MIAMI -- Scroll through: 15,605 ... 15,018 ... 16,188 ... 14,694 ... 14,866 ... 16,680 ... 13,444 ... 18,786 ... 20,206 ... 13,231 ... 13,996 ... 15,520 …
That many, huh? That many people still come to Marlins Park after an offseason purge of good players widely seen as one of the more egregious in the grand history of off-season purges of good players.
That many still amble into the 36,742-seat, two-year-old facility, and some might pause in dumbfounded-ness at its gorgeousness: its colossal windows with the downtown backdrop, its giant screen, its scoreboard so busily iridescent it's hard to find the score.
They step in from the soupy Miami June and might just revel in the glorious air conditioning, give thanks again for the various people who invented and devised air conditioning, wonder why there aren't more statues of the pioneers of air conditioning, deduce that the air conditioning alone might justify coming to the park.
Many are away fans, in this case wrapped in the word "Mets." Yet many also are Marlins fans, some wearing jerseys of players traded away, some in caps with the bygone "F" before "Florida" became "Miami." The infamous preseason photo of a barren ticket "line" foretold a season of a compelling extreme, of crowds of a stark leanness.
They're slightly thicker than lean even if the place still seems cavernous. They conjure the ancient question that dates to the first unctuous-owner sell-off of gladiators, perhaps in Rome:
Who's here? In this arid, aimless, dead-last-place summer of 2013, who's here?
Here for the promotion: Bryan from Miami
"I was," Bryan says.
The question: "Are you a Marlins fan?"
After all, he used to find a rooftop in Cuba to pick up baseball radio broadcasts. He moved to Miami in 1997 amid its World Series fervor. He has followed the Marlins all along, but the offseason purge drained his zeal. He watches on TV only for stretches before flipping to the Heat.
Now he sits alone in the beautifully titled Vista Level, up high, with almost his own section save for those three guys over there. "Last year, you could feel the actual energy in the stadium," Bryan said, "and now the only talk of the town is the Heat. There's no Marlins talk." As he speaks, his wife and 3-year-old son spend a while in the ghost town of a concourse behind the seats.
That's one thing you notice in Marlins Park: a lot of children, even if you're unsure if it's really a lot or a normal number who would be less obvious in a sellout. And that's the sole reason Bryan has come for the first time this season.
"I'm trying to get him to like the game," he says of his son, and there's a post-game promotion in which kids can run the bases.
So Bryan mostly waits for post-game as he notes that the many people in Jose Reyes jerseys sort of wasted their money. Bryan wears his No. 27 Giancarlo Stanton jersey.
"I'm hoping that guy doesn't go," he says.
Here as tourists: Brian and Cameron from Nicholasville, Ky.
"I actually just wanted to see the stadium," Cameron said.
"It's a lot nicer and cleaner" than most, Brian said. "You can walk all around it and have a good view."
They remain Cincinnati Reds fans, as are many Kentuckians, but in an America much less persnickety about sports apparel than other, more tribal sports countries, they bought themselves two white Marlins T-shirts a few minutes prior. For $25. They had donned them already. Besides, the Marlins are harmless.
Here as gift recipients: Maurice and Gloria from Delray Beach
"Our children gave us anniversary tickets to come to this game," Maurice said, and a Happy 59th Anniversary to them.
They don't come often, even though they do love baseball, and Maurice has loved it since playing in Queens in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s. They've been Marlins fans since they moved "down here" 20 years ago, and Maurice still wears his black Marlins jersey and black Marlins cap.
Said Gloria, "It was much easier for us to get to the other stadium" up north. And said Gloria of the tickets, "They're too expensive, otherwise maybe we might come down more." And said Maurice, becoming the first of serial people to utter this passage: "They're a minor-league team playing in the major leagues."
* * *
You can study your own human nature by attending a Marlins series in 2013. For instance, trying to decide which of the many empty rows to occupy can call to mind Jerry Seinfeld's bit about trying to choose a parking space in an empty lot.
You might choose this one, then that one, then another one, then contort your legs back to that other one.
The same goes for the excellent cup-holders on the backs of the seats. With so many available, you might utilize the one on your right for one gulp of beverage, then the one on your left for the next. This helps with furthering ambidextrousness.
The advantages of emptiness mount. Two little boys who look about 5 or 6 suddenly start scampering through the aisles just behind. One wears the shirt of a former Marlin (Jose Reyes), the other the shirt of another former Marlin (Hanley Ramirez). Not only does the sparseness help their mothers eye them just fine as they stray, but you get a sense that the exertion that would be impossible in a crowded park might help wear them out and make them sleep at a rational hour come evening.
* * *
Here as sort of a tour guide: Ralph from Miami
"I'm disgusted with the whole damned thing, to be honest with you," Ralph says.
Still, some family members had not seen the gorgeous facility, so Ralph shepherded them. As they walked around the concourse before the game, Ralph's nephew said, "Man, so sad." Such a sterling, futuristic place. Such a vacant place.
Ralph has followed the Marlins since Marlin forever, through the two World Series titles and the two post-title sell-offs; now he tells of an uncle who bought tickets upon Reyes' arrival, then did not renew upon Reyes' exit amid the Toronto exodus. In a theme not necessarily common but not quite uncommon, he found free tickets through sponsors.
"If you notice," Ralph says, "there's going to be a lot of Mets fans here."
Here for the food: Louis and Betsy from Miami
"The food," Louis answers precisely.
Continuing: "The Cuban food is good. And the nachos. That's the only reason we came to the game today. It's the food ... I'm honest. I don't lie."
Sure, the fish tacos from the previous day extended kindness toward the palate, but Louis and Betsy extend the kindness of a list: the fried shrimp at one place, some sort of fritters I jotted down but can't read at another, Nachos Supreme from another, a pork steak sandwich from the Cuban stand.
Miami in its multi-cultural majesty gathers (somewhat) at the park, and Miami in its multi-cultural majesty doles the food: Mexican, kosher, Latin, traditional ballpark American, Cuban (reportedly excellent), even gluten-free for the city's vast collection of the physique-conscious.
"We try to find this kind of variety at the Heat games," Louis says, "but we always end up in the same place."
Here for the unquenchable love of baseball: Frank and Clodoardo from Miami
"It's just the better half of the year for us," Frank says.
Of course, there had to be these, people with baseball in the bloodstream, people you cannot chase away, ever. Clodoardo, Frank's grandfather, followed the Yankees growing up in Cuba, then the Marlins once the Marlins hatched in Florida. Years ago, Clodoardo would take Frank and his brother to see the Orioles when they spring-trained down here. It's one of Frank's early baseball memories.
Frank doesn't tend to attach himself much to certain players, so the winter fire sale left him "disappointed" more than "mad." He likes baseball itself -- its pace, its allowance of time for thinking. "It's just the love of baseball," he says.
* * *
As you consider to learn about yourself in the solitude, check scores with the fast Internet (another plus), you get a fresh sense of what voracious, unsatisfied beings we are.
For example, if you get your own row, with nobody in the rows five behind and five in front, but with smatterings of people smattered across the section below, you might have a curious thought.
You might start craving your own section. You might see that possibility yonder in the 200 level, and you might proceed there, where you might find another unforeseen feeling.
When you arrive and note that a 10-strong group -- a family, maybe two -- has commandeered parts of the first two rows just below, you might feel a weird and fleeting twinge of resentment.
You thought you had your own section.
* * *
Here as a citizen of Miami: Nestor from Miami
Fans such as Nestor conjure English soccer fans. They believe your club is your club. It doesn't matter if it plummets to a lower division or if it would plummet to a lower division if only the sport had relegations to lower divisions. It's part of you, and you wear your allegiance proudly. In some ways, you wear it even more proudly when you stick around through the barrenness.
"I used to live in different parts of the country but would always wear my Marlins hat, Marlins jacket," Nestor says. "People would say, 'Why are you wearing that?' It's part of the culture for me. I was born and raised here, and I think I've got to represent the teams regardless of how they're doing."
In his orange Reyes jersey, he says, "I'm definitely not a bandwagon fan."
Here for the stadium: Diane and Oscar from Miami
"I love to come to the park," Diane says. "It's a beautiful park. A great venue."
So they're here, even as she says, "There's so much controversy. It kind of blew up in the Dolphins' face (with their stadium issues vis-à-vis public funding). Just such a bad taste in everyone's mouth." They're here even though they don't come often and even though Oscar planned to upgrade his tickets after last season but didn't after last offseason. And they're here even as Diane notes that she sees the Marlins out in the community, in the hospitals, less frequently than she used to.
"I just made a comment to my husband, 'I don't know any of these players,'" she says. "Because this is the first time I've come this year. The players aren't recognizable like they used to be. Of course, that could be a good thing, too."
At bat, as we part: Adeiny Hechavarria.
Here as a parent: Curt from Parkland
If few know the Marlins anymore, those few include Curt's sons Alex, 17, and Marc, 14. "They know everything about everything," Curt says.
So he made the hour-long trip for -- and with -- them. Otherwise, he wouldn't be here in his gray Marlins T-shirt with the wrong stadium address printed upon it. "Let me tell you something," he says. "The first year fans came for the stadium. This year they're not really coming."
His sons felt "disappointed" last offseason, but they "follow them anyway." They might know as much about the various Marlin backgrounds as anyone in the press box. Marc plays junior-varsity baseball. And Alex: "If you walk by his bedroom at night, he announces the game" with the TV on mute. "He won't let you hear him," but good fathers know.
* * *
Up in the 200s up from third base, you might have a nice conversation with a personable usher, about the Heat. You might check email with elbows extended. You might hear foul balls make loud, echoing thuds. But for the closing of a baseball novelty, a 2013 Marlins sweep, you might wish to escape the 10-strong just below, get your own section, way over there along the first base line, up in the Vista Level.
That requires walking through the Vista concourse, through its closed and disabled food stands, its imaginary tumbleweed, its ghost town. All the way over near right field, there's a semi-ironic sign about where to call to report fan misconduct, as if somebody might try something in such visibility.
In Section 306, you might get your own half-section, with two women in the front row in the other half, but in Section 302, you might get to sit entirely alone for the series denouement, the final out, the final strike, the Marlins ahead 11-6. Isn't it funny how people adore beautiful places with ample spaces, unless they're stadiums?
The fans stand in small clumps to cheer the closing. The Mets' Daniel Murphy grounds to first base. The Sunday afternoon game concludes. Outside, a sole trumpeter plays, "Another One Bites The Dust."
You realize you have seen the first Marlins sweep of 2013. You realize that this has to rank among baseball's best 100 million moments. And you realize that while you have witnessed it, most people have not.
* * *
Here for this and that: George from Kendall
Told of various reasons people still turn up, George says, "All of the above."
In a moment, he says, "I like the manager. I just think he's got the right attitude to lead the Marlins."
Here from abroad: Alex from Maracaibo, Venezuela
Of course, Venezuela has an entrenched kinship with the Marlins. Venezuelans love and follow baseball more than any South American country. The 2003 World Series champions benefitted deeply from Venezuelans Miguel Cabrera, Alex Gonzalez and Ugueth Urbina.
When Alex and his family gather in Miami several times a year, they tend to catch a game. This time, he asks for a photo with his two brothers, one of whom has a Marlins belt and a considerable cigar he cannot smoke indoors.
And as with many a foreigner landing upon a fresh moon, Alex exudes clarity: "My big question in this moment is why Miami has a beautiful stadium, and why Miami doesn't have a good team. If you have a nice stadium, why do you not have a nice team? Why don't you have a nice team for the people coming here?"
Here as if he sort of just wandered through: Unidentified from Unidentified
"I don't really follow them," Unidentified says even as he wears a white Marlins shirt. "This is like my first time coming to the stadium. I got this cheap thing (shirt). Sorry."
Unidentified walks off through the air conditioning. What fabulous air conditioning.