- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 4, 2012

MIAMI (AP) - Commissioner Bud Selig offered a one-word review of the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark.

“All you can say is, `Wow,’” Selig said.

Muhammad Ali had the same reaction.

Selig’s critique came 90 minutes before the first pitch of the first game Wednesday in the Marlins’ season opener against the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, who won 4-1.

The ballpark’s retractable roof, which is expected to be closed for all but about 10 games, was opened 30 minutes before the start. When the Marlins were introduced, each starter was accompanied by a young lady dressed as Latin showgirl.

The surprise guest delivering the ceremonial first pitch: Ali. He emerged from behind the center-field gate in a cart alongside team owner Jeffrey Loria, who had his arm around the former heavyweight champion.

“He’s so strong,” Loria said. “I was holding onto his hands, and he just about destroyed my hand.”

When they pulled up next to the mound, Marlins third baseman Hanley Ramirez 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 $634 million 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.”

Two other teams still seek new homes _ the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s.

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