Rough Diamond

A Cuban embezzler built it, anti-Batista guerrillas trained in it, Nicaraguan refugees lived in it, and Frank Robinson played baseball in it. Now somebody has to step to the plate and save Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium.

In 1980 several cars parked in the stadium lot had been pelted with rocks during the McDuffie race riots. Between games of a double-header later that year, witnesses in the scattered crowd of 542 saw a man walk up to a fan and shoot him in the neck with a .22 pistol. The victim survived and was able to drive himself to nearby Jackson Memorial Hospital. Two others were not so lucky. One fan was found dead on a stadium ramp, a bullet wound in his chest. A third, wearing a T-shirt and gym shorts, lay dead on a sidewalk outside.

"It was a highly publicized crime, and its notoriety ensnared the stadium itself," notes former Miami News editor Howard Kleinberg, now a regular Herald contributor. "From that point onward, the baseball stadium was a place to be avoided."

By 1988 the minor league Marlins were so fed up with Miami Stadium that they used it only to dress, and played their home games at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School. The Marlins, the last minor league team to play in the stadium, were sold the following year; the new owners changed the team's name to the Miracle and moved them as far away from Allapattah as they could. "The perception about Miami Stadium is that it's not a great facility and that it's not a great area to go to," owner Stuart Revo told the Herald in 1989, when he took the team to Florida International University's campus on SW 107th Avenue. "We can't change that perception and felt we'd be wasting money if we played there."

Propelled by rumors that they could find safe haven in Miami, hundreds of refugees who had fled Nicaragua arrived by way of Texas that same year. City Manager Cesar Odio, overwhelmed by the influx, turned Miami Stadium into a massive outdoor relief shelter, where approximately 200 Nicaraguans per night camped out under the cantilevered roof and hung their laundry to dry on the baseball batting cages.

When the Orioles finally pulled out in 1990, one Baltimore player cracked that the infield tarp was riddled with bullet holes.

"This may not look like it, but this is actually the Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium Museum," announces Kurt Schweizer as he conducts a tour of his grandmother's house in South Dade, near Parrot Jungle. The 25-year-old curator's hand sweeps in an arc from a silent organ to a matched set of mahogany cabinets to a crystal lamp shining on a silver bowl of wax fruit. On a gold couch of plush velour, below a still life painting of a floral arrangement, sits Schweizer's grandmother herself, perusing a newspaper with the aid of a magnifying glass. "Can I get you anything? A Dr Pepper?" she asks.

The stadium paraphernalia sits in boxes in Schweizer's bedroom, but his grandmother, who is putting him up while he works toward a degree in sports administration at St. Thomas University, has declared that the room is too messy to be shown to visitors. So Schweizer reluctantly carts the boxes into the dining room.

Schweizer is one of those people who beam in on baseball very early in life and never shift focus. Considerable portions of his brain are devoted to crucial statistics -- box scores, home run totals, and the dates of baseball milestones. His entire frontal lobe may be occupied by Miami Stadium, the ballpark he discovered when his fourth-grade gym teacher handed him a free pass to a Miami Orioles game.

"Look at this one here," he says, pulling out a plastic-encased post card, circa 1948, an aerial shot of the stadium with "America's Finest Baseball Park" displayed in a banner of cursive at the top. Another box yields pennants, picture books, yellowed newspaper clippings, and ten-year-old photos of Schweizer in his back yard wearing several different authentic Marlins uniforms. Just last week he acquired a 1969 Marlins program from a man in Wilsonville, Oregon. "It was only ten bucks," he coos. "For me it was a major find."

He leaps up suddenly, runs back to the bedroom, and returns cradling a mass of concrete decorated with orange paint and Baltimore Orioles team stickers. "I can't believe I almost forgot to show you the chunk!" he blurts, explaining how he salvaged the twelve-pound boulder after it fell from one of the stadium's walls. In a storage shed in the back yard, Schweizer keeps four seats he personally removed from the grandstand.

"There is no more historically important baseball stadium that I can think of in the entire Southeast," he asserts. "I mean, Miami Stadium is it. I'd say that Miami Stadium is one of the top ten most important baseball stadiums that there is, major or minor.

"When you think of all the Hall of Famers that have played there, it's mind-boggling. Joe DiMaggio played there in his last two years in the majors. Mickey Mantle played many games there against the Orioles. Of all the people who have been voted into the Hall of Fame in the past 35 years, I dare say that around 75 percent have played a game in Miami Stadium, either in spring training or in a minor league game."

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