2nd of two hotels (San Juan, Puerto Rico was the other one) they arranged for my lodging to promote on my trip. This was a beautiful hotel resort.  They gave me a suite and a bottle of wine (which would end up getting me in trouble later on), so they did treat me well and I would definitely go back there.  Thank you again.

As usual, I headed to the stadium early to take my walk around the outside for my “outside-in” perspective.  All I kept thinking on my walk around was that I was about to go see a football game instead of a baseball game.  The stadium is rectangular with the spiral staircases on the outside that remind me more of Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands than any baseball stadium.  I got even more of that feeling when I stumbled upon the Dan Marino and Don Shula statues to honor those two Dolphin greats.  The only way to know that there is baseball played here from the outside was the relatively small writing under the Giant Pro Player Stadium Sign indicating, “Home of the Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins” and baseball got second billing as well.

I guess the football 1st observation does make sense, considering that Joe Robbie (Dolphins Founder) built the stadium for the Miami Dolphins in 1987.  However, the stadium was built wider than a typical football-only stadium, to allow for the possibility of baseball in the future.  The stadium was originally named Joe Robbie Stadium in honor of the team’s founder.  Wayne Huizenga, the owner of Blockbuster Video, purchased 50% of the Stadium and led the charge to bring Major League Baseball to Miami.  His charge was successful in bringing the Florida Marlins to the National League for the start of the 1993 season.  1n 1994, he purchased the remaining 50% of the stadium to gain full control, of which he used to sell naming rights to Pro Player.  Therefore, the name changed to Pro Player Park in 1996 and then to Pro Player Stadium in 1996.

When it came time for me to enter this football palace, I picked up the tickets that were left for me from the team, and when I did, the gentleman at the ticket window looked at me funny and asked who I knew to get such great tickets.  The tickets they gave me were actually for any game the Founders section, which is a pretty big deal.  Since I only needed one ticket today, I saved one for later in the season.  My next task was to get into the stadium, which wasn’t as easy as I would have hoped.  Security would not let me into the stadium with my backpack, even thought it was completely clear, meaning there is nothing that could be hidden inside.  This was very annoying, because now I had to carry my notebook, scorecard and camera in my hands via a simple juggling act, but I survived.

Once I walked in, I was happy to see the display of the Marlins 1997 championship season, including the Championship trophy.  I was definitely happy to find some evidence of baseball.  Then I walked in to see the orange (and some teal) seats throughout the stadium, which are not surprisingly the colors of the Dolphins.  At least the Marlins wear teal too.  The Marlins have not been around long enough for retired numbers, but the Dolphins have been around long enough, so their retired numbers are proudly displayed around the rim of the upper level.  The Dolphins biggest star, Dan Marino, has his statistics displayed on the upper deck façade.  The Marlins, at least, have their 1997 Championship banner prominently displayed down the left field line near my favorite part of the stadium.  That is the huge out-of-town scoreboard on the high left field wall, which is in play.  AL scores on the left, NL scores on the right, with the team’s lineups and a clock in the middle.  I think they get that baseball part down right.  Even though it is electronic, it has that old-stadium style that I like.

Luckily, for me, the weather was nice today.  Since we are in Miami, it could be very hot and/or raining, considering it rains all the time here.  The interesting part of that is that the team expects plenty of rain delays and has prepared entertainment for the fans in case it does.  The 100 level between 1st and 3rd bases offers plenty of distractions.  The first option for fans is to head over to the photo booth to take a picture with team mascot, Billy the Marlin.  You can also test your arm by heading to the speed pitch booth.  There is baseball video bingo, a karaoke station, a baseball trivia putt putt contest (the more questions you answer correctly, the more putts you get to win a prize) and a single-elimination scoreboard trivia contest, where the contestants appear on the two giant jumbotrons that are behind each end zone.  Yup, I said end zone, because they are there for football.  If it is too hot and sunny instead, and you managed to make your way into the center field picnic area, you can at least take a dip in the pool.

The ticket the Marlins gave me was quite good; it was three rows behind the Marlins dugout, with a great view for the game.  This was important, considering most of the seats are designed to face center field instead of home plate or the pitcher’s mound.  This is, of course, because center field is the spot where the 50-yard line is located for football games.  I know, I have been harping on the same theme throughout, but of all the dual-purpose stadiums I have ever been to, this one, by far, gives you the feel that they squeezed baseball into a football stadium.  The look and strong emphasis on the Dolphins makes the Marlins and baseball feel unwanted here. 

I love baseball, so I am happy to see a game anywhere, but this stadium does not rank high for baseball, but it probably would for football.  Speaking of baseball, there is a game today, so let us get to it, after grabbing some Cuban food from the concession stand first.  I do like that they have captured their community and incorporated the local Cuban food into the mix, with all the other standard stadium fare.  Unfortunately, not too many other fans seem to be as excited about the baseball game today as me, since many of the fans are disguised as empty seats.  They even block off much of the upper deck and do not sell tickets in those areas, other than for the postseason.  The stadium holds about 75,000 for football and only 35,000 for baseball.  I know they do not draw too well here in Miami, but I just do not understand why.  There is a large Cuban population and a large number of Hispanics in this part of Florida in general.  Knowing how popular baseball is in Cuba and much of Latin America, you would think that they would come to see the Marlins in droves, but they do not, which I find very disappointing.

To bring another football flavor to this stadium, that I find hard to argue with, is the Marlin Mermaids, who are the team’s cheerleaders.  I have not seen or been aware of any other team having cheerleaders, so this one is pleasantly unique, especially since they do their routines on top of the Marlins dugout, which I conveniently was sitting directly behind.  The mermaids were on the dugout while the lineups were being announced.  I also will not complain about the Marlins being announced while Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls was playing on the loud speakers.  Speaking of the lineup, I had the unique fortune of attending a game in which the shortstop for both teams was Alex Gonzalez!  Well, actually two different men named Alex Gonzalez.

The game ended up being not much of a contest.  Both teams traded zeros for 3 innings as Cubs starter Matt Clement and Marlins starter Mark Redman held the batters in check, in fact, Redman was perfect.  The biggest excitement during the first 3 innings was the fan reaction to Sammy Sosa.  He had a polarized effect, as half the fans booed vigorously and the other half cheered wildly.  The Marlins finally got things going with two runs in the 4th inning.  Pudge Rodriguez and Juan Encarnacion started off the inning with consecutive singles.  Matt Clement then drilled Derek Lee (the 2nd batter he hit) to load the bases.  Todd Hollandsworth then drove in Rodriguez and Encarnacion with a double.  Encarnacion singled in Juan Pierre in the 5th to increase the Marlins lead to 3-0, while Redman continued to mow down the Cubs.  Although, he did end up giving up 4 hits, he did not allow a run over 7 innings, while striking out 9 Cubs batters without allowing a base on balls.

The Marlins played a more traditional Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th inning stretch, with the exception of the Mermaids dancing on the dugout again.  After that brief interlude, the fireworks began, literally.  After Juan Pierre singled off Cubs reliever Kyle Farnsworth, stole 2nd and reached 3rd on a throwing error by Cubs catcher Damian Miller, Juan Encarnacion hit a 2-run homer to ignite the literal fireworks.  They set off fireworks when a Marlins player hits a home run.  They had to get the explosives ready for a second round pretty quickly too, because the next batter, Derek Lee, homered as well to bring the score to 6-0 in the Marlins favor.  That would turn out to be the final score, as Ugueth Urbina and Braden Looper each pitched a scoreless inning for the Marlins to close out the game.  Mark Redman and Juan Encarnacion’s were clearly the stars of the game.  Overall, the Marlins are an exciting team to watch, which again disappoints me how few fans come to watch them, and on this day, many of those fans that did show up, were here to see the Cubs and not the Marlins. 

Bottom line – This is a stadium built for football housing a pretty good baseball team.  In spite of the poor design, I had a good time, but to this point, I would only grade this stadium higher than the Metrodome.

Basic trip facts:
-Stadium # 21
-Old Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 10)
-Under construction Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 1)
-Miles traveled – 313 via Car (Totals: Driving – 13,398, Subway - 20, Air - 3,196, Total – 16,634)
-States, provinces and/or commonwealths passed through – Florida  (Totals: States – 36, Provinces – 0, Commonwealths - 1)
-Seats – Founders Box, Row 3, Seat 17
-Prices: Parking – $9.00, Beer - $5.50, Hot Dogs - $4.00 - $5.00, Program (including pencil) - $6.00, Souvenir Soda Cup – $4.50
-Credit Card giveaway –  1993 Marlins t-shirt
-First Pitch -  7:36 PM
-Attendance – 26,174
-Results – Marlins 6, Cubs 0, W – Mark Redman, L – Matt Clement, S – None
-Home team record to date – 11 wins, 13 losses
-Record of “team I was routing for” to date – 9 wins, 15 losses
-Lodging – Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

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