The United States of America turns 241 Tuesday and marks its latest Fourth of July birthday with the usual fireworks. Now, get ready for a month of those in South Florida sports as we welcome an historic July not usual in the least.
LeBron James saying yes to the Heat in 2010 has been Miami’s biggest, most far-reaching single July moment in sports, but this summer delivers the most diverse and riveting full month led by two heavyweight, Super Bowl-scale events.
The crazy thing is, neither of them really matters. Both are ceremonial spectacles. But each will dominate the local landscape for days, steer national conversation and be watched globally.
Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game comes to Miami and Marlins Park for the first time on Tuesday, one night after the Home Run Derby — which has reinvented itself as a spectacle perhaps even more anticipated than the game itself. The U.S. vs. the World Futures game on Sunday serves as an appetizer to the two main events.
Soon after, El Clasico Miami, Barcelona vs. Real Madrid on July 29 in a battle of Spanish superpowers, will culminate the International Champions Cup at Hard Rock Stadium, where France’s Paris-St. Germain and Italy’s Juventus will play three nights earlier. Joe Robbie, ahead of his time, dreamed this stadium with international soccer, the perfect pitch, in mind, and Barca-Real is the biggest club rivalry in the world. Joe would be proud.
The ICC is glorified exhibition soccer, grand of idea but ultimately merely “friendlies,” just as the All-Star Game is simply a showcase that no longer even determines home-field advantage in the World Series as it had the previous 14 years. But both will fill their stadiums and make Miami the epicenter of sports those weeks.
Neither will disappoint. Count on that.
All-Star Game rosters revealed Sunday night will bring superstars like the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Nationals’ Bryce Harper here, along with young slugger-phenoms such as Aaron Judge of the Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers. The Marlins, of course will be represented by starting outfielder Marcell Ozuna and outfield reserve Giancarlo Stanton — who’ll defend his title in the Home Run Derby. A third Marlin, first baseman Justin Bour, is on the NL’s five-man last-player-in ballot and may yet be voted in.
The Midsummer Classic also will mark a return to Miami for A’s first baseman Yonder Alonso, the former Miami Hurricanes and Coral Gables High star. (ESPN The Magazine recently anointed O’s third baseball and Hialeah-born Manny Machado as “the new face of baseball.” Oops. Manny is batting .217. His face won’t appear in next week’s ASG). Three former Marlins pitchers made the all-star team, though: the Padres’ Brad Hand, Indians’ Andrew Miller and Royals’ Jason Vargas. A fourth ex-Fish, Rays first baseman Logan Morrison, is on the AL last-player-in ballot.
Appreciate how rare this is, by the way. America’s Big Four sports leagues, the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, have played 287 all-star games combined, and only four have been held in South Florida. The Dolphins hosted an NFL All-Star Game at the Orange Bowl on Jan. 20, 1975 and a Pro Bowl at then-Sun Life Stadium on Jan. 31, 2010. The Heat hosted the NBA stars at Miami Arena on Feb. 11, 1990 (Magic Johnson was MVP). And the Panthers hosted the NHL stars in Sunrise on Feb. 2, 2003. Now, finally, the Marlins are up.
Appreciate this, too: There will not be a single player in Marlins Park Tuesday night who is as big a star globally as either Lionel Messi of Barcelona or Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid. Not even close.
The biggest stadium in South Florida is expected to be sold out for that game, and some 75 percent of tickets sold have been bought outside of Florida.
Both major events should feel at home in diverse, bilingual Miami. At least 18 players in the All-Star Game will be Hispanic, almost one in three. And South Florida always has supported international soccer, even matches that don’t fill a marquee like Barca-Real does.
More than just these two mega-events will make July special around here.
The Heat and Panthers both are immersed in free agency, with the Heat anxiously awaiting a decision from top target Gordon Hayward.
By month’s end football will emerge, with the Dolphins holding their first full-squad practice of training camp July 26 and the Miami Hurricanes soon following.
And there is an unscheduled, unexpected little delight on our July sports calendar: Miami FC, our second-tier NASL soccer team, has reached the quarterfinals of the 104th annual U.S. Open Cup and hosts its next game next Wednesday at FIU, one night after the All-Star Game.
The meat of the month, of course, unquestionably is the All-Star Game and El Clasico Miami — steak or lobster, depending on your taste. And if you can’t quite decide which is more delicious, the bigger deal, well, that’s a good thing. Savor both.