AP Sports Writer
LITTLE HAVANA — Miami Marlins President David Samson walked among the fans on the concourse at the team's new ballpark, stopping every few steps to pose for a photo or accept a grateful handshake.
“The ballpark is great,” one man told him. “But you'd better not stink.”
The mood was as sunny as the weather Saturday at the team's annual Fanfest. Thousands turned out to take a peek at the ballpark and join the growing bandwagon for a franchise transformed by a recent spending binge.
Samson, who helped make the ballpark a reality after nearly a decade of lobbying, wore a satisfied smile as he watched a swirl of activity.
“It's emotional,” he said. “This is why we did it. It's why we sat through all those (Miami-Dade County) commission meetings.”
Among those most able to appreciate the occasion was Jeff Conine, who played in the then Florida Marlins' first game and helped them win two World Series titles. He remains with the organization as an executive.
“This dream started back in 1993 when I first started with this team.” Conine told fans during a question-and-answer session. “There was talk then about a new stadium and it
didn’t happen until now. You fans are in for quite a treat. We're going to put an amazing product on the field and watch some playoff baseball in October.”
Anticipation is the highest since the Marlins' first season, in part because of newcomers Ozzie Guillen, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and Carlos Zambrano.
The retractable roof was open but the air-conditioning was on, ensuring fan comfort on an 85-degree day. Salsa played in the plaza behind home plate and, beyond the outfield, fans gawked at the downtown skyline or the colorful subtropical sculpture that will go into motion when the Marlins hit a homer.
“This place was built for people who love baseball and people who don't,” Samson said. “I've met people already who are not baseball fans. They're here to enjoy the architecture and the color and the event feeling of Miami.”
There were plenty of fans, too, which often hasn't been the case at Marlins' games.
A Miami-style traffic jam clogged the concourse where players sat at autograph tables and fans stood in line for an hour or more for a single signature. The souvenir store bustled, with four jerseys on display — those of Zambrano, Buehrle, Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo (aka Mike) Stanton. No beer was sold because the team is still waiting for its license to sell alcohol but the concession stands did offer Cuban sandwiches ($9) and key lime chicken tacos ($12).
The Marlins have sold 15,000 season tickets, the most since Jeffrey Loria bought the team in 2002. Ballpark capacity is 37,000, half the size of Sun Life stadium in Miami Gardens to the north, where the Marlins played their first 19 seasons.
Photo: AP Photo/Tom DiPace
Play Ball: A view of the new Miami Marlins ballpark in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.