“The Marlins celebrated when it was over. I have always felt bad for them because they were a good team and no one came to watch them play. Now I was glad that their stadium was always empty, that they were last in the majors in attendance. I hoped that they would languish unloved and unnoticed for a very long time to come.”
—Dana Brand, The Last Days of Shea
Yeah, I hate the Marlins. We all hate the Marlins. If we didn’t hate them before the penultimate final day at Shea, then we sure did by the final, final day at Shea. Part and parcel of hating the Marlins is mocking their miserable excuse for a ballpark.
It’s not a ballpark, not in the sense that it was built for baseball. It wasn’t even built for baseball and football as Shea and so many of Shea’s contemporaries were. It was clearly a football stadium, named for a football team owner. It was Joe Robbie Stadium, christened as such in 1987, when it opened as host to the Miami Dolphins, and remained Joe Robbie Stadium in 1993, when it invited the Florida Marlins in through some side gate.
It never looked right on TV, no matter that they sort of tried to retro it up the Marlins’ first year (before anybody but the Orioles was working nostalgia in to their overall presentation). The Marlins tried to make chicken salad out of Chicken of the Sea, as it were. A place so obviously built for football was awkwardly aligned for baseball. They put up an old-fashioned scoreboard and attempted to give the outfield some crazy angles as if the Marlins were playing hard against some sidewalk, not the Florida Turnpike. As Mets fans, we had to take visceral pleasure in the orange seats; goodness knows there always seemed to be plenty of Mets fans in the area to fill a few, even as most went unfilled by anybody after a while.
I couldn’t tell you what it was like inside Joe Robbie Stadium. Never went down there for a game. Never particularly tempted. Given my modest ties to the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market (my parents used to have a condo in nearby Hallandale, and I spent not a few childhood birthdays, coming as they did over Christmas break, in Miami Beach), I might have guessed I’d find my way there, but never did. Maybe with the new ballpark, which will be an actual ballpark. Assuming the Marlins would someday get one, I figured I’d hold off on renewing my acquaintance with South Florida until they had one.
They never did with Joe Robbie Stadium. They had the last National League facility worthy of universal derision. We derided it regularly here. We were fascinated by the inability of the Marlins’ grounds crew to find proper storage for its sacks of Soilmaster. They just piled up in the dugouts, which looked rather minor league, except I recently attended my first Long Island Ducks game and I can report there was no sign of Soilmaster in the dugouts.
The emptiness, the desperate configuration, the 80% chance of showers, the fire sales going on in the background, the sacks of Soilmaster in the foreground…Joe Robbie Stadium never gained traction as an attraction for baseball.
And they couldn’t even be bothered to call it Joe Robbie Stadium after a while. Like Jack Murphy in San Diego, Joe Robbie was directly responsible for there being big-time, professional sports in Miami. Like Jack Murphy in San Diego, a stadium stood with his name on the front to honor his actions. Like Jack Murphy, nobody who had a hand in preserving local legacies gave a damn and eventually ripped the name down and sold it to the highest bidder. Or in the case of this place, a series of highest bidders.
What’s Joe Robbie Stadium called today? It’s called Joe Robbie Stadium as far as I’m concerned. Like Lionel Richie in “Sail On,” I’m giving it back its name for these final three games the Mets will ever play there. The Marlins are moving out and it will no longer be part of our baseball routine. I can’t say a modicum of respect is due, considering it’s the Marlins, but 19 seasons of Mets history have taken place an intermittent series at a time in Joe Robbie Stadium, so in honor of that much, enough with the revolving-door marquee.
Joe Robbie Stadium is where the dreadful 1993 Mets broke an unfathomable 65-game streak of not winning two in a row (as a Marlins grounds crew member was practically swallowed whole by a tarp attempting to cover the field during our first visit in).
Joe Robbie Stadium is where the still-dreadful 1993 Mets decided to make a last stand and win their final six in a row, the very last of them including a Dwight Gooden pinch-hit triple and an extensive rain delay in the ninth inning of Game 162.
Joe Robbie Stadium is where Gooden won his final game as a Met, in 1994, though we didn’t know that’s what it was at the time.
Joe Robbie Stadium is where the 1997 Mets were asked to lose one more game to allow the 1997 Marlins to clinch their first playoff spot — the Mets had chased and chased them but ran out of gas — but wouldn’t cooperate. Those Bobby V Mets took three straight and kept the champagne corked. It didn’t amount to much (the Marlins clinched soon enough) but it filled me with recurring 1997 Mets pride all over again.
Joe Robbie Stadium is where Mike Piazza, former Marlin of the changing-planes variety, played his first road games as a Met, in 1998. Got six hits in two games to give us the idea he was a good get.
Joe Robbie Stadium is where another new Met, Rickey Henderson, assured us he was a young 40 when, in April of 1999, he collected four hits, scored four runs and belted two homers.
Joe Robbie Stadium is where an incredibly unlikely late-season pennant run gathered genuine momentum in 2001, with three consecutive wins on September 7, September 8 and September 9, the last of those a nearly four-hour 9-7 barnburner.
Joe Robbie Stadium is where Jae Seo, David Weathers and Armando Benitez faced exactly 27 batters in 2003, a Mets first: one hit allowed, and that hit erased on a double play.
Joe Robbie Stadium is where Pedro Martinez was thoughtful enough to strike out 10 Marlins in 8 innings on Friday night, May 27, 2005, defeating Brian Moehler, 1-0. Why was that thoughtful? It occurred a few hours after my cat Bernie passed away, and I could never get over Pedro lining up all those Fishes in a row in tribute. (Bernie, like Pedro, loved to devour fish.)
Joe Robbie Stadium is where the Mets took a break from collapsing and stood upright on the second-to-last weekend of 2007, when Moises Alou set the Met hitting streak record, Oliver Perez tossed a gem and Aaron Sele didn’t blow up in extra innings. They were still plainly doomed, but three wins down the stretch are three wins down the stretch.
Joe Robbie Stadium is where the Mets were down to their final out and trailing by a run when Carlos Beltran absolutely blasted a grand slam off Kevin Gregg as August 2008 wound down. Two days later, Nick Evans chipped in his first major league homer and the Mets reached September in first place.
Joe Robbie Stadium is where Johan Santana and Josh Johnson offered lovers of pitching an early-season festival of strikes in 2009. It was a sight to behold, even if a fly to left wasn’t something Daniel Murphy could hold.
Joe Robbie Stadium is where Francisco Rodriguez blew his first save in the Mets’ second game of 2011, but Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, David Wright and Willie Harris all decided to give us a taste of team that wouldn’t fold up at the first flash of adversity. They effected a tenth-inning rally, and some dude named Blaine Boyer saved it from there.
They weren’t all happy days down Florida way, so no need to take a cab ride in search of bad memories, Dominican food or the inevitable passel of walkoff losses. The overall vibe from the permanently temporary home of the Marlins wasn’t great and I won’t miss seeing it. But we did witness a few pretty decent things there across two decades, and I just wanted to note it in one place. If not for Joe Robbie Stadium’s sake, then for ours.
Now let’s go out and kick the Soilmaster out of those bastards.