Baseball fans in South Florida have endured many a rainy day since the Marlins opened up shop in 1993. Friday, though, wasn’t one of them.
Major League Baseball, which snatched the 2000 All-Star Game away from the ballclub after the 1997 World Series team was dismantled by then-owner Wayne Huizenga, finally gave the city a second chance, officially announcing the 2017 Midsummer Classic will take place at Marlins Park.
In a festive ceremony overlooking downtown Miami from the left-field plaza, new commissioner Rob Manfred, flanked by owner Jeffrey Loria, team president David Samson, Gov. Rick Scott and the mayors of Miami, Miami-Dade County and Miami Beach, said the reason Miami was rewarded with its first All-Star Game was because it presented the best bid.
“The ’97 decision was somebody else’s decision,” said Manfred, who replaced Bud Selig as baseball’s leader three weeks ago. “All I’m going to say is we’re thrilled to have awarded the 2017 All-Star Game to the Marlins. It was time for baseball to recognize and pay back South Florida for what they did in building this stadium.”
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Loria called Friday’s announcement (first reported by the Miami Herald on Tuesday) very gratifying and one of the top five days in Marlins history — up there with winning the World Series, the building of the new ballpark and the re-signing of Giancarlo Stanton to a record 13-year, $325 million deal in November.
“It’s baseball’s recognition that you’re doing good things,” Loria said. “They awarded it to us. We didn’t go and buy it.”
“You don’t get to the top unless you have ups and downs,” he continued. “You have to take the criticism and take the good with the bad. I’m still here, and I’m still here, and I’m still here, because I believed in what we were doing along the way. We changed a lot of things. I took a lot of criticism for what I called pushing the reset button. But if I didn’t push that damn reset button, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Times have certainly changed for the Marlins. It wasn’t too long ago fans were out with pitchforks after Loria spent millions in free agency to try to make a big splash with the opening of the new ballpark only to ship off all of their newly acquired stars (Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell) and even some of their own (Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson) when the team sputtered by July.
Loria called it “hitting the reset button.” But fans — even Stanton himself — took it as another sign the owner was simply more concerned with his wallet than the product on the field. Friday, Stanton, staff ace Jose Fernandez, and nearly a dozen of the most recognizable Marlins of all-time (Mike Lowell, Gary Sheffield, Luis Castillo, and manager Jack McKeon among them) attended the event with smiles on their faces.
Lowell said he thinks the Marlins can be a playoff team, and he said the last couple of months have definitely helped Loria shed some of his image problems.
“I think the public is very excited,” Loria said. “We’ve changed the whole offseason into a really super positive offseason. The infield looks different. The pitching staff looks different. The speed element looks different. ... If you’re not having any fun doing this, there’s no point in doing it.”
The 2017 All-Star Game, like all the others, will be played in mid-July and feature plenty of other events, including a Futures Game involving the top minor-league prospects, a celebrity-old timers softball game and the Home Run Derby, which figures to be a showcase for Stanton, whose tape-measure shots in his first derby last year in Minneapolis electrified the game.
Samson said that nearly all fan activities will take place on Miami Beach with the new convention center set to host the official All-Star FanFest.
Marlins Park seats roughly 36,000 fans and can also accommodate upwards of 1,000 in standing-room-only areas on the promenade level. With a retractable roof, it provides a comfortable, cool environment during the hot and wet summer months.
“It’s great to have an All-Star Game here,” Scott said. Then, he added with a smile, “I hope we have them every year now.”
Although baseball has had a longstanding tradition of alternating the site of the Midsummer Classic between the American and National Leagues year-to-year, Manfred said that no longer matters because both leagues now use the designated hitter for the game. This July when Cincinnati hosts, and when the Marlins host in 2017, the National League will bat last. When the 2016 game is played in San Diego, the American League will bat last.
After the Marlins host, only four other existing ballparks will remain yet to host the All-Star game: Yankee Stadium, Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field and Washington’s Nationals Park.
Baseball estimated last year’s economic impact off the All-Star Game in Minnesota to be around $75 million, although the state’s department of revenue reported back in November that number was somewhere between $21 and $55 million based on sales-tax date. Manfred said last year’s game in Minnesota also created $8 million for community outreach programs.
According to MLB reports, All-Star Games played since 2000 — not including when New York hosted in 2008 and 2013 — have averaged an economic impact of about $65 million to each city that has hosted it per year. New York reeled in upwards of $150 million each time it hosted.
“More important than the $100 million in economic benefit, more important than the 75,000 rooms in our hotels, more important than the viewing audience throughout the world is that this game is of great importance for the soul of the city of Miami,” Miami mayor Tomas Regalado said. “This is a community that appreciates baseball, loves baseball, that will be celebrating this game for many, many years.”