Preservation Miami’s newest periodical, ‘In the Rear-View Mirror’ reflects on our shared past; the buildings and sites that helped define and bring life to the Magic City. Sadly, many of these architectural and historic treasures have been lost.
FOREWARD BY DON SLESNICK III
My Life at Miami Stadium: By Kurt Schweizer
(originally published in 2004 | edited for re-publication 2011)
I will always remember my first trip to Miami Stadium with my father; I was just nine years old. Having recently become a baseball buff, I always had a keen interest in history; not so much the academic type but more of a general curiosity to just know what any given thing had been like in the distant past. Older buildings had always piqued my interest and Miami Stadium, located on NW 23rd Street and 10th Avenue, in the Allapattah neighborhood, more than fit the bill. It was a stadium that, in the words of sportswriter Peter Richmond, “immediately invited a stroll down the path of its history.” Truer words could not have been said. Built in 1949, Miami Stadium was over 30 years old when I first saw it although it seemed far older, not so much in a run-down way, but it was more like a working museum.
With its red-neon lights on the main marquee and foul poles, the black and yellow tiles in the lobby and concession areas, this stadium spoke to me in a way that would soon make me become almost obsessed with its history. Right away I noticed the murals that lined the walls near the ceiling of the main lobby, directly above the main concession stand. The paintings, I was later told, were part of the stadium’s original design and depicted players from long ago, which further added to the stadium’s historical, almost mystical aura. I would go on to publish articles about the stadium and the teams who played there, and my interest eventually led to me earning a Master’s degree in Sports Administration from St. Thomas University.
Before college, I worked for the minor league Miami Marlins as a ball boy and part time gopher during their last year at the stadium. For me, one of the main allures of working for the Marlins was getting a chance to work at the great Miami Stadium (by then known as Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium). Unfortunately, the Marlins moved to Hialeah in May of 1988 and played most of their home games at the Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School Field. It was a nice ballpark considering it was a high school facility but it just simply could not compare. The Marlins only played a handful of games at Miami Stadium that year, opting to play a great majority of their home games in Hialeah. Getting to work a few of those games at my favorite stadium was a thrill I will never forget.
In the 90’s, I went on to work for the Marlins franchise (now known as the Ft. Myers Miracle) on a full-time basis even after they had abandoned Miami Stadium, wishing all the while they were still there. As the resident historian on the subject, one of my duties with the club in Ft. Myers was to write various stories relating to our history in Miami for our annual souvenir scorebooks. It was a job that I happily took on with great pride, as well as a humble heart.
As a child, before pursuing more formal academic research on the stadium’s background, I would come to befriend some of the old-timers who had witnessed most of its history firsthand. I would hear stories about the great Satchel Paige pitching for the Class AAA Miami Marlins in the late 50’s, Oriole greats such as Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr. playing for the Class A Miami Orioles in the 70’s, and stories about everyone from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle, Brooks Robinson, and Jim Palmer playing there during spring training.
Even though I only personally witnessed the last quarter of Miami Stadium’s existence as a professional baseball facility, I feel like I was there for all of it. I do sometimes think that if I had been there from the stadium’s beginning, I would not have come away with the same sense of wonderment about its history that instantly piqued my interest as a nine-year-old.
The first time that I ever went to the stadium, to attend a Miami Orioles game, the old Seaboard Train Station on NW 23rd Street and 7th Avenue was just beginning to go through the early stages of demolition. As my dad and I continued to attend more games that summer, less and less of the train station was left standing. I somehow felt that an important part of our shared community history was starting to slip away. This sense of loss made the stadium all that more important. The train station, in my opinion, really was an extension of the stadium itself in terms of its geographical identity as well as the role that both buildings played in helping to tell the historical story both of the Allapattah neighborhood and that of the Miami community at large. I was very pleased that, at the very least, the archway leading to the main entrance of the station was preserved as a historical memorial. Every time I go through the neighborhood today, I stop by that archway wishing very much that a similar section of Miami Stadium could have also been preserved.
My interest in professional baseball, and in the stadium itself, did not begin and end solely with the study of things past. At an early age, I wanted very much to experience the stadium’s present–in the here and now– while I still could, understanding that, like the train depot, the end could one day come all too soon. Taking full advantage of the time that was still left, I became an avid fan of both the Miami Orioles as well as the Baltimore Orioles. They were Miami’s teams and, therefore, they were my teams. To this day, I am still an Orioles fan not because they currently hold spring training in Ft. Lauderdale or even because the Baltimore Orioles themselves called Miami their spring home for more than three decades. No, I am still an Orioles fan due to the fact that they were the Major League affiliate of my first love — my very first favorite baseball team — the Miami Orioles.
As with most things in life, with time comes change and Minor League Baseball was no different; change was the way of life. After I became a fan of the Miami Orioles for just one season, they lost their affiliation with Baltimore and reverted to the old Marlins name. It was the name Miami Marlins that had been used at the stadium for most of the 1950’s and 60’s, and it helped to spark my young historically curious mind all that much more. I would go on to learn even more about the franchise’s (and the stadium’s) truly fascinating past, the likes of which cannot be detailed here due to space considerations. (You’ll have to read one of my other articles for that.) I was able to witness history at the stadium firsthand, including the chance to see all of the Orioles greats of the 80’s play during spring training. I was able to meet many of them personally including Hall of Famers Cal Ripken, Jr. and Eddie Murray.
In 1987, Miami Stadium received a name change, becoming Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium named in honor of the late Cuban baseball executive. The Miami Orioles played out most of the 1980’s at Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium with the old Marlins moniker, finally becoming the Miami Miracle in 1989 upon their move to FIU’s University Park Campus. The minor league Marlins last game at the stadium was July 27, 1988. Before that era came to a close, I saw many fine ballplayers play for the Marlins, including Jose Canseco, Benito Santiago, Dennis Martinez, Mike Torrez, and Eric Rasmussen.
In 1990, just two years after the Marlins left the stadium, so did the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles’ last game at Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium was a 6-4 win over the Atlanta Braves on April 5th of that spring. Fearing that this was going to be their last season at the ballpark, I went to every game that year.
For the next six years, the only regular tenant at Miami Stadium was the Miami-Dade Community College (Wolfson Campus) Baseball Team. In 1996, as with the Marlins and Orioles before them, Miami-Dade’s brief stay at the ballpark came to an end. I went to many a game during those six years, and I feel truly fortunate to have been in attendance for the last game ever played at the stadium on April 17, 1996.
In the summer of 2001 I could hardly believe my eyes; my worst nightmare finally came true. On a late May afternoon that year, the Miami Herald reported that the stadium was finally being torn down. I always knew this day would come but, I was still holding a small glimmer of hope that it never would. It took over two months for the stadium to be demolished as the crew worked on it; section by section, piece by piece. I took several dozen pictures of the stadium over that span of time to serve as documentation as well as an excuse to say goodbye. If one were to drive by today, the former site of the stadium is now occupied by The Miami Stadium Apartments.
The stadium lives on though, not only in the pictures taken and stories written about it but, also in the hearts and minds of the people who helped make it what it was – the fans, the players, the employees. To help preserve the stadium’s place in history, author/architect Rolando Llanes and filmmaker John Graham collaborated on a book and documentary ,White Elephant: What was There to save? (aired on PBS in 2007), chronicling the stadium’s past. It is my hope that, through these works, scores of people today and future generations of Miamians will come to know the significance that Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium played in the history of America’s national pastime.
Copyright by Kurt Schweizer, 2004, 2011 — pictures also found at: www.digitalballparks.com
Kurt Schweizer can be reached at MiracleHistory@aol.com