Opening night in Miami for the Marlins was a hit. Well, their ballpark was hit. The Marlins had to wait until the seventh inning for their first hit against the Cardinals.
Ballpark a big hit so far for Miami Marlins
MIAMI // Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, offered a one word assessment of the Miami Marlins' new ballpark.
"All you can say is, 'Wow'," Selig said.
Muhammad Ali had the same reaction.
The ballpark's retractable roof, which is expected to be closed for all but about 10 games because of Miami's steamy summers, was opened for the Marlins' first game on Wednesday night against the St Louis Cardinals, the World Series champions.
The surprise guest delivering the ceremonial first pitch was Ali.
He emerged from centre field in a cart alongside Jeffrey Loria, the team owner, who had his arm around the former heavyweight champion.
"He's so strong," Loria said. "I was holding on to his hands, and he just about destroyed my hand."
When they pulled up next to the mound, Hanley Ramirez, the Marlins third baseman, gently took the ball from Ali's hand.
Loria said Ali's appearance had been in the works for two months.
"I wanted to give the fans the sense that we're doing special things here," Loria said.
"He is still the most famous person on the face of the earth."
Ali's reaction to the ballpark?
"He thought it was quite special," Loria said. "He said, 'Wow'."
Selig lobbied for years in support of Loria's campaign for the ballpark. There was considerable local opposition to the US$634 million (Dh2.3bn) project, which was financed primarily with tax money, but Selig predicted critics will eventually be swayed.
"Given what went on here, this is a very special day," he said.
"Five years from now, you won't find anyone against this. You can debate the economic advantages, but new ballparks just have enormous sociological value. It makes that city a better place to live."
It is paying off for the moment: after finishing last in the National League in attendance each of the past seven years, the Marlins have had brisk ticket sales. In anticipation of bigger crowds, the Marlins nearly doubled their payroll this season to more than $100m, and they expect to contend for the NL East title.
Regardless of the team record, the ballpark roof should make baseball more appealing in South Florida. The muggy heat and the frequent threat of rain made baseball outdoors a tough sell, Loria said.
Selig described the new ballpark as distinctive.
Among its unique features is a colourful home run sculpture beyond the centre field wall that some have called gaudy, or worse.
The 73-foot tall art work commissioned by Loria, a New York art dealer, springs into motion when a Marlins player hits a home run, with blue marlins diving into splashing water.
"It's a statement about Miami," Loria said. "It's just meant to make you smile while the local hero is running around the bases, hopefully with people in front of him."
EVEN WITH ACE OUT, CARDS DEAL ZEROES TO MARLINS
About the only thing not a hit was the Marlins' new line-up.
Kyle Lohse saw all the zeros on the scoreboard. David Freese, his St Louis Cardinals teammate, was counting the outs to go. And in the seventh inning, the Miami Marlins knew they still did not have a hit in their new ballpark.
Lohse finally gave up a single to start the seventh, but he combined with three relievers on a four-hitter to help the World Series champions open the season with a 4-1 victory.
Lohse led the Cards in victories and ERA last year but he only got the call for opening day when Chris Carpenter was sidelined with nerve irritation that has caused weakness in his pitching shoulder.
"Where's Carpenter?" Ozzie Guillen, the Marlins manager, said with a laugh. "Lohse threw a tremendous game. He kept our hitters off balance."
The ball did not seem to carry well in Miami's new home and Lohse said he "took advantage of the park a little bit. It's a good ballpark for a pitcher, obviously. It's pretty hard to get it out". Lohse was mindful he had a no-hitter going in the fifth inning when he "looked up and saw a lot of zeros".
Jose Reyes, whose lead-off single in the seventh was Miami's first hit, said: "We played with a lot of energy but didn't get what we were looking for, and that was a win."
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