Marlins Park set to host BYU-Memphis bowl game

Marlins Park set to host BYU-Memphis bowl game

MIAMI -- When the BYU and Memphis football programs fly into South Florida next week, most players will see get their first glimpses of world-famous beaches. The cold weather in Utah and Tennessee will be left behind for mild temperatures, light breezes and palm trees.

The Cougars (8-4) and Tigers (9-3) will compete on the gridiron for the first time in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl, which will take place at Marlins Park at 2 p.m. ET on Dec. 22.

The home of the Miami Marlins is one of three Major League venues to host a college football bowl in 2014, joining Tropicana Field (Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl) and Yankee Stadium (New Era Pinstripe Bowl).

At a Thursday press conference introducing representatives from the schools, bowl teams and Marlins, Miami Beach Bowl executive director Carlos Padilla admitted that athletic directors lobbied for an invitation because of its location and allure. With a three-way tie for the American Athletic Conference championship between Memphis, Central Florida and Cincinnati, there were worthy options.

"That's a great problem to have," said Padilla, who also helped start the bowl at Tropicana Field in 2008. "Many teams were really wanting to come here. Even going back to our conference meetings on Key Biscayne this year, meeting with all the head coaches and athletic directors. Every single one of them after the meetings said, 'We want to be in Miami come December.'"

Added BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, whose program isn't affiliated with a conference: "There's no better place in the world in January or December to be having a bowl game."

Though the game won't technically be played in Miami Beach, rather in the neighborhood of Little Havana 10 miles away, it is still being promoted as "The Battle of the Beach."

The teams will participate in activities on Miami Beach. Plus, Marlins Park offers the Clevelander, a renowned Art Deco hotel on South Beach, in a left-field section. Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine proclaimed "Once you come to Miami Beach, get a little sand in your shoes, you usually end up coming back."

"Many of our kids have never seen the ocean before," Memphis head coach Justin Fuente said. "We have a bunch of kids from the mid-south that haven't traveled very much. I know they'll be excited to come down and enjoy the weather and the view and the scenery. Part of what we'll stress is that there will be the time to enjoy the things that come with a bowl game, but there's also a time to go to work. We'll have to do a great job balancing those things in order to prepare for the football game. I think our guys are excited. We have a mature group. Just because they haven't been a part of this kind of success before doesn't mean they won't be able to handle it."

Claude Delorme, Marlins executive vice president of operations and events, said the organization has been prepping for this opportunity since January 2013, when discussions first began. In October 2013, an agreement was reached. A few days later, the press conference took place to announce the partnership.

By May 2014, all the equipment -- from goalposts, line markers, tarps and benches -- were ordered. They arrived in July. When the season ended in late September, foundations were put in for the goalposts, and a site survey in October ensured the dimensions -- going north to south -- were correct. Last Friday, after an event, preparations began. Sod went in on Tuesday. Next week, the field will be painted with logos and numbers.

Delorme hopes the retractable roof and walls will remain open. If there is rain or a threat of it, however, they will be closed to protect the field. The home run sculpture will go off after every touchdown.

When the Marlins designed the facility, they wanted to accommodate it for both football and soccer. There have been two soccer events since the opening of the park in 2012. Marlins Park has also been submitted for consideration for the next All-Star Game the National League hosts, in 2017.

"It's a six-year deal [with the Miami Beach Bowl], so this is perfect, because Year 1, they're great to work with, their offices are in the operations office, so I see them every day," Delorme said. "We meet every week. It's a great relationship to be an extension of our family. We want to make sure they're successful. This is a recurring event, so this is the perfect setting for us. This is exactly the type of event we want to see."

Christina De Nicola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.