Ballpark Revisit: Miami’s LoanDepot Park for the 2023 World Baseball Classic

An out-of-towner’s experience at a ballpark can vary significantly based on what games they attend.  The vibe for a Tuesday in early April can’t compare to that of Fourth of July weekend.

For my MLB ballpark revisits—my game count for the average stadium is now approaching the mid-high single digits—I’ve been trying to make a habit of returning for prime series.  Less random weekday games, more holiday weekends and playoff games. 

I’ve been to every ballpark enough to know what I think of it.  Now, I want see ballparks at their best.  Just from an operational perspective, to say nothing of the energy in the stadium, it makes a world of difference.

Nowhere is that more apparent than at loanDepot Park (Marlins Park), which goes from operating at 1/3rd capacity during Marlins games to the center of the baseball universe every four years during the World Baseball Classic. 

So, here’s the rub on Marlins Park: it routinely ranks in the bottom 5-10 of MLB venues for reasons that, in my opinion, probably have little to do with the building itself.  Even after the Jeter-era alternations removed much of what made Marlins Park distinctive on the inside, it’s still an architecturally marvelous structure. 

Marlins Park architecture
Despite landing in the bottom 5-10 of most ballpark rankings lists, loanDepot Park (Marlins Park) is gorgeous.(Ballpark Ratings/Cole Shoemaker)

But the mere mention of “Marlins Park” congers up contentious political issues surrounding its financing, an incompetent franchise with two widely maligned ownership groups during its short existence, and most of all, sparse crowds.

And unlike other persistently empty parks – think the universally acclaimed PNC Park in Pittsburgh – the attendance issues lead to large areas of the ballpark being shut down. 

Marlins Park’s upper deck essentially hasn’t been used for all but one year of its existence, save Opening Days.  Major amenities lie dormant.  Concession stands are closed.  For that reason, it’s hard to separate the poor attendance from the actual ballpark here, so a bottom-10 ranking is warranted.

If I could sum up Marlins Park in one sentence, I’d go with “it’s too bad no one comes here.”

The 2023 World Baseball Classic was a reminder of what this ballpark could be, a packed house firing on all cylinders if Miami could field a respectable franchise. 

Regardless, I’ve always had a soft spot for Marlins Park.  I attended the second game ever here and almost caught the first home run ball ever hit in the park.  I’ve coincidentally sat by celebrities and politicians, and I’ve sat in the stands with Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich when they were top prospects in 2012, which was just about the most fluky thing ever. I’ve attended an Opening Day here and have now seen 10 packed WBC games.

But this latest trip made me see the park in a whole new light.  Now, will it change my ranking of the place?  No.  Again, this is a once in every four years thing.  I’ve now been to Marlins Park 21 times, so I have a pretty good sense of the usual experience.   

But this five-game World Baseball Classic QF/SF/Championship Game stretch was arguably the most fun I’ve ever had at a ballpark!

Fans of all stripes turned out in droves for the 2023 World Baseball Classic in Miami. (Ballpark Ratings/Cole Shoemaker)

This is my first post in a series of “ballpark revisits,” where I will outline my experience at a stadium in a pithier (or try to!), informal manner in the order in which I saw everything versus a long-form methodical and formulaic ballpark review where I “rate” the park.

If you want to see how I “rate” and “rank” the park, see the scorecard in the full, in-depth review (the ratings are up to date, although the actual review is not).

The vast majority of my blog posts will be quickly digestible, and while the “ballpark revisits” will be longer, this one is especially long considering the significance of the event and that it’s no longer opportune to roll this out in multiple posts.  So, pardon the length.

These ballpark revisits will include details about the games, which I do in brief below.  However, since the World Baseball Classic is such a unique affair, that deserves its own post at a time when the WBC is newsworthy again.  I’m positively obsessed with the WBC, having been to games in each iteration (‘06, ‘09, ‘13, ‘17, and now ‘23), so I’ll have to expound about that in more detail another time!

Below is a deep dive into my gameday experience at Marlins Park during the 2023 World Baseball Classic Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Championship Game.

Getting There, Location, and Local Scene

One of Marlins Park’s biggest flaws is its location in sleepy Little Havana, separated from the vibrancy of Brickell, where the park’s architecture would have fit in smashingly. 

It looks like a 1950s dystopian film out of Cuba where a modern American space ship crashed into a neighborhood of unassuming Havana houses. 

On the scale of ballpark locations, this was in the “just get this place built wherever we can” category, as this setting on the site of the old Orange Bowl was the Marlins’ last choice.  

Marlins Park location Little Havana.
loanDepot Park is situated in Little Havana. (Ballpark Ratings/Cole Shoemaker)

Accessibility is poor.  (1) It’s not particularly drivable, and for big events, you’ll be fighting the brutal Miami traffic.  Although for Marlins games, this obviously isn’t a big issue.  The parking garages adjacent to the park are always available, because season-ticket parking never lived up to expectations, so say the least. 

(2) Public transit isn’t easy, requiring multiple stops and modes of transportation, without any rail going directly to the park.  And (3) Little Havana isn’t walkable from any points of interest, although Calle Oche is one mile south.  The triple whammy of poor accessibility. 

Moreover, the local scene is one of the worst in MLB, without many restaurants and bars in the vicinity for pre and post-gaming.  With the Batting Cage Sports Bar & Lounge now closed, all you’ll note in the area is a Wendy’s.  This may not be a suburban “parking lot stadium,” and that’s a plus, but it’s still very much an “in and out ballpark.”

To that former point though, there is something unique and charming about Marlins Park’s Little Havana location.     

Since the dawn of the post-1990 ballpark-building boom, 22 new ballparks have opened (we won’t count the two already defunct ballparks in Atlanta and Arlington).  17 are surrounded by varying densities and qualities of bars and restaurants in downtown or some kind of mixed-use development.  Only 4 sit in isolated parking lots. 

Marlins Park is the only one that’s located in a residential neighborhood, much like, just in terms of the residential aspect, Wrigley Field.  Now sure, that doesn’t offer much for the fans experience, but I find it cool.  Let’s make one final thing clear: Little Havana isn’t the ghetto, but more of a typical lower-middle class community.

But taking the suboptimal locale, inconvenient accessibility, and barren pre-and-post game bar and restaurant scene all together, Marlins Park has one of MLB’s worst settings.  

The Architecture

While it doesn’t fit in with the Little Havana neighborhood, my favorite aspect of Marlins Park is its abstract neomodern contemporary architecture, which will probably be the park’s long-term legacy.

I’ll save a full architectural analysis for another piece, but just look at other MLB parks.

loanDepot Park Marlins Park architecture
loanDepot Park exterior. Note the reflection of the skyline. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

We have the jewel-box classics (Wrigley and Fenway), mid-century modern (Dodger), modernist (Kauffman), brutalist (Oakland), utilitarian (Tropicana), retro-classic (too many to name), retro-modern (too many to name), and a few others I’ll just call “confused.”

Marlins Park is the only MLB park in baseball history with a contemporary style in the 21st century sense of the word.

Not one brick. Not one stone. No exposed steel. No Ebbets Field rotunda. This is indeed the starkest stylistic departure since Camden Yards, as 24 other ballparks since 1990 (including three renovated ones) feature at least one of these elements.  In a crowned landscape of retro and faux-retro venues, Marlins Park stands alone.

loanDepot Park Marlins Park architecture
loanDepot Park exterior. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

The structure consists of an amalgam of deep blue glass, white stucco and steel, unadulterated concrete, and sparkling silver aluminum. With its graceful forms, Marlins Park conceptually captures sea merging with land, spiritually akin to Brickell and Biscayne Bay downtown. It’s an abstract expression of Miami.

Marlins Park’s lines and curves are dazzling, continually clashing then flowing in various rhythms, just like the Atlantic Ocean. Through it all, the fluidity of form is the main theme. It does perfectly reflect the contemporary nature of a city that never really embraced nostalgia in the 21st century.

loanDepot Park Marlins Park architecture
loanDepot Park exterior. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

It’s all absolutely gorgeous, in what is “all about art, architecture, and Miami.” Marlins Park’s emphasis on visual aesthetics instead of money-grabbing “experiences” with afterthought architecture is so refreshing in the age of the mallpark.

The infamous home run sculpture, Homer, now sits outside.

loanDepot Park Marlins Park architecture home run sculpture homer
loanDepot Park home run sculpture. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

The West Plaza

After exploring the site and admiring the exterior, you’ll want to enter Marlins Park’s West Plaza.  You’ll have to pass through security, but you can access this area without a game ticket. 

The West Plaza was originally envisioned as fun-filled communal gathering space to counterbalance the paucity of pre-game options in Little Havana, but it often isn’t properly activated during Marlins games.

loanDepot Park Marlins Park West Plaza
loanDepot Park West Plaza. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings).

The WBC showed what this space could look like with a competitive team. 

The plaza had plenty of popup bars, live music on a concert stage, batting cages, and some neat street art.  After Japan won the WBC, the fun continued post-game with more live music.

Exploring the Main Seating Bowl and U.S.-Venezuela Quarterfinal Game

Marlins Park’s seating bowl is pretty standard, with some interesting variations.  Starting in the lower bowl, Marlins Park features the typical 40+ lower level backed by an open main concourse.  Like most MLB venues that opened in the 21st century, there is a “moat” separating the prime dugout box seats and the home plate club from the rest of the lower bowl.

Yankee Stadium gets regularly dragged for this, but it’s actually a pretty common design.

Starting in the left field corner, you’ll note Marlins Park features a curvilinear seating design down the lines, as opposed to the usual angular seating formula with seats down the lines angled toward home plate.  However, the seating geometry down the lines is still excellent, with all seats in effect oriented toward the infield.

loanDepot Park Marlins Park interior seating bowl
loanDepot Park interior. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

The mezzanine utilizes fairly aggressive cantilevers pushing it roughly 15 rows above the lower bowl.  Not too unusual, but a big plus.  Moreover, with no separate suite level above the mezzanine and the upper deck cantilevered far over the mezzanine, nosebleed seats here aren’t too bad. 

All post-1990 parks push the common fan sitting in the upper levels too far from the action, but Marlins Park is one of the better ones, just comparatively speaking.     

If you haven’t been to Marlins Park in a while, you’ll note the interior aesthetic was dramatically toned down under the Jeter-era ownership.  Under the influence of former owner Jeffrey Loria, an art dealer, Marlins Park was conceptualized as an art gallery inspired by Spanish surrealist Joan Miro. See the before version here.

Gone are the gaudy lime green walls out of a Rainforest Café and splashes of color throughout the seating facades.  Gone is the concourse design divided into four color-coded sections, each tone based on Miro’s palatte.  Gone is the fish tank behind home plate.  And of course, gone is the, um, lurid home run sculpture!

As John Oliver once said, Marlins Park looks like it was originally designed by “a coked-up Willy Wonka.”

It has become extremely fashionable to mock these features (particularly the home run sculpture), but overall, I kind of liked the old setup.  It fit Miami!  And it was one of a kind! 

Plus, in an era of both neoclassical parks too derivative of Camden Yards and a newer generation of generic mallparks that look like they were picked out of a box that said “baseball stadium,” the sculpture and color scheme made Marlins Park one of the most unique parks in baseball, however idiosyncratic.

loanDepot Park Marlins Park interior seating bowl
loanDepot Park new interior. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

That being said, I like the new look too.  It’s more subdued but undoubtably more aesthetically pleasing, highlighted by the sleek white party deck matching the exterior aesthetic and the faux shrubbery throughout the outfield.  Sure, the new design is a bit generic, but it looks clean and still has the strong architectural forms and curvature of the outside. 

So, I’m probably in the extreme minority who have positive things to say about both the before and the after!  The former appearance was divisive and didn’t fit traditional notions of baseball, while the current look is more pleasant but conservative.

I think the transition in styles is best characterized by the change in first impressions when entering the park behind home plate.  Originally, you were greeted by a dazzling Joan Miro mural, which was incredibly memorable but had a strong “wtf factor” for a ballpark.  Now, you are greeted by a team banner.  Only Miami could get by with the former; a team in any city could do the latter. 

In terms of the fundamentals of the retractable roof design, I think the Marlins should have emulated Minute Maid Park (Houston), where the entirety of the left side opens when the roof is open. 

loanDepot Park Marlins Park interior
loanDepot Park interior. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

In Miami, the roof just opens at the top, like a sunroof, and the left field panels retract to the side. In Houston, the roof line extents much lower, exposing the entirety of left field and part of center field to the elements.  In other words, when open, Marlins Park is like a coupe with the sunroof open and the windows down, similar to parks in Milwaukee and Arizona.  Minute Maid Park is like a retracted convertible.

Of course, that rarely matters because both of these parks open their roof for 1-3 games a year now (yes, it’s that bad).  And to my dismay, despite some wonderful weather, Marlins Park’s roof was closed throughout the WBC to keep the conditions uniform, something the park hadn’t done in 2013 or 2017. 

That’s a shame because Marlins Park has an unexpectedly captivating view of Downtown Miami and Brickell when the panels are open, which you can kind of see below through the closed panels.

loanDepot Park Marlins Park interior
loanDepot Park interior. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

Anyway, more on the interior when I explore some upper deck views.  Despite my quibble above, I think Marlins Park’s interior aesthetics are fairly strong for an oft-enclosed retractable roof park, however low that bar may be. 

My bud and I had phenomenal seats for the U.S.-Venezuela quarterfinal game.  Second row behind the home plate club (PNC Club) portal, about 15 rows from home plate.

This was a back-and-forth affair, with the U.S. jumping out to a 3-0 first inning lead, only to be down 7-5 going into the eighth inning. 

loanDepot Park 2023 World Baseball Classic Venezuela vs. U.S.
loanDepot Park 2023 World Baseball Classic Venezuela vs. U.S. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

In the midst of his now-legendary WBC hot streak, Trea Turner proceeded to hit a top of the eighth grand slam on a 0-2 pitch to put the U.S. ahead 9-7 for good, advancing his country to the WBC semifinals.

This game was also notable for the 2 home runs hit by contact hitter Luis Arraez (3 home runs total and a .392 batting average in 2023 as of the date of this post!) and for Jose Altuve being hit by Daniel Bard, which placed him on the IL for two months.  

These seats were great for people watching, so I got a glimpse of the infamous Marlins Man coming up from his seats behind home plate.  During my regular season ballpark revisits across MLB, I always try to see one game in these home plate clubs, so I coincidentally sat right across the aisle from him behind home plate in Kansas City in 2018.  Seemed like a nice guy. 

Trea Turner’s 2023 World Baseball Classic Quarterfinal Home Run Against Venezuela. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

Field Level Seating and Puerto Rico-Mexico Quarterfinal Game  

2023 was the year common baseball fans caught on to unadulterated joy that is the World Baseball Classic. 

All-Star Game talent without All-Star Game prices.  World Series importance without World Series prices.  Growing the game internationally.  An influx of different baseball cultures.  One-of-a-kind teammate pairings.  One-of-a-kind matchups (Ohtani v. Trout!  See below).  Ideal underdog stories.  And just the right amount of passion, where fans from other countries are all-in, but not at Brazil-in-the-World Cup levels, thank God, so it’s fun no matter what.      

Fans appear to have really caught on to the former two points, as this WBC was significantly more expensive than past years.  At the 2013 and 2017 WBC, I was able to get those “Marlins Man seats” at ridiculously discounted prices. 

I even had seats in the first row behind home plate for one big game in 2017, where I took this video of Jose Bautista’s throw that saved the D.R. from instant elimination, which I have to say, is one of my best!  You want to see passion of the WBC in one clip, that’s it.     

Anyway, tickets in the PNC Club behind home plate were going for $1000s this time around, so hard pass on that!  But I did get a good deal in the low $100s in the Third Base Dugout Club (now dubbed the “Humana Cabana”) on the field down the line for Puerto Rico-Mexico.

loanDepot Park Marlins Park Mexico Puerto Rico 2023 WBC Humana Cabana
loanDepot Park Humana Cabana seating. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

Perks here include a private entrance, padded theatre-style seats, in-seat service, and access to a fairly pedestrian private lounge.  There is a nearly identical setup down the first base line, although the lounge has a different design, one that dates back to when the ballpark opened in 2012. 

Pro tip: anyone with a Clubhouse Box ticket, i.e. behind the dugout below the “moat,” has access these lounges, not just Dugout Club ticket holders.  That’s not advertised. 

Anyway, this game was a lot of fun.  In my experience, this is the area where Billy the Marlin is often hanging out for some reason and also where the team takes many fan videos to put on the big screen.

This was another comeback, but this time it was a fairly big upset.  Puerto Rico went ahead 4-0 in the first inning led by back-to-back homers by Javier Baez and Eddie Rosario.  Mexico chipped away with runs in the second and the fifth, before putting up a three spot in the bottom of the seventh to put it ahead 5-4 for good. 

Scenes from Mexico's quarterfinal's victory over Puerto Rico in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)
Scenes from Mexico’s quarterfinal’s victory over Puerto Rico in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

Mexico’s Randy Arozarena was the MVP of this one for his multiple herculean defensive plays, including a leaping game-saving catch in the bottom of the 8th to preserve Mexico’s lead.

Our seats were on the Mexico team side, so I had a number of memorable interactions with team players and fans, including a selfie with Mexican second baseman and Rays prospect Jonathan Aranda.

Exploring the Main Concourse and Amenities

Back to the ballpark!  Scenes from the Semifinals and Championship Game to come.

After checking out the West Plaza, fans take escalators, stairs, and ramps up to the main concourse, as Miami’s water table doesn’t allow the field to be sunken for the main concourse to be at street level, as is the case with the most parks.

Functionally, the main concourse (dubbed “Prominade Level”) is state-of-the-art.  The latest in an iteration of many parks to take a page from Denver’s Coors Field (1995), the main concourse is completely open to the field across the 360-degree system.  Unlike newer parks, there aren’t suites or clubs on the main concourse blocking views at any point.

loanDepot Park main concourse.
loanDepot Park main concourse. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

It’s ample in size, especially for Marlins games, but also for capacity crowds like these ones. It also doesn’t have any annoying horizontal encumbrances (see Milwaukee, for example) or vertical discontinuities when transitioning from infield to outfield (see San Diego or Pittsburgh, for example).

Everything is welcomingly navigable, wide, and open.  Boring topic, and it seems simple, but many parks manage to screw this up in various subtle ways. 

The concourse color scheme was changed to more conversative blue hues in recent years, a departure from the idea of visually dividing the park into four quadrants monochromatically marked with bright shades of yellow, green, red, blue inspired by Spanish artist Joan Miro. Kind of like the outfield aesthetic, the new look is more attractive, but the old design was more distinctive and such a neat concept.

loanDepot Park left field concourse.
loanDepot Park left field concourse. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

Transitioning to left field, the concourse narrows a bit if the panel is closed, but fans are treated to a close up of Marlins Park’s retractable roof mechanisms and smashing views of the cityscape.  When the roof and panel is open, this area widens considerably into an outdoor patio the Marlins call the Skyline Terrace.

The Budweiser Bar and new party deck in left field are fun places to hang out and watch batting practice before the game.  And they serve as some of baseball’s best standing-room only areas for the rare capacity crowds like these.

loanDepot Park Budweiser Bar.
loanDepot Park Budweiser Bar. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

There are a handful of interesting attractions throughout the main concourse to check out before the game, although Marlins Park’s amenities generally don’t compare to those of the best parks.

Once you reach center field, don’t miss the Bobblehead Museum.  Now, “museum” is a bit of a misnomer, but the glassed-in, 360-degree display case showcases 609 bobbleheads that have a vibrating mechanism so that the heads are always in motion.

loanDepot Park Bobblehead Museum.
loanDepot Park Bobblehead Museum. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

It’s the largest permanent and public display of bobbleheads in the big leagues and features not just baseball players, but also mascots and broadcasters.

Adjacent to the Bobblehead Museum is the much more underwhelming Billy’s Boathouse.  All but two MLB parks have kids’ entertainment zones (only Wrigley, and inexplicitly, Houston’s Minute Maid Park lack them), but this sad little area is one of the worst.  It looked closed and looks merely decorative anyway. 

Located in an enclave behind home plate off the main concourse, the new Biscayne Bay Brew Hall was our group’s go-to area to hang out before the game.  The beer selection is a huge disappointment, but the space itself is pretty well-appointed, with a long bar with bar stools, communal tables, a performance stage, and a large video display.

Biscayne Bay Brew House at loanDepot Park.
Biscayne Bay Brew House at loanDepot Park. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

Marlins Park formerly lacked the “social spaces” that have become all the rage across MLB, so this is a nice addition.

On beautiful spring evenings like these, I also love Marlins Park’s scenic outdoor patios with tables and chairs, and the one outside the Brew Hall overlooking the West Plaza is the best of the bunch.  It’s where you’ll find me before a Marlins game!

The Food and Drinks

While they pulled out all of stops for the WBC, Marlins Park excels in offering a tremendous quality and variety of Latin cuisine.  Almost all of the below is available during Marlins games as well.

Over the course of the five-game stretch, we sampled all of it.  Pan Con Bistec and Cuban sandwiches, Magic City BBQ, Miami’s Best Pizza (surprisingly good!), rice bowls, ceviche, tequeños, arepas, croquetas, empanadas, and sushi are the highlights.

I sample a lot of ballpark food, and I think the Marlins generally hit it out of the park here.  Only the cheesesteaks are terrible, unpopular opinion.

loanDepot Park food
loanDepot Park food. Left to right, running down: Cuban Sandwich, Miami Best Pizza, arepa, croquetas, tacos, empanadas, sushi, and ceviche. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

The craft beer selection, on the other hand, is one of the worst in MLB and a travesty given that this is in Miami.  It was actually worse than I expected this time around.  The hope was the aforementioned Biscayne Bay Brew Hall would enliven the scene, but they only had three decent beers on tap (the best from Mahou, a Spanish brewery) and the standard cuds in cans.  Nice space, but doesn’t really function as a beer hall!  There’s little craft beer of note throughout the rest of the stadium. 

I generally avoid stadium pre-game frozen drinks, but the piña coladas were tasty, seemingly on par with what we had by the pool at the Kimpton downtown, so pretty good!

Exploring the Upper Deck and U.S.-Cuba Semifinal Game  

I can’t get over the fact that since the first year after opening (2013), the entirety of Marlins Park’s upper deck has been dormant save the occasional big game, Opening Days, the WBC.  So, this was a rare opportunity!

loanDepot Park upper deck
loanDepot Park upper deck. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

The upper deck seating bowl design is definitely a strange one, with weird breaks in the structure and gaps necessitated by the columns supporting the retractable roof.

Looking down the middle into the outfield behind home plate, plenty of natural light is emitted not only through the left field panel, but also the glass above the right field Home Run Porch.

Putting aside the fact that the roof is never open, I think the outfield aesthetics are strong for a retractable roof park.  Simple, clean, free-flowing lines without gimmicks.  A comparative lack of tacky ads (take note Houston!).  The new greenery does a lot of work.

loanDepot Park panoramic view.
loanDepot Park panoramic view. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

Seattle’s T-Mobile Park has a roof that doesn’t enclose the park, in what is basically a glorified umbrella, so that’s a different animal. But comparing the climate-controlled retractable roof parks, I think Marlins Park has the most aesthetically pleasing interior scene.  And as outlined above, it the strongest exterior design by an overwhelming margin.

Marlins Park scores the highest on my cumulative “architecture and aesthetics” scorecard for any retractable roof ballpark.  Again, it’s too bad no one comes here!

Heading over to the left side of the upper deck, you can catch a beautiful glimpse of the impressive left field architecture.

loanDepot Park left field retractable panels.
loanDepot Park left field retractable panels. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

Given that it’s so rarely in use, the upper deck concourse is almost totally bereft of amenities or interesting features, to the point where only basic ballpark food items are served.  This doesn’t jive with new ballpark trends, where architects are putting amenities up top comparable to those below.  Nothing to see here.

We sat in the lower part of the upper deck below the cross aisle for the U.S.-Cuba semifinal game, which was a 14-2 U.S. blowout on the field, but quite eventful otherwise. 

This was the first time the Cuban national team played in Miami since early in Fidel Castro’s reign, so protects were rife inside and out of the stadium.  Some Cuban-Americans in Miami see the Cuban national team as a proxy for the regime. 

loanDepot Park 2023 World Baseball Classic Cuba vs. United States semifinal.
loanDepot Park 2023 World Baseball Classic Cuba vs. United States semifinal. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

A majority of Cubans in the park were rooting for the Cuban team, but Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, the two active MLB players who chose to play for the Cuban national team, were roundly booed.  Different protesters stormed the field on two or three occasions, most notably when Moncada batted in the fifth inning. 

Once the blowout was underway in the fifth, chants of “Libertad” and “Patria y Vida” became more frequent. 

The Recess Sports Lounge

Others chose to party in the Recess Sports Lounge, which became quite raucous once the game became uncompetitive. 

Marlins Park was known for its left field pool area (The Clevelander), but that closed before the 2020 season.  The Recess Sports Lounge that took its place is basically the same concept, sans pool.

Recess Sports Lounge at loanDepot Park.
Recess Sports Lounge at Miami’s loanDepot Park. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

While there’s the absurd policy of requiring $150 per person in food/alcohol spending to “reserve” a table overlooking the field, the rest of the area/tables are accessible to all fans with a ticket.  They’ll give you a wristband upon entry, and you can spend as much time here as you want.

Anchored by suspended faux cherry blossoms, it is a beautiful space, notable for its specialty cocktail menus, high-end (but ridiculously overpriced, like Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills overpriced!) food options, bullpen views, and outdoor patio with foosball and other games.  By the middle of the game, it turns into a full-blown nightclub.

The Recess Sports Lounge in Miami's loanDepot Park.
The Recess Sports Lounge at Miami’s loanDepot Park. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

An actual nightclub with live music in a ballpark is something, but placing it feet from the field?  That’s something you’ll only see in Miami! 

Given its positioning in left field, I spotted Padres general manager A.J. Preller scouting Japanese start starter Rōki Sasaki during his warm up tosses before the Japan-Mexico semifinal game.  If the Padres sign him a few years from now, you heard it here first!

A.J. Preller scouting Japanese start starter Rōki Sasaki.
A.J. Preller scouting Japanese start starter Rōki Sasaki. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

The Legends Level and Japan-Mexico Semifinal Game

Marlins Park’s “Legends Level” is its de-facto mezzanine club level, something present in all but one MLB park that opened from 1991 (New Comiskey Park) to 2012 (Marlins Park).  Somehow, Marlins Park’s version is probably the weakest of the bunch!

The concourse isn’t enclosed or spruced up, like you usually see.  No concourse lounges.  No enhanced food or drink selection.  In fact, there are few concession stands at all.  No in-seat service.  The signature right field bar lies dormant, even for these sold-out games.  Some restrooms were even out of order.

loanDepot Park Legends Level.
loanDepot Park Legends Level. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

In fact, the amenities are better almost across the board on the main concourse.  Perhaps the highlight from an aesthetic point of view are these shimmering oblong bars (which had, *checks notes* no beers on tap).  Although, the seats are fully padded, theatre style, which is unusual for an entire mezzanine club level.

The suites are indeed spiffy, and the some come with their own private concourse within the already restricted Legends Level concourse!

Seriously though, I’ve sat here on a handful of occasions over the years because I prefer watching the game in a slightly elevated position, but I think twice about sitting here considering the facilities are better on the main concourse in my opinion, which is just crazy.

Bar in the Legends Level at loanDepot Park.
Bar in the Legends Level at loanDepot Park. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

The game was a classic, however.  Scoreless through the third, Luis Urias hit a three-run bomb to give Mexico a 3-0 lead.  Randy Arozarena made yet another spectacular defense play in the bottom of the fifth, robbing Kazuma Okamoto of a home run.  The Red Sox Masataka Yoshida answered with a three-run blast of his own for the foul pole to tie the game 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh

Mexico entered the bottom of the ninth inning with a 5-4 lead, but Munetaka Murakami hit a game winning double off Cardinals’ star closer Giovanny Gallegos to send Japan to the WBC finals for the third time in five tournaments.   

Japan’s walk-off win to advance to the 2023 World Baseball Classic Championship Game. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

The Art in the Park

Marlins Park has maintained most of its cool artwork inside and out from its original “gallery inspired” design.

I’ll keep this to a minimum in this space, but notable pieces include that gaudy home run sculpture “Homer” now sitting outside the park in the left field corner, Kenny Scharf’s “Playball” spanning multiple floors behind home plate, a reprint of Roy Lichtenstein’s “Baseball Manager” on the main concourse, and Orange Bowl letters integrated into the concrete outside the left field gate as if they had fallen from the sky.

Artwork inside and out Miami's loanDepot Park.
Artwork inside and out Miami’s loanDepot Park. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

Love it!

Notice Anything Missing?

If you’ve been to other MLB parks, the paucity of team historical references/exhibits/memorabilia/etc. inside and out of Marlins Park sticks out.  The park has some lame posters at ground level outside of the Recess Sports Lounge and two newly added championship banners in the upper left field corner.  That’s it.

Depending on definitions, roughly 8 MLB parks have museums.  Another 15 or so have some sort of dedicated team historical exhibit(s) or memorabilia dispersed throughout the concourses in some creative fashion.  Almost all remaining stadiums do something to explicitly honor the team’s history. 

Only Marlins Park and the consensus three worst MLB venues, Oakland Coliseum (A’s), Tropicana Field (Rays), and Rogers Centre (Blue Jays), lack a statue.  And where are the two Marlins’ World Series trophies?  Other teams display their World Series trophies somewhere in the park. 

This is a conspicuous oversight for a modern-day MLB ballpark.

You may be saying, the Marlins are a relatively young franchise, so this is understandable.  Yet the Diamondbacks and Rays, both born in 1998, from dedicated memorabilia exhibits.  Are the Marlins trying to make fans forget they won two World Series titles?

The WBC Championship Game

Compared to past WBC Championships, the 2023 matchup attracted considerable attention.  The U.S. lineup was awash with superstars up and down the lineup, and this was the first Japan-U.S. Championship matchup.   

If there was one downside, it’s that a final with the D.R., Venezuela, or Puerto Rico would have brought much more energy in Miami.  Despite the hype, tickets on the secondary market dropped after all three were eliminated. 

2023 World Baseball Classic Championship Game.
2023 World Baseball Classic Championship Game. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

In the second inning, Trea Turner hit a solo home run off Japan starting pitcher Shōta Imanaga, matching Lee Seung-yuop’s record from the 2006 tournament for the most home runs in a single WBC tournament.

Shortly after, Munetaka Murakami tied the game with a solo home run off U.S. starting pitcher Merrill Kelly.  Japan loaded the basis with singles from Kazuma Okamoto and Sosuke Genda, along with a walk to Yuhei Nakamura. Aaron Loup replaced Kelly, and Lars Nootbaar’s RBI ground out put Japan in the lead. In the fourth inning, Kazuma Okamoto added another run with a solo home run off Kyle Freeland to put Japan up 3-1.  Kyle Schwarber hit a solo home run off Yu Darvish to bring the United States closer at 3-2 in the eighth inning.

Scenes from the 2023 WBC Championship Game.
Scenes from the 2023 WBC Championship Game. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

In the bottom of the ninth inning, something close to the storybook ending of baseball’s two best players facing each other materialized.  Shohei Ohtani was brought in to close the game.  Ohtani struck out his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout to clinch the tournament victory for Japan.  Only Trout hitting a game winning home run off Ohtani would have topped this.  

Ohtani’s outstanding performance throughout the WBC earned him the most valuable player award, boasting a .435 batting average and a pitching earned run average of 1.86

Ohtani strikes out his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout to clinch the tournament victory for Japan. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)


The one thing that put a damper on the entire WBC experience was what a pain it was to catch an Uber after the game.  The Marlins have never really had to figure this out during the regular season due to sparse attendance, and it showed.  The Marlins geofenced the area around the ballpark, directing fans to walk around 15 minutes to the Uber area, which was poorly marked and incredibly congested. 

On average, we were back in Downtown Miami, roughly two miles from the stadium, two hours after the game.  It would have been easier to walk two miles, but the route from Marlins Park to Downtown Miami isn’t at all walkable.  Such a frustrating location.      

How Does Marlins Park Rank and Compare to Other MLB Ballparks?

While one of MLB’s worst settings holds it back, Marlins Park has unquestionable curb appeal as one of the only venues in baseball with “Capital A” architecture.

The interior aesthetic is sleek and handsome.  The retractable left field panels reveal surprisingly beautiful views of Brickell/Downtown Miami.  I adore the contemporary baseball-related artwork sprinkled throughout the concourses.   

The park is supremely functional, with a wide, open main concourse without interruptions in field visibility and excellent sightlines.  There are significant omissions/blemishes, but the park has some decent amenities, namely scrumptious Latin food options, the new Beer Hall, the Recess Sports Lounge, the Bobblehead Museum, and one of baseball’s best home plate clubs.

A final look at the Miami Marlins' loanDepot Park during the 2023 World Baseball Classic Championship Game.
A final look at the Miami Marlins’ loanDepot Park during the 2023 World Baseball Classic Championship Game. (Cole Shoemaker/Ballpark Ratings)

And yet, it still ranks #22 out of 30 MLB parks in my book, as you can see by my updated ratings scorecard.  For a Marlins game, a ballpark this empty just isn’t a fun one.  Attendance this poor has operational effects beyond a listless atmosphere. 

What if a WBC atmosphere was present for Marlins games?  Marlins Park would probably land somewhere more toward the middle of the pack, and with 26 or so good venues in MLB, middle of the pack is strong. 

But regardless of who is playing, Marlins Park’s dazzling contemporary architecture and aesthetics make it a must visit for stadium enthusiasts.