Indeed, the Marlins are not so much land sharks as beached whales, playing baseball in a football stadium, largely overshadowed in a football city that's crazy for its Dolphins and Hurricanes. But that's not to say the stadium is bad for baseball.
"I think it's a pretty good park to watch baseball," said Jim Wolf, a friend of Hough's who arrived early with a group of tailgaters.
South Florida being football country, there's no question that Land Shark is a great place to tailgate. The parking lot has the perfect setup: grass parking spaces with neatly delineated concrete extensions to pitch a tent, fire up a barbecue, have a few beverages, rock the boom box and needle opposing fans.
It's Miami by any name
For a gallery of images of Land Shark Stadium,
When driving into the lot three hours before the Florida State-Miami game on Labor Day, you might have to tuck in your side mirrors to crawl through the cramped expanse of tailgating setups. But before a 12:05 p.m. Sunday baseball game between the Marlins and Phillies, there's enough room to play golf. Nevertheless, many fans of both teams arrived early to set up shop and enjoy the scene in the parking lot.
In fact, it's such an awesome place to party that the Marlins even let fans bring the tailgate inside the stadium. That's right -- fans are welcome to bring in food, beverage (one plastic water bottle, anyway) and footballs.
Once you're inside, the sea of unoccupied orange seats is a constant reminder that the Marlins rent rather than own their abode, but the stadium does have some cool features for baseball.
The Marlins employ Major League Baseball's only cheerleaders, the Mermaids, who inspire the crowd between innings. Fans also will spot the Minnows, a children's dance group. In the right-field corner there's a hot-tub section in which fans can enjoy a unique viewing experience while working on their tans and lounging in the water.
The left-field fence features a Teal Monster that's a nod to Fenway. It was designed for this season to include a commemoration of important dates in Marlins history: A timeline of embossed images whisks onlookers through the inaugural season of 1993 and the World Series championships of 1997 and 2003, before reaching an ellipsis and 2012 -- when the Marlins will finally have a new ballpark of their own.
"Dolphin Stadium is a great place to play," Helms said, "but it is a football stadium. If we get 30,000 people, it still looks empty just because the stadium's so big. The big thing the players look forward to is how you go to a new stadium and we put 25,000 to 30,000 in there, it's going to look pretty much full, so that helps out a lot."
The Marlins will move into a state-of-the-art stadium, complete with air conditioning and a retractable roof, for the 2012 season. In March, Miami-Dade County commissioners approved the plan for the new ballpark at the Orange Bowl site, clearing the way for construction to begin in the coming months. Flags marking the location of the bases on the new diamond already are in place, and fans will be able to track the progress of the building efforts via a webcam on the Marlins' Web site.
P.J. Loyello, Marlins senior vice president of communications and broadcasting, said the future has brightened in light of the official approval for the new stadium.
"It's going to affect the psyche of our fan base," Loyello said. "You're always wondering what's going to be next: Will the team move or relocate? What happens if we don't get a stadium? This black cloud has been following us pretty much since day one. This is the third ownership group that's tried to get a stadium built, and finally we were able to get it done.
"We've been able to lift that uncertainty, and we've been able to now guarantee baseball in south Florida for many generations."
Land Shark Stadium is a pitchers' park: "You hit the ball in the gap or to center field, you pretty much got to give it all you got to get it out," Helms said. "It's a ballpark you don't rely on the three-run homer; you definitely rely on playing the game."
The new stadium will stay true to that design.
"It'll be a pitchers-friendly ballpark," Loyello said. "The dimensions will be similar to what they are right now at Land Shark Stadium.
"It's not going to be a bandbox. We're going to keep the integrity of good pitching. Our philosophy has been speed, pitching and defense, and I think our ballpark will reflect that."
The future of south Florida baseball has never been brighter, and come 2012 the Marlins will have their first real opportunity to be a team of the present.
"On the field, our payroll will be in line [with] where our revenues will be," Loyello said.
Unlike the past, the Marlins will hopefully be able to retain their star players once they've launched into orbit. With any luck, the young fan base can grow up alongside the young talent base.
Dan Peterson is an editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Daniel.R.Peterson@espn3.com.
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