Marlins Park sees a different kind of pitch
Soccer teams from Venezuela, Nigeria play in park's first non-baseball event
MIAMI -- Eight hours before kickoff, Johan Soares of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, heard on the news that his country's national soccer team would be playing Nigeria in a friendly international match at Marlins Park on Wednesday night.
Soares, who was on vacation with his wife and daughter at Disney World, rented a car and drove to Miami. Before the match started, he proudly held up a banner, translated from Spanish, which read: "Our country on the road to Brazil for the World Cup." The next World Cup will be held in 2014.
After Triple Crown winner, Tigers third baseman and fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera took part in the honorary first kick, the match became the first non-baseball sporting event at Marlins Park. Nigeria won, 3-1, on three second-half goals in front of a crowd of 13,372.
"I was surprised, because the stadium is big and they changed it so quickly from baseball," Soares said. "We have no parks like this in Venezuela, both in quality and size."
Wednesday's match marks the beginning of what could be many more non-baseball events at the venue. One major advantage, according to Sean Flynn, senior vice president of marketing and events at Marlins Park, is the weather.
Since the announcement of the match was made at the beginning of October, work had been done to accommodate a soccer pitch. It ran along the first-base line, with one goal near the Marlins' dugout on the third-base side and the other in front of the visitors' bullpen in right field.
Flynn said that a January soccer match between a club team from Europe and South or Central America could be finalized soon. Also in January, Marlins Park will host the Miami Soccer Challenge as part of a three-year partnership with Global Football Challenge.
"This gave us an opportunity to get everybody a dry run -- everything from covering the infield dirt to getting the lines down with international dimensions, to the right camera angles [and] sight lines from different seats in the building," Flynn said. "Everything you can think of gave us an opportunity to learn and get better each time we go."
And there's more in store. In March, the park will host second-round games of the World Baseball Classic. On April 20, the park will host "America's Night of Hope" with Joel and Victoria Osteen, an annual stadium event for Joel Osteen Ministries. One or two concerts may also take place during the offseason.
Said Flynn: "There's always something happening here on a regular basis."
Flynn hopes that college football will be played at Marlins Park down the road, whether during the regular season or with a bowl game. Three Major League ballparks are currently part of college football's postseason: AT&T Park (Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl), Yankee Stadium (New Era Pinstripe Bowl) and Tropicana Field (Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl). Wrigley Field hosted a regular-season game in 2010.
"Baseball is our core product -- it's perfect for baseball -- but as you can see tonight, soccer fits well," Flynn said. "It's something that we're investigating -- talking to local people, some people outside the local area -- to not only bring in a bowl game, but someone's home game at Marlins Park. Soccer looks great, and I'm sure American football will look just as good."
Though the sport on Marlins Park's playing field was different, some things remained the same: Fans flocked to the Clevelander. Taste of Miami offered local cuisine. Following each goal, the home run sculpture went off.
Amos Obiefuna traveled from San Antonio, Texas, to meet with a group of 200 fans to cheer on Nigeria.
"Football is one thing that binds every Nigerian together," Obiefuna said. "It gives us joy and happiness supporting our country. It's nice to [do that] in this very wonderful and beautiful stadium."
Christina De Nicola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.