Marlins install 1st seat at new Miami ballpark

Associated Press
Construction workers try to catch balls hit by Florida Marlins players during a batting practice session  at the team's new ballpark in Miami, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011. The Marlins new stadium, 19 months into construction, had its first seat installed. After the installation, several players took batting practice at the stadium. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

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Construction workers try to catch balls hit by Florida Marlins players during a batting practice session …

David Samson stood on a concrete slab along what will be the third-base side of the Florida Marlins' new downtown Miami ballpark, his arms outstretched.

"Look what has been created," the Marlins president said.

He had reason to be excited. On Tuesday, for the first time, the Marlins played baseball in a stadium of their own.

Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Chris Coghlan and other Marlins took batting practice — sort of — in their soon-to-be home, which still lacks certain basic amenities like grass, an infield, an outfield, baselines, bases, home plate, outfield fences ... you get the idea.

It's still very much a construction zone, but nobody minded. Ramirez took the first swings, off a piece of artificial turf with a plate painted in the middle. The pitchers' mound was a undulating pile of something appearing to be dried mud. The outfielders were construction workers, many of whom tried shagging flies with their bare hands while wearing hard hats.

"That was awesome," Stanton said when his rounds of batting practice were complete.

It was a day of milestones for the Marlins to celebrate in their on-time — and still on-budget — construction of a $535 million stadium on the same piece of land where Miami's Orange Bowl stood for seven decades. Shortly before the first batting practice swings were taken, the first seat was installed.

Section 19, Row H, Seat 12 at the new ballpark will be easily spotted. It'll be the only red chair in the stadium.

Everything else will be blue. The Marlins made the first chair stand out on the advice, Samson said, of a fan who e-mailed him and suggested that one seatback not blend in with the rest.

"When we were groundbreaking on July 18, 2009, there were certain days that we looked to," Samson said. "One of the major dates is the day the first seat goes in. ... They had to start over there in Section 19, for whatever reason, and we had a season-ticket-holder who said 'Put in a red seat.' So we did. It's an unbelievable day."

The Marlins plan to move into the ballpark in time for opening day 2012. This season will be their last at Sun Life Stadium, the facility about 16 miles north where the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes play their home football games.

Progress in recent months had been rapid. A video scoreboard spanning more than 50,000 square feet is already hovering over where the center-field wall will be. Ribbon video boards are installed around much of the ballpark's perimeter. Players got a tour of what will be their clubhouse. And Samson said the Marlins have already sold more 81-game plans for 2012 than any plan — full-season, half-season, mini-packs, whatever — sold for 2011 combined.

The construction has gone largely as planned, so far.

"We have one more hurricane season to go," Samson said. "That's critical."

Workers around all sides of the stadium stopped what they were doing to watch when the players took their swings, cheering and even breaking out into what may have been the first "Let's Go Marlins" chant to echo through the facility.

A few players nearly hit balls into the beams that will support the roof, though that shouldn't be a problem when the facility opens — the beams that stretched over the middle of the field Tuesday will be moved to the side and replaced by higher ones once construction progresses.

Morrison hit a ball into what will be the upper deck in right field. Stanton topped him moments later, hitting one that sailed over everything in left field and bouncing out of the ballpark entirely.

"I wish they'd move the plate up a little bit," Stanton joked afterward. "It's a little better without the actual feet sign out there. You don't know how far you're hitting them."

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