LITTLE HAVANA (CBSMiami) – After more than a decade of false starts and acrimonious debate, the Marlins dream of a stadium to call their home turned to reality Wednesday with the official opening of Marlins Ballpark.
The opening ceremony was a spectacle of fireworks and marching bands; a carnival-like atmosphere complete with show girls wearing colorful feather head dresses set against a distinctly Latin beat. Jose Feliciano sand the national anthem.
Kicking off the start of the 2012 Major League baseball season, the hour long extravaganza – produced by Emilio Estefan – was an evening full of emotion, which at times veered to the maudlin.
At one point a soldier in Afghanistan was re-united via the stadium’s jumbo screen to his Miami relatives on the field. But the affair quickly degenerated in tears as the soldier’s grandmother, mother and young brother all broke down and cried.
And in a surprise that was both touching and sad, Muhammad Ali delivered the game ball. His body ravaged by Parkinson’s, Ali was driven onto the field in a cart. Marlins team owner Jeffrey Loria had to hold on to Ali to keep him upright as the living icon’s body shook uncontrollably.
David Samson, the Marlin’s president, said afterward it was Loria’s idea to include Ali. “He said I want to do something that would leave a mark,” Samson said, adding Ali’s relationship to Miami – where he often trained – was something the Marlins wanted to honor in their new home.
Fans who attended Wednesday night’s game were thrilled with the new stadium. “A great ballpark, a great ballpark,” one fan exclaimed. “We’re very lucky to have a venue like this for our team.”
A couple of hours before the game began, the man most responsible for seeing the ballpark built, former Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, stood on the field taking it all in.
“I’m so happy today has finally arrived and I’m here with my family and we’re going to enjoy the ball game,” Alvarez told CBS4’s Jim DeFede.
Alvarez was removed from office last year following a recall election. One of the reasons he was forced out was because of his support for spending taxpayer money on the Marlins stadium
Standing on the infield Wednesday, Alvarez said he had no regrets.
“If it cost me my job that was the price to pay because today, for me and for this community I believe it’s a good day,” he said.
Some of the fans who filled the seats of the new stadium for the Miami Marlins say they traveled long distances to get to Miami.
Russell McBride, who is a real estate broker from Damascus, Virginia said he used to live in Boca Raton from 1980 to 1993 and was here for the Marlins inaugural season in 1993. He told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that he “had to be here” for Opening Day.
“I came here especially for this game,” he said, clutching two tickets that he had purchased. “They are in the upper deck but that’s all I could get.”
D’Oench caught up with McBride as he was purchasing items inside the Marlins team store at the Park. “I bought 2 hats, a nice shirt and inaugural season tickets.”
“This is very exciting what they have done with the facility,” said McBride, “and the free agents that they acquired and the good foundation that they have.
David and Michelle Pesek have homes in Fort Lauderdale and in North Carolina.
“I couldn’t miss this,” said David Pesek. “We traveled 800 miles for this game because we were out of town and we made an effort to be here for this special day. We were here for the inaugural season in 1993 and we were in the Stadium when Tommy Lasorda was with the Dodgers and the Marlins won.”
“I’m very excited to be here,” said Michelle Pesek. “That’s because we are about to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and I have a special surprise for my husband that I plan to show him at the game.” She would not reveal what that was.
Other fans had very specific reasons for looking forward to games at the new Park.
“No more rainouts,” said Dmitri Persaud.
Felix Gaitian of Little Havana said, “It’s exciting to have our own park for our family here. I used to go to about 20 games at the previous Stadium and it was so hot on Sundays. Now I can enjoy myself inside and not get so hot.”
Loria, the team’s owner, was joined by current and former City and County Commissioners who had supported the Park in a ceremonial cutting of a red ribbon in the morning.
“It’s a spectacular day,” Loria told D’Oench. “It’s a special day. It’s the beginning of a new era, for the city and the fans and baseball and Miami and Major League baseball.”
“The old Stadium was not an easy place to play in with all the trials and tribulations of the facility,” he added.
Marlins Team President Samson said, “We’re excited about this time. We’d like the fans to come out and watch us play the game counts. The hoopla is over. Enjoy the park. This is for the citizens of Miami. Come out and see us win some games.”
The sentiments were shared by former Miami City Commissioner Joe Sanchez.
“It feels great,” said Sanchez. “Look at this final product that we have here in Little Havana. Like you say, with the Stadium everyone should feel welcome and enjoy it.”
Sanchez brought his son to the Stadium for the ribbon cutting and planned to return with him for the game.
“I feel like it it’s going to be important for the future of baseball,” said Vinnie Sanchez.
Opening Day was also good news for hundreds of people who work at the Stadium.
Marcell Maxwell and Lonnie Day told D’Oench they earn about $10 an hour working in concessions by the condiments stands.
“We work at least four hours a game and can earn $40 a game plus tips, ”Maxwell told D’Oench. “It’s a job. A lot of people need jobs and we got it.”