- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

MIAMI. — It is fitting that the team that the country least wanted to be in the World Series plays on the stage that was the least attractive of the possible Series sites.

Wrigley Field vs. Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium was right out of central casting. Pro Player Stadium, where the Florida Marlins play, has all of the charm of the man who owns it — the Garbageman, Wayne Huizenga.

The Marlins are forced to swim in the Miami Dolphins’ tank. Their home is not located on Jeff Conine Avenue but on Dan Marino Boulevard.

It has all the allure of a South Florida flea market, but it does have one thing going for it — about 65,000 seats for baseball, with all of them filled for Game 4 last night.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria would gladly trade those numbers, though, for an intimate ballpark in downtown Miami, instead of this cavernous stadium miles from the heart of the city, along the Florida Turnpike and identified with underwear.

The reason John Henry abandoned the Marlins — in the suspicious three-way franchise swap that allowed Henry to join the group purchasing the Boston Red Sox — was because of his failure to gain support for public financing for a ballpark. The economic climate was poor, as were feelings toward the Marlins franchise after Huizenga, who owned the Marlins at the time, tore apart the 1997 World Series champions.

But Loria, who was able to buy the Marlins from Henry after his fellow major league owners took the Montreal Expos off his hands, has been able to start generating support for a ballpark, in large part because of the surprising success of his team this year. The Marlins have drawn 450,000 so far in seven postseason games — more than one third of the amount they drew in 81 home games this year.

“I’m very optimistic a new stadium will get done, during my tenure or someone else’s,” Miami-Dade mayor Alex Penelse told the Miami Herald. And the Marlins have already committed to contribute $100 million toward the construction of a domed downtown ballpark.

It’s likely that Loria will be able to keep that momentum going and not repeat the fire sale conducted by Huizenga. Loria has many young players on his roster who are still short of free agency, and he was smart enough to have only two players on the current roster under contract beyond this season, giving him financial flexibility in the offseason.

So perhaps, someday baseball can come back to the American Casablanca — the city of Miami — and leave behind the suburbs/swampland where it is now located.

The Marlins may not have a long and colorful history, but baseball in Miami does — particularly the old ballpark that used to be on Northwest 10th Avenue known as Bobby Maduro Stadium.

The stadium is no longer there, torn down two years ago. But it was once the spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles, 1959 to 1990, and was the initiation to major league baseball for Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken. It was also home to the Miami Marlins in the International League (Satchel Paige pitched there), among other minor league clubs.

But it is the origins of Bobby Maduro Stadium — named after one of the legendary figures in Cuban baseball — that makes it so distinctively Miami, with a twist of irony mixed in. The stadium, which opened in 1949, was built by Jose Aleman Sr., a government official in the late 1940s who was forced to leave Cuba after an aborted attempt to lead Cuban troops in an attack on Dominican Republic strongman Rafael Trujillo. Reportedly, Aleman left Cuba with about $19 million, and used some of that money to build the ballpark — which he used for purposes other than baseball.

In a city that would eventually despise Fidel Castro, Aleman supported Castro during the revolution. He stored rifles, bazookas and grenades for Castro at the stadium and also allowed rebels to come to Miami and use the ballpark as a training ground and sleeping quarters.

Let’s see Chicago, Boston or New York top that.

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