South Florida didn’t officially hit the big leagues until 1993 when Charlie Hough uncorked a knuckleball past Jose Offerman for a called first strike in the inaugural game of the Florida Marlins.
Yet, for decades, baseball and Miami were intertwined.
Hough, as many before him and many since, grew up in Miami playing the game he loved on fields around town.
A native of Hawaii, Hough prepped at Hialeah High before spending 25 seasons in the big leagues — the final two with his hometown team in its infancy.
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Today, the Miami Marlins play their games at a domed stadium atop hallowed football ground.
While the Orange Bowl is best known for the football games it hosted until being demolished to make way for the new Marlins ballpark, it was home to baseball, as well.
On Tuesday, the best players in the game will take to the field in Little Havana for the 88th annual All-Star Game.
Much of Miami’s baseball history was made in and around Marlins Park.
On the west side of the ballpark once stood Tatum Field where Babe Ruth took his cuts during his first days with the Yankees.
Less than three miles from Marlins Park was the grand old Miami Stadium, a ballpark off Northwest 10th Avenue and 23rd Street in Allapattah that hosted the Brooklyn Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles during the spring and the original Miami Marlins during the dog days of summer.
A few miles to the south of Marlins Park, the Miami Hurricanes have become one of college baseball’s powerhouse programs, winning four national championships and making trip after trip to the College World Series.
High school baseball might not be as big as football in South Florida, yet two who grew up in Miami — Southwest’s Andre Dawson and North Miami’s Steve Carlton — are in the Hall of Fame.
Dozens of local products (take, for instance, Yonder Alonso, Anthony Rizzo, Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado, Gio Gonzalez, J.D. Martinez, Mike Napoli and Yasmandi Grandal) are in the big leagues today, with Alonso — from UM and Coral Gables High — taking part in the All-Star experience in his hometown.
Alex Rodriguez, the top pick of the 1993 out of Westminster Christian High whose name adorns the University of Miami’s baseball park, will be part of the Fox broadcast.
Like many who grew up on baseball in South Florida before the Florida Marlins, Fredi Gonzalez spent many a day and night going to spring training and minor-league games at Miami Stadium as well as UM games at Mark Light.
It wasn’t the big leagues then, but it was still pretty good.
“I remember going to the first Marlins game at Joe Robbie Stadium, and here we are, 25 years later,” said Gonzalez, the former manager of the Marlins and Atlanta Braves who now is Miami’s third base coach.
“We have two World Series championships and now an All-Star Game. That’s a pretty good chunk of history in a small amount of time.”
South Florida became a popular starting point for big-league teams in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until after World War II that Miami and its surrounding areas become synonymous with the start of the baseball season.
According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the earliest known footage of Ruth in a Yankees uniform came in a 1920 visit to play Cincinnati in Miami. Ruth went to the Yankees from the Red Sox that previous winter.
Miami Stadium, opened in 1949, was the most famous of all of South Florida’s spring training sites and is best known for being the spring home of the Baltimore Orioles from 1959 until 1990.
For a decade, the Brooklyn Dodgers played some of their spring games in Miami; the first ever game played by the newly relocated Los Angeles Dodgers was at an exhibition game against the Phillies at Miami Stadium in 1958.
So many Hall of Famers passed through South Florida during the spring it’s almost impossible to count them all especially when looking at the numerous places teams called home.
With the Dodgers and Orioles playing games in Miami, the Yankees set up shop in Fort Lauderdale in 1962 and played there until leaving for Tampa in 1995.
Legends such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly and even Derek Jeter called Fort Lauderdale home in the spring.
Owner George Steinbrenner spent many a spring fighting with his players, managers and the media before heading up to his plush, air-conditioned luxury box sitting on top of Fort Lauderdale’s Yankee Stadium.
The Orioles, who brought the likes of Jackson, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray and Frank Robinson to Miami, returned to South Florida in 1996 and took up Fort Lauderdale Stadium for a decade, playing until leaving in 2009.
To the north of Fort Lauderdale were spring training sites in West Palm Beach (Braves, Expos) and Pompano Beach (Senators, Rangers) as well.
Teams also used local facilities for minor-leaguers and their workouts such as the Orioles at Biscayne College (now St. Thomas University) and the Yankees using Boggs Field in Hollywood before moving operations to Tampa after plans to move to Coral Springs in the 1980s fell through.
Today, four teams call Palm Beach County their spring home, with the Cardinals and Marlins training in Jupiter, and the Nationals and Astros moving to the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches last spring.
Years before the University of Miami won its first national football championship in the 1984 Orange Bowl, Ron Fraser had built up quite a baseball program in Coral Gables.
Fraser got the Hurricanes to the College World Series for the first time in 1974, and on their sixth trip, Miami won the first major national title in program history.
Players such as Yonder Alonso, Ryan Braun, Pat Burrell, Alex Fernandez, Charles Johnson, Gaby Sanchez, Jason Michaels and Greg Vaughn passed through Coral Gables on their way to the big leagues.
But the Hurricanes weren’t the only local program winning championships and producing big-league talent as the Miami-Dade junior college teams were powerhouses in their own right.
Playing at various campuses around the county, MDCC claims a pair of Hall of Famers in Carlton and Mike Piazza among the likes of Oddibe McDowell, Warren Cromartie, Kurt Bevacqua, John Cangelosi, Bucky Dent, Lenny Harris, Bobby Estalella, Orlando Palmiero and Mike Stanley.
Other schools such as Florida International — which showcased former Coral Gables and future Marlins star Mike Lowell — have also found success on the diamond.
Once the big-leaguers headed north following spring training, there was still plenty of baseball to be found in South Florida as various minor-league teams took up residence in the spacious big-league parks.
The first big wave of minor-league baseball came in the early 1940s with the Florida East Coast League that featured teams like the Miami Beach Tigers (and Flamingos), Miami Wahoos (and Seminoles), Fort Lauderdale Tarpons and West Palm Indians.
The Miami Sun Sox — also known as the Tourists for a time — were a farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers, whose rivals played not too far away at Flamingo Park in Miami Beach.
The Sun Sox played their games before Miami Stadium opened at Miami Field located next to the Orange Bowl.
In 1956, the Phillies’ Triple A franchise in the International League moved to Miami from Syracuse with the newly christened Miami Marlins playing some of their home games at the Orange Bowl. Best known for football, a large fence was put up in right field with first base running alongside the east end zone.
The Marlins’ biggest draw was former Negro League and big-league star Satchel Paige, who even at 50 was mowing batters down.
On Aug. 7, 1956, a crowd of over 57,000 filled the Orange Bowl to watch Paige — who arrived to the stadium via helicopter — beat the Columbus Jets.
Those Marlins would eventually move and be replaced by a Single A team that played in the Florida State League for decades.
Baltimore eventually renamed the team and the Miami Orioles were a powerhouse in the FSL thanks to such Baltimore prospects as Ripken, Palmer, Murray, Johnny Oates, Don Baylor, Kiko Garcia, Mike Flanagan and Dennis Martinez.
The Orioles would pull their affiliation in the 1980s, bringing the Miami Marlins back — although they wouldn’t last into the 1990s.
Despite having some talent — Coral Park’s Jose Canseco spent some time with the Marlins in 1982 — the Marlins didn’t draw and eventually moved to Pompano Beach under their new name, the Miracle.
Aside from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach also had teams in the FSL with affiliations to their spring parents like the Yankees and Expos. Today, a pair of teams play in Jupiter.
The former Miami Marlins are now the Fort Myers Miracle.
Baseball has long been a part of growing up in South Florida with fields and leagues throughout the area.
As is the case with football, South Florida has churned out countless professionals with some of the top high school programs in the nation hailing from the tri-county area.
While only two local products are in the Hall of Fame, hundreds have made it to the big leagues and put their stamp on the game locally.
THE BIG-LEAGUE MARLINS
Obviously, the Marlins coming to South Florida in 1993 was the biggest thing to happen to baseball in the area. H. Wayne Huizenga was awarded one of two National League franchises along with Denver in 1991 and the Marlins played their first game in 1993.
The team won the World Series in 1997, tore apart its roster and rebuilt again, winning a second championship in 2003.
The Florida Marlins spent 19 seasons at their football stadium home in Miami Gardens before rebranding as the Miami Marlins and moving to their new home in Little Havana.
South Florida’s baseball history
▪ THE TEAMS
Spring training sites
MIAMI: Boston Braves (1916-18); Cincinnati Reds (1920); Chicago Cubs (1920); New York Giants (1941-42, 1946); St. Louis Browns (1947); Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1933, 1951-58); Baltimore Orioles (1959-90). MIAMI BEACH: New York Giants (1934-35); Philadelphia Phillies (1940-42, 1946); Pittsburgh Pirates (1947). FORT LAUDERDALE: Boston Braves (1946-47); New York Yankees (1962-95); Baltimore Orioles (1996-2009). POMPANO BEACH: Washington Senators (1961-71); Texas Rangers (1972-86). WEST PALM BEACH: St. Louis Browns (1928-36); Philadelphia/Kansas City Athletics (1946-62); Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves (1963-97); Montreal Expos (1969-72, 1981-97); Washington Nationals (2017-present); Houston Astros (2017-present). JUPITER: Montreal Expos (1998-2002); Florida/Miami Marlins (2003-present); St. Louis Cardinals (1998-present).
Various minor-league teams
MIAMI: Hustlers (1927-28); Wahoos (1940-41); Seminoles (1942); Sun Sox (1946, 1949-54); Tourists (1947-48); Marlins (1956-60, 1962-70, 1982-88); Orioles (1971-81); Miracle (1989); Amigos (1979). MIAMI BEACH: Tigers (1940), Flamingos (1941, 1946-54). KEY WEST: Padres (1969); Sun Caps (1971), Conchs (1952, 1972-74), Cubs (1975). HOLLYWOOD: Chiefs (1940). FORT LAUDERDALE: Tarpons (1928, 1940-42); Braves (1947-52); Lions (1953); Yankees (1962-92); Red Sox (1993). POMPANO BEACH: Mets (1969-73), Cubs (1976-78), Miracle (1990-91). DEERFIELD BEACH: Sun Sox (1966). WEST PALM: Sheriffs (1928); Indians (1940-42, 1946-55); Sun Chiefs (1956); Braves (1965-66); Expos (1969-97). JUPITER: Hammerheads (1998-present); Cardinals (2003-present).
▪ THE PLAYERS
Baseball Hall of Fame
Steve Carlton — Miami; North Miami High/Miami-Dade North
Before pitching 24 big-league seasons, “Lefty” got his start in Miami and pitched for both the North Miami Pioneers and for the Falcons at Dade-North. Carlton made his big-league debut with St. Louis in 1965 and helped the Cardinals win the 1968 World Series. Carlton was traded to the Phillies and spent 14 years there, winning the World Series again in 1980. Carlton, a 10-time All-Star and four-time Cy Young Award winner, joined the 300-win club in 1983. Carlton ended his career in 1988 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994.
Andre Dawson — Miami; Southwest Miami High
An eight-time All-Star, “The Hawk” was one of the best players in baseball during the 1970s and into the ’80s. Dawson was drafted by Montreal in 1975 and was starting in center field for the Expos two years later. Dawson was the 1977 National League Rookie of Year and was the NL MVP with the last-place Cubs in 1987 when he hit 47 home runs. Dawson ended his career at 41 with his hometown Marlins in 1996 and continues working as a team executive. Dawson finished with eight Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger Awards. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
Mike Piazza — University of Miami/Miami-Dade North
Piazza originally headed to South Florida to play for Ron Fraser and the Miami Hurricanes but after not getting any playing time as a freshman, he left for Miami-Dade North. The Dodgers and Tom Lasorda picked the first baseman in the 62nd round in 1988, turned him into a catcher and, well, the rest is history. Piazza broke into the bigs with the Dodgers in 1992 at 23 and began building his Hall of Fame credentials. Traded to the Marlins in 1998 as part of a blockbuster deal involving Gary Sheffield and Charles Johnson, Piazza played just five games with Florida before going to the Mets. Piazza retired in 2007 after a brief stint in Oakland. He ended up hitting 427 home runs with 1,113 RBI in 16 seasons. Piazza was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
Key players (at least seven years in MLB or currently active)
University of Miami (1982, 1985, 1999, 2001 national champions): Yonder Alonso; Mike Armstrong; Dave Berg; Ryan Braun; Pat Burrell; Alex Cora; Jorge Fabregas; Alex Fernandez; Joe Grahe; Yasmandi Grandal; Danny Graves; Neal Heaton; Rob Murphy; Chris Perez; Charles Johnson; Gaby Sanchez; Jason Michaels; Mike Piazza; Aubrey Huff; F.P. Santangelo; Chris Herrmann; Danny Valencia; Greg Vaughn; Mike Pagliarulo; Charlie Leibrandt; Wayne Krenchicki; Orlando Palmiero; Jon Jay; Nelson Santovenia.
Miami Dade (various campuses): Kurt Bevacqua; Randy Bush; John Cangelosi; Steve Carlton; Warren Cromartie; Bucky Dent; Lenny Harris; Tim Hulett; Oddibe McDowell; Pat Putnam; Mickey Rivers; Bob Stinson; Glenn Borgmann; Xavier Cedeno; Mike Piazza; Kiko Calero; Bobby Estalella; Alex Fernandez; Raul Ibanez; Orlando Palmiero; Nelson Santovena; Mike Stanley; Tom Foley; Jaime Navarro; Omar Olivares; Placido Polanco; Andres Torres; Jabari Blash; Jharel Cotton; Brian Goodwin; Derek Law.
Barry University: Yan Gomes. Broward College: Mat Latos. Florida International: Mike Lowell. Nova Southeastern: J.D. Martinez; Mike Fiers; Carlos Asuaje. St. Thomas University: Kiko Calero; Vinnie Chulk.
Best of Miami-Dade County — American: Calvin James; Tony Menendez; Ricky Gutierrez; Darnell Sweeney; Belen: Nick Martinez; Braddock: Sean Rodriguez; Brito: Manny Machado; Carol City: Nick Esasky; Danny Tartabull; Central: Ronnie Belliard; Columbus: Ed Lynch; Izzy Molina; Orestes Destrade; Coral Gables: Mike Fiore; Eli Marrero; Coral Park: Jose Canseco; Eric Soderholm; Luis Montanez; Edison: Midre Cummings; Oscar Zamora; Florida Christian: Ryan Jackson; Gulliver: Paco Rodriguez; Chris Dominguez; Hialeah: Charlie Hough; Ross Jones; Mario Valdez; Alan Wiggins; Hialeah-Miami Lakes: Bobby Munoz; Alex Ochoa; Jackson: Rafael Palmiero; Fred Norman; Bobby Ramos; Killian: Alex Gonzalez; Charlie Greene; Tony Sanchez; Mater: Albert Almora Jr.; Miami Senior: Alfredo Amezaga; Mario Valdez; North Miami: Steve Carlton; North Miami Beach: Steve Nicosia; Pace: Gio Gonzalez; Chris Marrero; Adrian Cardenas; Danny Rios; Palmetto: Wade Rowdon; Ponce de Leon: Bobby Hogue; Ransom Everglades: Dan Otero; Southridge: Robert Andino; Rick Behena; Nelson Santovenia; Shannon Stewart; Jeff Gray; Fredi Gonzalez; Southwest: Andre Dawson; Ray Bare; Carlos Castillo; Dane Johnson; Michael Tejera; Sunset: Raul Ibanez; Varela: John Barbato; Westminster Christian: Alex Rodriguez; J.P. Arencibia; Doug Mientkiewicz; J.D. Arteaga; Mickey Lopez; Dan Perkins.
Best of Broward County — American Heritage: Eric Hosmer; Archbishop McCarthy: Alex Avila; Nick Castellanos; Danny Farquhar; Blanche Ely: John Riedling; Calvary Christian: Luke Jackson; Cardinal Gibbons: Josh Fogg; Ryan Shealy; Coconut Creek: Brad Eldred; Coral Springs: Steve Rosenberg; Lewis Brinson; Deerfield Beach: Mickey Storey; Flanagan: Mike Napoli; Fort Lauderdale: Scot Shields; Northeast: Brian Drahman; Nova: Mike Morse; Harry Chappas; Anthony Swarzak; Doug Johns; Jeff Fiorentino; Plantation: Chris Britton; Pompano Beach: Chuck Goggin; St. Thomas Aquinas: Chad Mattola; Ed Yarnall; Troy Cameron; Robbie Scott; Stephen Cardullo; Sean Gallagher; Tyler Greene; South Broward: Joel McKeon; South Plantation: Richard Bleier; Stoneman Douglas: Anthony Rizzo; Matt Fox; Mike Caruso; Stranahan: John Hope; Taravella: Matt Ford; Western: Ryan Sadowski; Westminster Academy: Kevin Chapman; Matt den Dekker; Michael Taylor.
Best of Monroe County — Key West: Khalil Greene; Boog Powell; Carl Taylor; Vic Albury.