Marlins' new ballpark is giant baseball-sized fishbowl

A general view of the new Miami Marlins

A general view of the new Miami Marlins Park during a preseason game against the New York Yankees in Miami, Florida. A mechanical sculpture by Red Grooms will animate every time a home run is hit by a Marlin. (April 1, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

Anthony Rieber

Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998

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Stephanie Hernandez, left, and Natalie Alfonso joke around The new Marlins Park

MIAMI

The talk around baseball's first week was about the Miami Marlins and their new ballpark. And the talk within the talk was about That Thing in centerfield in the Marlins' new ballpark.

That Thing is a 71-foot, $2.5-million home run sculpture. Designed by famed artist Red Grooms, the sculpture is a psychedelic explosion of colors, lights, palm trees and mechanical fish. It is unlike anything ever seen in a major- league baseball stadium. Perhaps for good reason.

"There's a lot of stuff going on there," Nick Swisher said after the Yankees played a pair of exhibition games at $643-million Marlins Park last week. "But I guess nowadays with ballparks, everybody's kind of got their own thing. And that's their thing."

The sculpture has been compared to the Mets' beloved Home Run Apples from Shea Stadium and then Citi Field. That's if the Home Run Apples were remodeled to include not just an apple, but also strawberries, pineapples, kiwi fruits, a few bananas, some kind of plant life and maybe a crustacean or two.

"The centerfield sculpture? That was kind of far out there," Yankees leftfielder Brett Gardner said. "I'm not sure what to think of that."

An architectural review in the Miami Herald called the sculpture "giant . . . gaudy . . . goofy . . . kitschy . . . beyond kitsch really."

Said Derek Jeter: "I don't know too much about art. It does something when they hit a home run, right?"

It does. But it hasn't yet.

The Marlins decided not to activate the sculpture if the home team homered during the exhibition games (Gaby Sanchez went deep in the first contest). They wanted to save it for the showcase regular-season opener on Wednesday night against St. Louis.

Only problem? The Marlins didn't hit a home run in their 4-1 loss to the Cardinals. Then they went on the road the next day for series in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Miami doesn't play again in Marlins Park until Friday against Houston.

So the sculpture sits, quiet and loud at the same time, waiting for a chance to show what it can really do.

"Apparently, it's awesome, man," Swisher said. "I can't wait to see it."

As the Will Smith song says: "Welcome to Miami. Bienvenido a Miami."

Marlins Park represents the vision of team owner Jeffrey Loria, a New York art dealer, and is supposed to mirror the eclectic, multicultural energy of Miami.

The ballpark includes two aquariums in the walls behind home plate and a bobblehead museum inside the main entrance (an air flow system has most of the bobbleheads' heads actually bobbling -- a very nice touch), works of art from Joan Miro, Kenny Scharf and Roy Lichtenstein. The outfield walls are lime green.

But the centerpiece is clearly the centerfield sculpture.

When it finally goes off after a Marlins long ball, here's what it will do, according to Loria as quoted in The New Yorker: "There are two marlins that spin around. One dives into the water while the other's exiting the water -- a great splash of water. Another marlin goes straight up to the top of the sculpture and spins. There are flamingos that flap their wings. There's an L.E.D. light show. There's music. There's a pair of doves that fly in opposite directions. There's -- what's the word -- a cacophony of things going on."

It should be impressive. But don't expect it to lead to a new wave of centerfield sculptures in baseball stadiums -- especially the one in the Bronx.

As Jeter put it, "We have Monument Park. That's our sculptures right there."

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