MIAMI (AP) -- Alex Rodriguez grew up in Miami, taking three or four city buses to the Orange Bowl on weekends with hopes of sneaking into University of Miami or Miami Dolphins football games.
The Orange Bowl is gone now.
And A-Rod is raving about what took its place.
He was in the lineup Sunday for the first game between two big-league clubs at the new $515 million Marlins Park, an exhibition between Miami and the New York Yankees. It was the fourth baseball game in the building, preceded last month by a high school game and two Marlins games against college teams.
"I don't want to be corny or cheesy because it is a spring training game and all that, but for me this is a very special day," Rodriguez said. "To be able to grow up in these streets, in these square blocks ... I never imagined, as a child, that such a beautiful stadium would be built in the middle of Miami. So I'm very proud of the city of Miami and the Marlins to be able to achieve this in my hometown.
"This is kind of like, 'Hello, major league baseball. We're here,'" Rodriguez said.
The Yankees and Marlins play again in the building on Monday, before the real opening comes for Miami against the reigning World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night.
Playing in a fancy ballpark is old hat for the Yankees, whose new park cost $1.5 billion. In Miami, the need for a baseball-only ballpark was talked about for years. From their inception in 1993, the Marlins played in what's known today as Sun Life Stadium, the Dolphins' home park that had tens of thousands of empty seats for just about every baseball game — plus didn't provide the baseball team with the revenue streams it said it needed to survive.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who managed the Marlins in 2006 when prospects of a new ballpark were especially dire, said he never doubted that Miami would eventually get its stadium.
"I think it was important for them to get their own home," Girardi said. "I think at times they were losing players that they probably would have liked to have held on to, just because they didn't have the revenue sources. So I think it's really important for the organization. And I think everyone saw what they did in free agency ... I think it's good for the organization and it's good for the community."
Girardi said he bumped into Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria — the man who fired him — outside the Yankees' hotel on Saturday night.
"I told him I was excited to see his new home," Girardi said.
Everyone was, perhaps no one more than A-Rod.
He arranged for tickets for plenty of family and friends for this two-game exhibition series, helping a list that included names from Westminster Christian — his high school, about 25 miles south of the ballpark — to the University of Miami and members of the Boys & Girls Club. On Monday, he said he would take a tour of the whole park with his daughters and a couple of friends, just to soak in everything the place has to offer.
"I'll tell you, I get chills," Rodriguez said. "I'm a little emotional because I'm right down the street. I get to share this with my family and friends today, my two daughters will be here and they're super excited. Look, we know what Yankee Stadium means to us in New York. It means the world. It's been a big success for us. And I really hope that it's a huge success for not only Major League Baseball, but for (Loria) and the Marlins."
Attendance for the Marlins has been dreadful for many years, for many reasons. The constant threat of rain, the heat and humidity, the lingering sense of resentment for the way the team struggled to keep or attract stars that merited big-money contracts, they were all cited as reasons why people wouldn't attend.
The biggest reason perhaps was this: The Marlins, other than the 1997 and 2003 World Series seasons, just didn't win a whole lot, either.
"The parallel in Miami is the Miami Heat," Rodriguez said. "Miami's a place that if you win, they'll definitely come out. They enjoy their stars. They enjoy winners. I think (Heat president) Pat Riley and (Heat owner) Micky Arison have done a phenomenal job across the street with the Miami Heat. They brought in three megastars that are getting to know each other very well and hopefully will win a championship here soon. So Miami's proven that if you have stars on the field and more importantly you win, they'll show up a lot."
With this ballpark, and with a roster that already seems as promising as any other in Marlins history, A-Rod doesn't expect the Marlins to have trouble selling tickets anymore.
"The bottom line is, without a building like this, you really can't compete the way Major League Baseball is right now," he said. "The game is exploding. It's done very well. You saw what the Dodgers just sold for. You need a venue like this to compete at the highest level."
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- University of Miami
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