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More Stories - The Way We Were
I will always remember my first trip to Miami Stadium with my father, at the age of nine. I had just recently become a baseball “buff” and, even at that young age, had always had an interest in history; not so much an academic type of interest, at that time, but more of a curiosity to just know what any given thing had been like in the distant past. Older buildings had always piqued my interest. Well, Miami Stadium more than fit the bill when it came to this interest. It was a stadium that, in the words of sportswriter Peter Richmond, “immediately invited a stroll down the path of its history.” Truer words could not have been said about that stadium. Even though Miami Stadium was barely over 30 years old when I first saw it, it seemed far older; not so much in a run-down way, but more of a sort of working museum.
With its art deco red neon lights on the main marquee and foul poles and its black and yellow tiles in the lobby and concession areas, this stadium spoke to me in a way that would soon make me become almost obsessed with its history. Right away, I also noticed the murals that lined the walls near the ceiling of the main lobby, right above the main concession stand. The paintings, I was later told, were part of the stadium’s original design. The paintings depicted players from long ago and even further added to the stadium’s historical, almost mystical aura. I would go on to publish articles about it and the teams who played there. My interest in the stadium eventually led to me earning a Master’s degree in Sports Administration from St. Thomas University, near Opa-Locka, where the Baltimore Orioles’ Minor League teams (the Miami Marlins and Miami Orioles included) had their own Spring Training, during most of the era that the Major League Orioles were conducting theirs at Miami Stadium. Before college, I worked for the Miami Marlins as a ball boy and part time gopher during their last year at the stadium. For me, one of the main allures of a chance to work for the Marlins was getting a chance to work at the great Miami Stadium (by then known as Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium). Unfortunately, the Marlins moved to Hialeah during the middle of May 1988 and played most of their home games at the Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School Field. It was a nice ballpark, itself, considering it was a high school facility, but it just could not compare itself to Miami Stadium, by a longshot. The Marlins only played a handful of games at Miami Stadium that year, playing the great majority of their home games in Hialeah. Getting to work a few of those games, though, at my favorite stadium, was a thrill I will never forget. I went on to work for the Marlins franchise (now known as the Ft. Myers Miracle) on a full-time basis for a while in the 90's, even after they had abandoned Miami Stadium, wishing all the while they were still there. As the resident historian on the subject, one of my duties with the club in Ft. Myers (among many others) was to write various stories relating to our history in Miami for our annual souvenir scorebooks. It was a job that I happily took on, both with great pride, as well as with a humble heart, knowing that the torch had been passed to me, even though I didn’t feel all that far removed from being that little boy who first passed through the grand old stadium’s turnstiles less than two decades earlier.
As a small child, though, before I got into any active formal academic research on its background, I would come to befriend some of the old-timers who had witnessed most of the stadium’s history first-hand. I would hear stories about the great Satchel Paige pitching for the Class AAA Miami Marlins in the late 50's and Oriole greats, such as Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr. playing for the Class A Miami Orioles in the 70's and stories about everyone from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer playing there during the spring.
Even though I only personally witnessed, roughly, the last one quarter of Miami Stadium’s existence as a professional baseball facility, I feel like I was there for all of it and I often really wish that I actually had been. Although, sometimes, I think that, if I had been there from the stadium’s beginning, I wouldn’t have ever had that same sense of wonderment about its history that first drew me to it as a nine-year-old. The first time that I ever went to the stadium, to a Miami Orioles game, the old Seaboard Train Station, on 23rd Street and 7th Avenue was just beginning to go through the early stages of demolition. But, as my dad and I went to more and more games over that summer, and less and less of the train station was left, I somehow felt that part of our history as a community was slipping away which, to me, made the stadium all that more important. The train station, in my opinion, really was almost an extension of the stadium, itself, both in terms of a simply geographical sense and, as well, it terms of the roles that they each played in telling the story of the history of the Allapattah neighborhood and of Miami, at large. I was very pleased that, at the very least, the archway that led to the main entrance of the station was preserved as a historical memorial. Every time I go to the neighborhood today, I stop by that archway, wishing very much that a similar section of Miami Stadium could have also been preserved.
My interest in professional baseball in Miami and in the stadium, itself, did not begin and end solely with the study of things past, however. Even at that young age, I wanted to very much experience the stadium’s present--in the here and now-- while one could still do so, knowing that, like the train depot, the end could come all too soon. Little did I know at the time, that the end would, indeed, not be all that far off. In the meantime, though, I became an avid fan of both the Miami Orioles, as well as the Baltimore Orioles. They were Miami’s teams and therefore they were my teams. To this day, I am still an Orioles fan, not because they currently hold Spring Training in Ft. Lauderdale (which is not that much farther from me than Miami Stadium was), or even because the Baltimore Orioles, themselves, called Miami their spring home for more than three decades. No. I am still an Orioles fan mainly because they were the Major League affiliate of my first love–my very first favorite baseball team–the Miami Orioles.
I would enjoy seeing my own Miami team wear the same uniforms as one of the Major League powerhouses of the era. It was such a thrill for me when a few of those same Miami Orioles that I watched and cheered for and, in some cases, talked to in person, would go on to become Baltimore Orioles within only a few years. I guess I felt like, even though we didn’t have our own Major League team, we had something that was, in my mind, pretty darn close.
As with most things in life, with time came change. In Minor League Baseball, as I would come to find out, change was a way of life, more often than not. After I had been a fan of the Miami Orioles for only one season, they lost their affiliation with Baltimore and reverted to their old Marlins name. Of course, this change back to the name that had been used at the stadium for most of the 1950's and 60's just sparked my young historically-curious inquisitive mind all that much more. I would go on to learn even more and more about the franchise’s (and the stadium’s) truly fascinating past, the likes of which, does not permit enough space to go into in any great detail here. (You’ll have to read one of my other articles for that.) But, I got to see some of the history for myself, including getting the chance to see all of the Orioles greats of the 80's play during spring training, which was one of my many thrills at Miami Stadium. I even got to meet many of them, including Cal Ripken, Jr., on two occasions, as well as recent Hall of Fame inductee Eddie Murray.
The stadium got a bit of a name change, too, in 1987, becoming Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium, named after the late Cuban baseball executive. So, the Miami Orioles played out most of the 1980's at Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium with their old Marlins moniker, finally becoming the Miami Miracle in 1989, upon their move to FIU’s University Park. The Marlins last game at the stadium was July 27, 1988. Before that era was said and done, though, I saw many fine ballplayers play for the Marlins, including Jose Canseco, Benito Santiago, Dennis Martinez, Mike Torrez, Eric Rasmussen and many other Major Leaguers.
In 1990, the Miracle played their first of two seasons in Pompano Beach, before finally moving to Ft. Myers, where they remain to the present day as an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. Ironically, the current Miracle hitting coach is former Orioles third baseman Floyd Rayford and their longtime pitching coach is former Miami Marlins pitcher Eric Rasmussen. So, at least, there are still a couple connections to the past still with the team.
In 1990, just two years after the Marlins left the stadium, so did the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles’ last game at Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium was a 6-4 win over the Atlanta Braves on April 5th of that spring. I went to every Orioles game at the stadium that year, fearing that it might be the last and I’m sure glad that I did. It was the only year that I went to every game.
For the next six years, the only regular tenant was the Miami Dade Community College (Wolfson Campus) Baseball Team. I started attending many of their games, knowing that this was going to be my last and only chance to experience games at my favorite baseball park. Soon, though, as with the Marlins and Orioles before them, Miami Dade’s era was over for Miami Stadium, too. I was also at their last game ever played at the stadium on April 17, 1996.
In the summer of 2001, I could hardly believe my eyes, when my worst nightmares finally came true. On a late May afternoon, I read in The Miami Herald that the stadium was finally being torn down. I knew that the day would likely come, but I was still holding out a small glimmer of hope that it never would. It took over two months for the stadium to be demolished, as the crew worked on it, section by section and piece by piece. I took several dozen pictures of the stadium over that two month span of time, both as a documentation, as well as an excuse to say goodbye. The former site of the stadium is now occupied by The Miami Stadium Apartments.
The stadium lives on, though, not only in pictures and in stories written about it, but also in the hearts and minds of the people who helped make it what it was–the fans, the employees and the players–the people of Miami Stadium, made it far more than it could have been on its own. To help preserve the stadium’s place in history, author/architect Rolando Llanes and film maker John Graham have collaborated on a book and a film chronicling the stadium’s past. It is my hope that, through works such as these, scores of people today and in future generations will come to know the significance that Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium played in the history of America’s National Pastime.
Copyright by Kurt Schweizer, 2004