2011 Regular Season at Sun Life Stadium. Florida Marlins hosted the Colorado Rockies in a night game, the second match of a three-game series. Considering the heat, rain, and humidity in Florida, weather conditions were perfect for baseball in Miami Gardens. This was the final year for the Florida Marlins here at Sun Life Stadium. The New Marlins Park would open in 2012 as the 22nd new MLB stadium since the New Comiskey Park opened in 1991. The team moved there as the re-named Miami Marlins, complete with a marketing plan that included a new image, new logo, new uniforms, etc. Sun Life Stadium was originally built as Joe Robbie Stadium (opened 1987) with a budget of $115 million, $273 million in today’s dollars. That’s still impressive. Construction cost can easily surpass $500 million in the current market. This was the only MLB park that was initially built for Football. Six Superbowl games were played here (1989, 1995, 1999, 2007, 2010, 2020). The 1997 & 2003 World Series were also played here and the Florida Marlins won them both Some of the other names for this facility have been Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, and Land Shark Stadium. As of 2016, its known as Hard Rock Stadium. It now serves as the home of the Miami Dolphins (NFL), the Miami Hurricanes (NCAA), and the Orange Bowl. The long history of sporting events continues with the NCAA National Football Championship in 2021.
It’s hard to believe that the 1997 & the 2003 World Series were played here. When the baseball game is between innings, reminders of a football stadium set in. At first, seating capacity was set at almost 75,000 but has been scaled down over the years. It was eventually made the home of the newly expanded Florida Marlins in 1993. For baseball, seating was set to some 40,000 seats. Most of the time, the sea of orange seating in the upper deck would remain unused during baseball games.
Florida Marlins won the 2003 World Series in Yankee Stadium. Game 7 of the 1997 World Series took place here. On that day, Edgar Renteria hit an 11th inning walk off single to win at all for the Florida Marlins. He will forever be remembered for that victory, a moment in World Series history familiar to most baseball fans. The Franchise enjoyed those two World Championships despite the challenges of playing baseball here. Sun Life Stadium is located 15 miles north of Downtown Miami, an outlying part of town. Games were historically exposed to the constant threat of rain.
In 2011, the Florida Marlins promoted post game concerts after Saturday home games, for the 5th consecutive year, known as the Baker Concrete Super Saturdays. This, in an effort to improve attendance. But the struggle has been real. In August of this same year, The Florida Marlins hosted the Cincinnati Reds in a game that only drew 347 fans, due to Hurricane Irene. It was the least attended game in MLB History. I went on the day “El Gran Combo” was performing, a legendary salsa group from Puerto Rico. They’ve been performing since 1962 and after 49 years they can still bring out the best in a crowd. They were dancing in the rows and aisles. Within a matter of minutes after the game, stage, sound and lights were set up around the second base area. The concert alone was well worth the trip. This was also a double bonus for “El Gran Combo.” They’re huge baseball fans. “Pitbull” and “U2” also performed that summer. Fans also had the option of purchasing VIP “pit passes” for a more up-close experience including pregame parties and celebrity meet and great. Despite the season, Saturday nights were a win-win.
2010 Regular Season at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. The Florida Marlins hosted the New York Mets for a three-game series in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. The humidity was thick in the air. Any sudden move would initiate a watershed moment of profuse perspiration. Players were claiming their spot near the cooling fans in the dugouts. But it was a privilege to take part of an event such as this. It wasn’t the first time MLB visited Puerto Rico. In 2003, Omar Minaya, the General Manager of the Montreal Expos, promoted 22 home games in Puerto Rico to help generate revenue for a troubled franchised. It was a success and it set the table for this series to happen. This time he was on hand as the General Manager of the New York Mets. Fun fact; David Samson, the former Executive VP of the Montreal Expos, who took part in its fallout and led the negotiations of the Florida Marlins purchase in 2002, was also on hand as President of the Florida Marlins.
Among the other dignitaries, Mrs. Vera Clemente, the widow of Roberto Clemente, and her son Luis Clemente were presented a donation of $37,050 for San Jorge Children’s Hospital during a pre-game ceremony. Just recently, Edwin Rodriguez was hired as Florida Marlins Manager; making him the first Manager of Puerto Rican origin in MLB history. It was an unforeseen circumstance. The previous Manager, Fredi Gonzalez was fired for sitting Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez down during a game after a lack of hustle. The front office questioned his decision to take the team’s star out of the line-up. Legend Bobby Cox was retiring and put in a good word for Fredi Gonzalez to replace him as Manager of the Atlanta Braves. Hanley Ramirez would later move to third base in 2012 to make room for short stop Jose Reyes who was starting in this game for the New York Mets. Mike Stanton, a player to be renamed later as Giancarlo Stanton, had just debuted with the Florida Marlins in early June. This was also a special day for his family in more ways than one. His maternal great great grand mother was from Puerto Rico.
Hiram Bithorn Stadium was named after the first Puerto Rican MLB player. He pitched for the Chicago Cubs between 1942 & 1946; also serving in the U.S. Navy (1944-45). His final season was with the Chicago White Sox in 1947. He paved the way for many players to come. Professional Baseball in Puerto Rico can be traced back to 1938. But, baseball’s origin on the island goes back to the 1890’s during the Spanish American War. Ironic that it’s start was during a time of war, just as it was during the Civil War on the mainland. Baseball always has a way of bringing people together, even in a time of war. Its not a coincidence that Hiram Bithorn Stadiums’ Art Deco design is similar to that of Dodger Stadium. The most common element is the “V” or “W” shaped roof line seen in both parks. They opened a year from each other in the sixties when that style took a resurgence. It gave Americana a mood of optimism and hopefulness that later flourished into the hippie culture.
Hiram Bithorn Stadium has played an integral part of professional Baseball in Puerto Rico. Leysa Caro Gonzalez from “El Nueva Dia” recently reported on a proposal by a Candidate for San Juan Mayor (Rosanna Lopez) called “San Juan se Recrea y Compite.” It promotes a healthy living via physical activity and nutrition. Hiram Bithorn Stadium would be an important part of this endeavor. It’s a response to the downside of stay at home living due to COVID-19. The concern among those in some circles on the island is that it did not mention anything about professional baseball. They’ve seen this same lack of priorities for the game of baseball that is attributed to the decline of the sport 10-15 years ago and the eventual cancelation of the 2007-2008 Winter League Season, due to lack of funding. The hope is that this time there is a groundswell of support to advocate for professional baseball. Just as the mainland, its yet another thing at stake in an election year.