Marlins see future in modern, artistic Park

Marlins Park, the new $515 million home of the Miami Marlins that opens Wednesday, is a retractable dome stadium with an ultramodern design.

Orioles Park at Camden Yards, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of its opening Friday, is an open-air, red-brick structure designed with features reminiscent of legendary ballparks of the first half of the 20th century.

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Though two decades apart, their bloodlines are the same.

Marlins Park likely is the last major league ballpark to be built for another five to 10 years, so perhaps it provides a coda to the Camden Yards era. It is the Albert Pujols to Baltimore’s Babe Ruth.

The Baltimore structure, built at a one-time railroad center near the city’s Inner Harbor, was the first of the smaller, tradition-based ballparks and set the standard for all that followed.

“The essence of Camden Yards is embodied in every building since,” said Earl Santee, senior principal for Populous (formerly HOK Sport), the architects for the Baltimore park, Marlins Park and 14 other MLB facilities built since 1992.

The Orioles’ slogan for the season-long anniversary celebration eschews false modesty: “The ballpark that forever changed baseball.”

Vainglorious, if it weren’t dead on. The park’s success sparked a boom that has produced 20 new stadiums since it opened, a trend that has affected perhaps the greatest impact on the game since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.

The growth of the game in the last 20 years, fueled by television and expansion in addition to the new parks, is best illustrated in franchise values. In 1993, Peter Angelos and partners bought the Orioles at auction for a record $173 million. Last week, the Los Angeles Dodgers sold for a reported $2.15 billion.

As much as the retro design, which isn’t universal among the new parks, Camden Yards signaled an era of stadiums with smaller capacity and an emphasis on integrating the facility with its downtown environs.

“It’s not the steel trusses and brick arches that I think of as being the formula for success. It’s rather the relationship to the city,” said Janet Marie Smith, Orioles vice president of planning/development and a central figure in executing then-Orioles president Larry Lucchino’s vision for the park.

Coors Field in Denver, Progressive Field in Cleveland and PNC Park in Pittsburgh all are parks on the edge of downtown that have helped redefine the urban centers as Camden Yards did, Smith said.

‘It screams Miami’

Marlins Park, built in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami on the site of the old Orange Bowl football stadium, is a classic example.

“I have always had the belief that ballparks are architecture. And architecture is supposed to define the surrounding it’s in and create new frontiers,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said.

The building screams Miami. It features two aquariums in the wall behind home plate, 600-700 bobblehead dolls from the sports world and displays of art throughout. The centerpiece is a brightly colored, $2.5 million, 71-foot-high home run sculpture designed by Red Grooms that will erupt with water, lights and moving parts when a Marlin hits a home run.

“We used Miami as an excuse to do things that other cities couldn’t get away with,” Marlins President David Samson said. “We did that with our uniforms, our logo, with the design of the ballpark … Everywhere you look, it’s things that if they were anywhere else, people would say, ‘You can’t do that.’ In Miami, people say, ‘Oh, that’s Miami.’ You have to take advantage where you are.”

Loria, an art dealer who was runner-up in the auction for the Orioles in 1993, has combined two of his passions. There’s a large ceramic tile representation of a 1930s Joan Miro painting on a promenade wall behind home plate, images of several other works from artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and a giant, original baseball-themed painting by pop artist Kenny Scharf.

“For the first time, you can embrace art and architecture and baseball in one building form,” Santee said. “It’s not just the art in the building, but the building itself is a piece of art,” Santee said.

If fans think some of the newer parks were beginning to look alike, Marlins Park breaks the mold, just as Camden Yards did 20 years ago.

“This one is very futuristic. I think they kind of outdid themselves,” said Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, now a Marlins executive. “Hopefully this is the trend going forward. … The aesthetics are different, so maybe this is the future of ballparks.

“When you look at (the newer parks) from the outside, they look like ballparks. This one doesn’t look like a ballpark … from the outside.”

Technology is king

The Miami opening provides a focal point to the evolution of the era that began with Camden Yards. Many changes might be subtle to the average ticket buyer or TV viewer, but they’re significant. The major one is the same that has affected our everyday lives: technology.

“It’s really just how technology is everywhere,” Santee said. “You don’t see any static ad panels in this building. It’s all video-based, IPTV (Internet Protocol Television)-based. It’s all connected. The technology is the blood of the building. It flows through every vein, every piece of building.”

From ticket windows to directional signals to menu boards in the concession stands, it all is tied to the system to provide flexibility throughout the game and help generate revenue.

“What it means is that they could run a third-inning (concession) special and it would pop up. … You could have the whole building with one sponsor for one moment, if you wanted to. Or you could do zones. It gives them maximum flexibility for however they want to present their partners as well as themselves.”

The newest ballparks also reflect the changing market in baseball. The corporate suites sold for a full season no longer are as desirable, replaced by a variety of meeting areas, ranging from pricey clubs such as the Clevelander in Marlins Park to common standing-room areas.

“Fans and businesses that are fans are taking in the game in a different way,” said Smith, who is overseeing changes at Camden Yards incorporating the new needs. “Having places inside a park that are just a little more social — not just a fixed seat, but places that you can watch the game with a group and take in the atmosphere — is very much a trend.”

Added Santee: “We used to design a building for 40,000 to 50,000 people. Now we’re designing it for you and whoever you’re with and whoever they may be with. It’s a much more personal experience.”

Architects conceptualize creating places for a “three-inning tour,” different areas of the park fans can meander through during the game.

“There will be points of stopping — the left-field bar here, the right-bar field here, the concession stand here, the bobblehead museum. We created all these standing room areas,” Santee said.

“A lot of that is because America is much more socially aware of who’s at the event and want to hook up with somebody.”

Santee said the parks must be designed with all generations in mind, from grandfathers to future fans. “and we have to do it for not just for the experience we have in the building, but also the experience seeing it as a TV event. It’s all that together.”

The newer parks hold fewer fans. Camden Yards was thought to be downsizing when it opened with capacity of about 48,300 following the era of 55,000-seat dual-purpose stadiums. It’s now 45,400 after installation of wider seats last offseason. Marlins Park will seat 37,000, and Minneapolis’ Target Field, which opened in 2010, seats 39,500.

As it celebrates its 20th birthday, Camden Yards is getting a makeover. The improvements include a roof deck for fans on top of the batter’s eye in center field, a refurbished flag court above the right-field out-of-town scoreboard (lowering the wall four feet to improve fans’ views) and seven-to-eight foot bronze sculptures of the six Hall of Fame Orioles.

“As we turn 20, (owner) Peter Angelos has been very clear that he wants to make certain that we stay fresh, that we stay ahead of the curve,” Smith said, of what is now the 10th oldest ballpark in the majors.

The so-called cookie cutter stadiums of the late 1960s and ’70s became financially obsolete long before they needed to be replaced structurally. Will the Camden Yards era stadiums last 50-60 years like the early 1900s parks they emulated?

“That’s the million dollar question, or maybe it’s $2 billion,” Smith said, with a laugh. “Structurally, there’s no reason for these parks to go anywhere. So the question is, ‘Are they changing enough?’ “

Miami City Social

Source: Usatoday