All jokes aside, this new Marlins Park is a great thing for baseball fans

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

Baseball's opening week is finally here and if we're guaranteed one big storyline it's the official unveiling of the glittering new ballpark in Miami. The Marlins played an exhibition game in it against the New York Yankees on Sunday, will hold another one on Monday night and then they'll finally host the St. Louis Cardinals in Wednesday's nationally-televised regular season opener.

Like most anything associated with the Fish since their inception, the new park is going to attract a lot of criticism and chortling during its debut. Heck, it already has for a variety of deserved reasons that I probably don't need to chronicle here again.

But after reading A-Rod's take on the new stadium — "This is like, hello Major League Baseball, we're here," the native Miamian said — I somehow feel the need to pause and appreciate what we're gaining as baseball fans here.

No longer will I avoid home Marlins games on my MLB.TV feed, shuddering at just the thought of seeing baseball played against a sea of empty orange seats in a football stadium. No longer will fans trying to tour all 30 parks have to take a begrudging and mostly pointless trip down the Atlantic Coast in the middle of a humid Florida summer to fulfill their ballpark agenda. For the first time in their 20-year history, the Marlins have a real place to call home and not just a place to sublet between the hash marks belonging to all those disappointing Dolphins' seasons.

I get why people are hesitant to praise it, though. Owner Jeffrey Loria is a hard guy to like after his ownership of the Montreal Expos and the dubious means he used to obtain public funding for the park. It will provide inconveniences for some residents of the Little Havana neighborhood it inhabits and that sculpture in the outfield is, well, different.

But the roster of ballparks that have bilked taxpayers and pained neighborhoods, past and present, is a long one. If we withhold plaudits from the Marlins and their new home for those reasons, we also can't say anything nice about either new ballpark in New York, or the one in Washington. If we can't appreciate a ballpark because of unlikable owners, Camden Yards has to tumble from the top of all those rankings, too.

Thing is, the Marlins have been such a convenient punching bag for so long that I think people are afraid that a little praise here or there might revoke their right to poke fun at Miami's non-traditional uniforms, its spotty attendance records and the possibility that Loria will again take the wrecking ball to the team if those seats aren't filled.

But just because you compliment the Marlins on fixing part of the reason we've ridiculed them in the past doesn't mean that you can never again make fun of them for other reasons. The new Marlins park looks like a great place to watch baseball and it'll likely get me down to Florida for the first Marlins home game I've ever considered attending.

I'm not afraid to admit that, either.

Make sure you're ready for opening day ...
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