PLAYING THE FIELD
There’s been a lot of discussion as to how Marlins Park will play. Will it be a pitcher’s park, a hitter’s park or—like the old football stadium—will it be essentially neutral?
Some nationally jumped to bold conclusions after seeing the Opening Night game. Remember, we’ve been saying all along the ballpark ought to be MUCH more pitcher-friendly with the roof open, as it was last night. For those who are saying this park is way too big, way too pitcher friendly, it’s important to know the roof will only be open about 10 times per season, when the heat and rain (or threat of rain) aren’t an issue.
Any South Floridian who has braved ballgames at the old football stadium (or who chose to stay home because of the heat and rain) knows nights like last night will be few-and-far-between. That’s why we have this retractable roof.
Beyond the somewhat superficial roof-open, roof-closed, how-will-the-ball-carry talk, however, I got some interesting insight about a few other ways Marlins Park may affect the game on a nightly basis from Marlins third base coach Joe Espada earlier in the week based on his early observations.
First, Joe talked about the playing field itself, which I haven’t really seen discussed at length anywhere with most folks having focused, at least to this point, on the outfield dimensions. The plan is for the Marlins to grow the infield higher than what they had at Sun Life Stadium. Even an additional quarter of an inch makes a big difference in slowing batted balls down on the infield—giving your defenders a little extra range and giving a team with speedsters (and bunters) like Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio an added edge in beating out hits.
At Sun Life Stadium, where the Marlins were tenants and the football teams wanted the grass to remain extremely short, the infield may have been the single fastest in all of baseball. This did the Marlins no favors, particularly prior to last season when the ballclub was, shall we say, defensively challenged.
The Marlins made huge defensive strides last season (the topic of another upcoming blog). Still, they yearned for a little more height on the infield grass.
Well now, with their own ballpark–where they call the shots–they can have it…eventually.
The playing field is made of Bermuda grass, a strain known as Celebration. While the field was planted in January, Bermuda grass flourishes during the warmer summer months, so the expectation is it will play much differently in June and July, once it’s able to grow taller, than in the first couple of months of the season.
Right now, the playing field is actually very similar to the speedy putting green-like surface the Marlins had at Sun Life, again as fast as any in Major League Baseball. That will change in a couple of months, and when it does, the slightly taller infield could offer the Marlins a literal home-FIELD advantage, the likes of which they’ve never had before.
A couple of other things Joe said that are worth keeping an eye on about how the ballpark may influence the game. As third base coach, he’s working hard to master all the nooks and crannies in the outfield and gain an understanding of how balls will carom off the various surfaces on the outfield walls.
To this point, whether balls hit the padded green parts of the walls; the see-through fences in front of the bullpens, the Clevelander and the group hospitality area in the right-field corner; or even the out-of-town scoreboard in left-center field, he hasn’t really seen anything come off the wall hard. Most balls are dropping to the ground quickly.
The longer it takes the outfielder to retrieve the ball, the better your chances of advancing an extra base, so Joe see an opportunity to be aggressive with his base runners.
Along those same lines, he’s also made note of the size of the power-alleys in left-center and right-center. They’re significantly deeper than most ballparks, leaving Joe to think that virtually any Marlins position player—not just the burners at the top of the order–ought to have a pretty good chance to score all the way from first base on doubles to the gap that roll to the wall, as was the case with Omar Infante scoring from first on John Buck’s gapper in the 8th inning last night.
It’s a long way to the 386 sign in left-center and the 392 marker in right-center. Assuming good jumps, expect to see the Marlins try to take advantage of that and try to score runners from first on doubles with some frequency when the game situation dictates the aggressive move makes sense.
We’re playing in a couple of bandboxes in Cincinnati and Philadelphia on this first road trip of the season. While we still have a lot to learn about Marlins Park, it already seems safe to say the ballpark and the playing field itself will dictate a very different style of play.
For those of you who’ve been out to the park, or even if you’ve just seen it on TV to this point, I would love to hear your initial impressions. Let me know below.
For more on the Marlins, follow me on Twitter @GlennGeffner and friend me on Facebook at Facebook.com/GlennGeffner. And you can catch Marlins play-by-play on the radio all season long on 790 The Ticket and the Marlins Radio Network.