Marlins open amid carnival atmosphere

But Cardinals spoil festivities with 4-1 victory in Guillen's debut in new ballpark

MIAMI — Now that Marlins Park has been christened, with $106-million shortstop Jose Reyes and some of baseball's most facility-starved fans joining their futures together, with the retractable roof open and the case to move the team to Las Vegas closed, only one question remains about the Florida, er, Miami Marlins.

Do they have to return those two Commissioner's Trophies?

Never mind that the Ozzie Guillen era began with a thud. The 4-1 loss to the opening day stand-in Cardinals was a chance for the new Marlins manager to count his blessings and work on his comedy.

"(Kyle) Lohse, he kept everybody off balance,'' Guillen said. "Where's (Chris) Carpenter?''

Sidelined with nerve damage in his neck for who knows how long, the longtime ace was in the visitor's dugout, watching the Cardinals win Mike Matheny's managerial debut as Lohse took a no-hitter into the seventh before Reyes singled. Tony La Russa, Matheny's predecessor who retired after the World Series and now works for Commissioner Bud Selig, watched from the press box.

This was quite the event. If you didn't know it beforehand, you had a pretty good idea after Brazilian Carnival dancers escorted Marlins players onto the field, Jose Feliciano nailed the national anthem and Muhammad Ali made a pre-game appearance in the infield.

"Very unique, very different opening day,'' said Guillen, who was lured away from the White Sox with a four-year offer. "It was very special for everyone.''

While the Marlins have been around for 20 seasons, claiming the World Series twice without ever once bothering to win a division title, the feeling around South Florida and in MLB circles is that the franchise only now has arrived.

Those 19 seasons based in a football stadium alongside the Florida Turnpike was little more than an extended rehearsal for what happens now that they finally have what every big league franchise deserves — a stadium with two 450-gallon aquariums behind home plate, a 73-foot-tall Toys R Us sculpture that erupts whenever a Marlin hits a home run and T-shirts for sale with Guillen's Twitter address.

Oh, and one other thing that was never a problem at Joe Robbie/Pro Player/Dolphins/Dolphin/Lake Shark/Sun Life Stadium. Postgame traffic.

"That was the only good thing about it,'' Guillen said of the stadium the Marlins rented from the Miami Dolphins. "You (could) get in and out quick. Ten minutes, you are home.''

Now, according to owner Jeffrey Loria, it has become difficult to get fans to go home, not to buy tickets.

"After games, people don't leave,'' Loria said, referring to a series of exhibitions the Marlins played in their 37,000-seat stadium in spring training. "They are walking around looking at the (588 glass-encased) bobbleheads, and I understand. I spend time looking at them too. There are so many things to do here. … I think people walk away saying, 'Wow, this is really terrific.'"

Selig was as wide-eyed as any of the South Florida fans at MLB's North American opener, and with good reason.

Marlins Park — the naming rights still available for $250 million or so — is the 22nd big league ballpark built since the late 1980s. Selig has been a driving force behind most of them, working in public and private to help create public-private partnerships.

The Miami effort began when Wayne Huizenga owned the team and continued in the brief interval when John Henry owned the team. Loria's early efforts led to one roadblock after another but he struck gold working with the city on building this retractable roof masterpiece on the site of the Orange Bowl, with a view of downtown.

Selig thought back to those political battles early Wednesday afternoon.

"Baseball parks can do so much good for cities,'' Selig said. "It's the fabric of the city, the life of the city. We saw that in Baltimore, with Camden Yards, and we've seen those kinds of things happen over and over. It is wonderful to experience.''

Let's be honest. Few ever expected this to happen. Maybe one day it will happen in Oakland and Tampa Bay too.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers
 

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