Marlins players hope new ballpark will bring more support

Updated: February 22, 2008, 5:57 PM ET
Associated Press

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Florida Marlins are excited about plans for a new ballpark and figure their fans will be, too.

Miami-Dade County commissioners voted Thursday night to approve a basic plan for a $515 million, retractable-roof stadium that would open for the 2011 season. City commissioners in Miami approved the plan earlier in the day.

"It's going to be nice," outfielder Josh Willingham said Friday at spring training. "It's going to be for us. It's going to have a retractable roof and all the stuff that comes with it.

"But I think it's better for the fans to know they've got a place to take their families and not have to worry about rain or sitting in 95 degrees. I think that's what it's going to be more about than anything."

Several minor issues remain unresolved, including an agreement on police protection at the ballpark. But Miami mayor Manny Diaz said the approved agreement was binding and ensured the Marlins will remain in South Florida.

The 37,000-seat stadium will be at the site of the Orange Bowl, which was already scheduled for demolition. The team will move out of Dolphin Stadium, the home it has shared with the NFL's Miami Dolphins since the Marlins' first game in 1993.

"The bottom line is we play baseball in a football stadium and we need our own stadium," first baseman Mike Jacobs said.

Marlins management says the new ballpark will increase revenue, allowing for a higher payroll and a more competitive team, which in turn will bolster sagging attendance. Florida has finished last in the majors in attendance the past two seasons.

Catcher Matt Treanor is in his 11th year with the organization, the most of any player. He knows what it's like to play in front of crowds in the low thousands and hopes that will change with a new ballpark.

"I would love to be around to see it built, and be able to play in it," Treanor said. "Hopefully, this means a more solid fan base, more season-ticket holders and more enthusiastic crowds.

"It's nice when you come off a 10-game road trip in July and you have 25,000 people cheering for you. It's a big boost mentally when there are people rooting and pulling for you. That's what I hope the stadium does for this team and South Florida."

With frequent summer rainstorms in South Florida, the roof will ensure games start on time. The team is banking on such comforts to compensate for the location of the new ballpark, near downtown in an area with heavy traffic and limited access.

"I'm sure they'll try to make it as fan-friendly as possible," Jacobs said. "With the retractable roof it'll ensure people there will be a game starting on time and they won't get rained on."

The quest for a new ballpark dates to the mid-1990s. Five times the team failed to obtain state funding, and owner Jeffrey Loria flirted with the idea of moving the team elsewhere, such as Las Vegas or San Antonio.

"One of the longest-running hopes for a baseball stadium in the history of the game has finally ended, successfully," Loria said after Thursday's county vote.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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