Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 4/3/12
MIAMI The St. Louis Cardinals opened a new stadium in 2006. They were fitted for rings in the first season. The New York Yankees moved into new digs in 2009. They immediately won the World Series. It remains to be seen what will happen in the first year for Miami in the new Marlins Park. But theres enough history on their side that the Marlins, who open the regular season in their retractable-roof stadium Wednesday against the Cardinals, are feeling pretty good. I think were a playoff-caliber team, said catcher John Buck, whose Marlins havent been to the postseason since winning the 2003 World Series and were last in the National League East with a 72-90 mark in 2011. If we go out and play to our potential, I think thats definitely a reality. Its something thats not far-fetched at all. I think everybody (on the Marlins) expects that. Buck said it isnt necessary the facility that could propel the Marlins this season but rather the extra revenue stream it has provided for the team. Knowing attendance would be going up, the Marlins shelled out big bucks during the offseason to land shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitcher Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell. Over the past 20 years, since the opening of Baltimores Camden Yards in 1992 ushered in a new era of ballparks, statistics have shown teams actually do about the same in the standings in the first year. But statistics show that teams experience a noticeable bump in their first five years in a new park. Cleveland had one of the best records in baseball when it opened a new stadium in 1994. The World Series that year was canceled due to a players strike, but the Indians in 1995 made it to their first World Series in 41 years. Two years later, they were back again. In 1996, the third season in a new stadium, Texas made its first playoff appearance in the history of the organization. That started a run of three postseason appearances in four years. Seattle opened a new park in 1999. In 2001, the Mariners went a staggering 116-46. I played (in Cleveland) when only 20 people would show up, Marlins manger Ozzie Guillen said of games in the old Cleveland Stadium before the Indians moved to Jacobs Field in 1994. Then it was sold out the next 10 years (in the new stadium). And hopefully were looking for that (in Miami). Guillen did note the Indians were winning at the time and that fan support fell off significantly when the team started losing. But the payroll that went up for the Indians by more than 80 percent from 1993 to 1994 thanks to new stadium revenue expectations sure helped the initial winning. Miamis payroll will go up this season about 50 percent, from just more than 60 million to just more 90 million. Thats why the Marlins were able to attract some marquee free agents, which could translate into more winning. As for the 515 million, 37,442-seat stadium itself, Guillen also believes that could play a role in the Marlins having more success. When the roof is closed, the temperature will be 75 degrees. I think this ballpark is going to help the players because theyre going to play in the same temperature every day and you don't worry about rainouts, Guillen said. You dont worry about how hot it is. You dont have to deal with that anymore. The excuse is over. The Marlins had plenty of excuses when playing from their first season of 1993 through last year at outdoor Sun Life Stadium, which was built primarily for football. They won World Series titles in 1997 and 2003, which sounds pretty good. But Jack McKeon, who managed the 2003 outfit and is now a special adviser to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, believes they would have about four titles now had they always played in a stadium like Marlins Park. That definitely is going to help us, first baseman Gaby Sanchez said of the new stadium. Its going to help our bodies out. Its going to help everything out. Were not going to have to worry about rain delays, and thats I think a big deal, especially in Miami, being in rainy season. You get those rain storms that come through and it might be three hours just sitting around waiting. And now we dont have to worry about that. We can start on time and not worry about losing maybe a pitcher when it happens in the first two innings. Rain and heat would figure to have hampered both teams at Sun Life. But, for whatever reason, the Marlins were 31-47 at home last season and 41-43 on the road. Lack of fan support sure didnt help the Marlins at home. They ranked 28th out of 30 Major League teams in attendance in 2011 with an announced average of 19,007 per game. Over the past seven seasons, the Marlins never were higher than 28th in attendance. That includes being dead last in 2006, 2007 and 2008. I was so excited when I heard we were coming down here, because I know how relentless they were in their pursuit for this, said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who managed the Marlins in 2006 and returned with New York to play exhibition games at Marlins Park on Sunday and Monday. It took a while, but they got it done. Good for them. I love (the stadium). Its beautiful. I think its important for them to get this because its hard to keep your players, and I think its something that the organization is very proud of and the community should be, too. Yankees star Alex Rodriguez sure is proud. The Miami native was beaming throughout the exhibition games. I love it, Rodriguez said. It brings me chills. Im so happy for the city of Miami. Its just a great gift for a great city and the people of Miami. Rodriguez didnt leave without handing out a few gifts of his own. He blasted balls into the outfield seats during batting practice and was said to even have deposited a few in the swimming pool in left field. The Marlins cant claim originality for the pool, since the Arizona Diamondbacks installed one at their park when it opened in 1998. Still, its one of the features that plenty are talking about at Miamis new digs. You can look into the bullpen, said Jane Sangster, a fan from Miami Beach who was at Sundays game in the pool area. Its incredible. And Ive never been so close at a stadium that I can see the grains of dirt. In the pool area, the Marlins bullpen is to the side behind glass. Fans can sit directly behind a chain-link fence that is directly beyond the warning track. Other stadium features include tropical fish in aquariums behind each on-deck circle, a view of the Miami skyline in the outfield behind glass when the roof is closed and a bobblehead museum on the concourse that features many greats of the game, with their heads continuously moving. And, of course, theres the stadiums most noticeable feature. Thats the 2.5 million, 73-foot tall technicolor sculpture by pop artist Red Grooms that sits beyond the fence in left-center field. The sculpture of marlins, flamingos and seagulls will light up each time a Marlins player hits a home run. The key word is will. During the two exhibition games against the Yankees, as if the Marlins wanted to save something for Wednesdays opener, it was not operational. I been waiting to see the home run thing, but it hasnt worked yet, said Mike Gonzalez, a fan from Miami who was displeased that nothing happened after Sanchez hit a home run in the second inning Sunday. But Ill be back. The Marlins are hoping many fans will be coming back throughout the season. Theyre also hoping the new stadium will play a role in them being back in the postseason. Chris Tomasson can be reached christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson
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