Derek Jeter: “It’s big. It’s big.”
Derek Jeter has wanted to rid Marlins Park of its massive home-run sculpture since buying the team, and now he’s pitching a new plan to relocate the $2.5 million county-owned artwork outside the stadium so that it can whir to life every day at (you guessed it) 3:05 p.m.
The Marlins are pitching the concept as a win for public art, since daily passersby are bound to outnumber the ticket-holding spectators who can currently watch “Homer” launch into action at a stadium that this year drew the smallest crowds in Major League Baseball. But the 81-year-old New Yorker who could veto the plan, “Homer” sculptor Red Grooms, continues to resist moving his seven-story monument to beachside baseball away from centerfield.
“I don’t want to take him out,” Grooms said of “Homer,” which he created on a commission from Miami-Dade before the county-owned ballpark opened in 2012. The mechanical sculpture is festooned with carnival colors and equipped with a fountain and jumbo marlins and seabirds that start spinning and revolving whenever the home team hits one over the fence.
“It really is site-specific. Its whole dramatic purpose depends on the home run,” said Grooms, a friend of former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, the New York art dealer who sold the team to Jeter and partners last year for $1.2 billion.
Grooms drifts between referring to “Homer” as an object and a character, and said the sculpture’s 29-second show was timed to match the pace of jogging around the bases. “That’s the job he was assigned to do,” Grooms said of “Homer.”
The administration of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has told the Marlins to get Grooms to agree to any kind of relocation for the county-owned sculpture. Without an artist endorsement, Miami-Dade risks the piece being devalued if Grooms exercises his right to “disavow” the work for being ripped from its original setting.
After privately expressing his distaste for “Homer” and declining to say anything positive about the art publicly, Jeter is personally trying to win over Grooms to a new home for the sculpture.
When the Marlins played the Mets in New York two weeks ago, Jeter traveled to a Chelsea art gallery playing host to a Grooms exhibition. The Marlins partner and CEO, a Yankees legend from his days as a shortstop, made a pitch to Grooms to go along with the plan.
“He was very nice,” Grooms said. “He was sensitive about everything. I very much liked him. I’m sorry we have opposing views of this situation ”
The Marlins front office sees the sculpture relocation as a key element to a major refresh of Marlins Park, with a new standing-room area where “Homer” stands now that would target a younger crowd with tickets priced below the current minimum cost of $12.
“A lower price point for single-game buyers really attracts [the] millennial market,” said Chip Bowers, president of business operations for the Marlins. “We want to come up with a seating plan that appeals to a different demographic.”
He described “Homer’s” current home being transformed into a three-tier structure, with the lowest floor reserved for large groups. The upper two levels would offer all ticket holders a place to stand and watch the game on one side and admire the sights outside the park through the retractable glass walls on the other.
“What we think is so great about Marlins Park is you have a beautiful ballpark with an unbelievable view of the downtown Miami skyline,” Bowers said. With “Homer” in place, he said, the plan can’t move forward. “It’s the only place you can do this.”
Bowers says an exterior “Homer” on the northeastern corner of the stadium grounds would be part of a new “art walk” around Marlins Park. The most prominent piece of art outside is a collection of jumbo letters designed to look like the old “Orange Bowl” logo on the football stadium that used to stand on the site in Little Havana. The letters, created by Daniel Arsham, emerge from the pavement as if they had dropped from the sky on the eastern side of the park campus.
On the heels of the selfie sensation that Coral Gables created with an outdoor ceiling of umbrellas this summer, the Marlins think “Homer” could turn into its own sought-after backdrop if people could pose before it at street level. Bowers said the team would still activate the features when the Marlins hit a home run, but it would also turn on every day at 3:05 p.m. He said the sculpture would also come to life after a home win, and possibly after an away win as well.
“In today’s world of Instagrammable moments,” Bowers said, “we see this as a huge opportunity.”
Grooms isn’t a fan of the sidewalk venue. He says “Homer” needs an active baseball setting to make sense, and Grooms said he doesn’t want the sculpture to come to life without an audience.
“The plan is to activate him, even though he’s outside and everyone is inside watching the game,” Grooms said. “So he’s going to be out there doing his job for 29 seconds with about three people” to watch.
It’s not clear whether Grooms can actually stand in the way of the Marlins moving “Homer.” Gimenez has already said he’s not a fan of the artwork and wants to accommodate Jeter’s wish to move it elsewhere. The county has explored moving the 73-foot-tall structure to Miami’s Museum Park, Miami International Airport and PortMiami. The mayor’s top cultural deputy, Michael Spring, has resisted moving “Homer,” but is also working with the Marlins and Grooms to strike a deal.
On Friday, Spring described getting an artist’s consent for relocation as a “best practice” of the county — a term that seems far short of a requirement.
Spring recalled a meeting with Jeter, when he and Gimenez toured Marlins Park with the new owner earlier this year. “Derek Jeter told me: ‘We’re trying to rebrand the Marlins,’” Spring said. “I said, ‘I get it. But we have a brand, too. We have one of the best art-in-public-places programs in the country, and that’s in part because of how we treat artists.’”