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Miami's Home Run Derby Was Crazy Fun, Even if the Ballpark Wasn't Ready for Crowds

Miami's Home Run Derby Was Crazy Fun, Even if the Ballpark Wasn't Ready for Crowds
Photo by Tim Elfrink
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The frustration nearly boiled over about a half-hour before last night's Home Run Derby. Lines were queued hundreds deep at every food and beer stand. The still air was muggy. And in the far reaches of Marlins Park's barely used upper deck, credit card machines suddenly fizzled out — though no one bothered to tell hungry fans until they got to the front and couldn't pay.

"Bro!" one guy in a crisp flat-brimmed All Star Game hat yelled when he realized he wouldn't get a pretzel after all.

"Don't go back up there," his friend warned, gesturing into the nosebleeds. "There's no air. It's hot as hell. Hot as hellllll."

But by the time Miguel Sano launched his first moonshot into the left-field bleachers and a thunderous roar shook the packed house, those annoyances disappeared. For a few delirious hours, Marlins Park felt like a real venue, giving Miami a tantalizing glimpse of what baseball in Little Havana might have been like under an owner who didn't gleefully stomp on fans and taxpayers alike while using $100 bills to light his cigars.    

Among the orange-and-blue-clad locals in Jose Fernandez jerseys and tropical-pattered ASG hats, you could almost see the shock in their eyes as they watched Justin Bour gleefully smack dongs into right field before pausing to let Giancarlo Stanton stuff a full doughnut into his mouth: Baseball can be fun as hell, they seemed to remember as one.

For all the talk of sluggish ticket sales, the Home Run Derby was jam-packed last night, and it was quite obvious how little practice Marlins Park has had with such gigantic, hyped-up crowds.

Midway through the team's fifth season in the stadium, Miami is dead last in attendance in the National League. The team reports an average crowd of 20,904, but the truth is that many weekday games draw barely half that many bodies to the ballpark. Last month, about 2,000 showed up for an afternoon battle with the Phillies, and the Fish have hardly opened the second deck since their inaugural season in the park.

The ballpark's lack of practice with sell-outs was obvious. Finding sustenance was an epic task; the most humble hot-dog stand behind the right-field bleachers had a 45-minute wait, and jostling into the Taste of Miami section — where local options such as Latin Café and Don Cameron are located — meant throwing elbows through a Run the Jewels-quality mosh pit. By the start of the contest, some vendors were all but tapped: A barbecue pork joint apologetically had to track down some shredded chicken just to stay open.

Yet the derby itself was great. The atmosphere was electric behind the centerfield Budweiser stand and the absurd Red Grooms home-run sculpture (which, sadly, did not erupt in leaping dolphins with every mashed tater). Gangs of Aaron Judge fans in wigs and robes jostled for space with bros in League of Their Own drag, while a Latin-tinged drum circle pounded out salsa beats. Inhuman moonshots rattled off the closed glass windows facing the downtown Miami skyline.

For a few hours, at least, the sizable home crowd — large enough to spark a "Bour! Bour! Bour!" chant during the beefy first baseman's 22-homer binge in the first round — forgot all about the Jose Fernandez tragedy. They forgot the $2 billion in looming stadium payments, the owner who sues his own fans, and the team president who brags about duping dumb taxpayers.

For a few hours, home runs flew through Little Havana, and it felt pretty damn good.  

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