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Mike Bauman

A new era dawns for baseball in South Florida

A new era dawns for baseball in South Florida

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MIAMI -- There is newness upon newness here. If change is really, really good, then the 2012 Miami Marlins should win the World Series.

New ballpark. New name. Significant new talent. New manager with a high profile. It is a fresh start for all things Marlin.

It must be reported in the middle of the general rejoicing that the victory celebrations have been postponed. The Marlins lost, 4-1, to the Cardinals on Wednesday in the opening of Marlins Park and the 2012 regular season on American soil.

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Manager Ozzie Guillen was offered a possible alibi, that the Marlins were distracted by the pomp and circumstance of the park opening. But typically and to his credit, Guillen was having none of this.

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"If my players say that, it's an excuse," Guillen said.

Guillen correctly noted that the problem was St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse, whose pinpoint command and offspeed stuff kept the Marlins off balance. Lohse allowed no hits over the first six innings and just two over 7 1/3.

This is a talented Miami team, and it is not going to be shut down on a regular basis. The general celebrating with the new optimism was postponed, but it was not canceled.

The new ballpark is visually striking. It is colorful. It is lively. It is diverse. It says "Miami" and it says "impressive" in the same paragraph. There was widespread agreement about the appropriate reaction to this park.

Shortstop and leadoff man Jose Reyes was a significant free-agent addition, and when he was brought here for the equivalent of a recruiting trip, the Marlins proudly showed him the new yard.

"The first word out of my mouth was 'wow,'" Reyes said. "I saw the future of this team, and that's why I decided to come to this team."

The Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig, had a prolonged look at the park on Wednesday. His first reaction?

"All you can say is 'wow,'" Selig said.

So it's unanimous.

Wow.

Everybody has a favorite touch. Two new Marlins pitchers were in complete agreement on their favorite element -- the fish tanks that constitute the backstops behind home plate.

"It's an awesome place," said lefty Mark Buehrle, for years the mainstay of the White Sox rotation. "The fish tanks are unique. Just looking at it, realizing there's a fish tank on a baseball field, that's unique."

Carlos Zambrano, an extremely talented pitcher who is trying to revive his career after a difficult ending with the Cubs, said that Marlins Park appears to have something for everyone. But when asked what he liked the best, he said, "The fish tank. Psychologists say that it helps you relax and it keeps you out of stress. I think that it relaxes you."

Zambrano believes this so firmly that he has a large fish tank in his home in Venezuela, in which he keeps about 20 fish. It hasn't all been tranquility, though.

"I had a small stingray, and one of the other fishes killed him," Zambrano said. "So I have to take that fish and put him in jail."

The park's retractable roof will allow both the Marlins and their fans to be more comfortable in the heat and humidity of a South Florida summer. And the roof will make the Marlins more viable as a commercial, ticket-selling entity. All those years when they played in the football stadium, they were at the mercy of the weather. And the weather wasn't merciful.

"It's impossible to play baseball in Miami in the summer," said Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. "It rains every day from June to September. The weather uncertainty killed us for years. No more."

The most widely discussed feature may be the home run sculpture beyond the wall in center. Whenever a Marlin hits a home run, a multifaceted event will commence, complete with marlins jumping, water surging and music playing. It's a rainbow of colors. There is something of "Yellow Submarine" meets Babe Ruth about this, but that is not necessarily negative.

There has been much speculation about which Marlin will be the first to set the sculpture in motion. "I put my money on Hanley [Ramirez]," Reyes said.

Hanley, in turn, puts his money on Giancarlo Stanton.

Stanton, meanwhile, thought that Reyes would be the first to homer in the Marlins' new home.

This was a very nice triangular example of team togetherness, but unfortunately for the Marlins and their fans, there were no hometown homers to activate the sculpture on Wednesday night.

When Guillen was asked what he thought of the sculpture, he responded, "Mr. Loria made it? It's beautiful."

Guillen, a third-base coach for the team in 2003, can recall a far less upbeat time, when the Marlins suffered from the heat and humidity in relative loneliness of the football stadium.

"It was so bad that even the [players'] wives didn't come to the games," he said.

But that was then. This is now, and new -- new ballpark, new talent, new manager, new opportunity, new hope. And maybe "new" will mean something even larger than that.

"I think it's a new era, not just for Miami but for baseball," Guillen said.

That may be asking a lot, but this is a brand-new situation for baseball in South Florida.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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