Marlins excited for park to open in '12

Updated: March 24, 2009, 6:52 PM ET
Associated Press

JUPITER, Fla. -- The buzz in the Florida Marlins' clubhouse Tuesday was about Opening Day in 2012.

That's when the team's new ballpark with a retractable roof is scheduled to open following approval of the project Monday night by the Miami-Dade County Commission.

"I'm so happy for the Marlins," All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez said. "They've been after it for a long time, and finally they got it. The ballpark will bring a lot of fans, and that's what we need."

Ramirez is the only Florida player under contract through 2012. Teammates hope the new ballpark will prompt management to offer more multiyear deals.

"Everybody hopes to get a deal like that so they know exactly what's in store for the future," pitcher Josh Johnson said. "They can stay here and buy a house down here. It's definitely a good feeling."

There was a buzz about the ballpark in Miami, too. The attendance-challenged Marlins said they sold 15,000 single-game tickets on Tuesday, about five times more than a normal day.

Team president David Samson met all day with architects and said groundbreaking will be in July. Regarding the possibility of more multiyear contracts, Samson was noncommittal.

"The last thing we want to do is saddle ourselves with many, many long-term contracts that will get in the way potentially of our competitiveness," he said. "Having said that, having a higher payroll certainly enables you more flexibility on either long-term deals or just higher short-term deals."

The Marlins perennially rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance and payroll.

"With the increased revenues we expect from the new ballpark, we would expect to be certainly a middle-of-the-pack, industry-average payroll," Samson said. "But only time will tell."

In 2008 the Marlins' payroll was $22 million, by far the lowest in the majors. The median was $80 million.

Johnson said he's happy the team can play without any more talk of the franchise moving.

"A lot of us are excited because now that we're getting a new stadium, we know which direction we're going," he said. "We know where we're going to be playing. We know we're not going to be moving. We've heard all sorts of things the past three years. It's exciting to hear that. Hopefully all of us can stay here. We'll see."

The franchise's quest for a new ballpark dates back more than a decade. It has been such a roller-coaster that even the former player nicknamed "Mr. Marlin" was skeptical a plan would be approved.

"Honestly, I didn't think so," said Jeff Conine, who helped the team win the World Series in 1997 and 2003 and is now a special assistant. "I had my doubts because it has been so close for so long, and it gets delayed or it gets voted down, or lawsuits or whatever happen."

Hotel bed taxes are meant to finance most of the construction, with the Marlins paying $119 million and repaying a $35 million loan from the county. Critics said taxpayers shouldn't foot such a large tab, but an attempt to block the project in court failed.

The team will be renamed the Miami Marlins when the new ballpark near downtown opens. They'll move out of the Miami Dolphins' stadium between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, which has been the Marlins' home since their first game in 1993.

"To finally know that it's a reality and it's going to be coming to fruition is exciting everybody -- for me as a player who had to play in that place for a long time, and the fans who've had to sit in that place for a long time," Conine said. "It's kind of a drab place to play."

Ownership has long blamed the frequent threat of rain at the Dolphins' stadium for poor ticket sales, and the franchise expects that to change with a retractable roof.

"People will look forward to coming down here, not just for South Beach," Johnson said. "They can come down here even if it rains. They've been coming down here not knowing if it's going to rain each day. It's tough. You never know if you're going to play."

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he was happy for Samson and owner Jeffrey Loria, who led lobbying for a new ballpark. It is expected to cost at least $515 million and will be located at the former site of the Orange Bowl.

"All the hard work they put in has paid off," Gonzalez said. "We're going to have baseball for a long time. Not only will games be on time, they're going to be played because of the roof. It's going to be a fun place to visit."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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