Brick, limestone and green padding backstops have a boorish feel to them. It's material that not quite Miami enough, or so thought the Marlins' front office. So to give a little extra South Florida feel to Marlins Park, the team drew from the sea. Quite literally.
To mark the backstop of the 37,000-seat park, which opened in 2012, Miami placed a pair of saltwater fish tanks behind home plate. It's an unusual and unexpected concept that came not from the designer, but right from the front offices instead.
“We were talking about (a fish tank) and somehow, as things progressed, the Marlins wanted something,” Earl Santee, Populous architect and the park’s designer, told SI.com. “The building is a signature by itself, but they wanted a signature behind home plate. We spent a lot of time making it work.”
The two tanks make up a portion of the home plate wall, shifted with one slightly toward the first-base side and the other toward the third-base side. Each of the 450-gallon tanks was designed for safety for those around them and safety for the fish. A 1 1/2-inch thick shatterproof acrylic glass — using the same material found in bulletproof glass — protects patrons, as it can withstand the forces of a hit or thrown baseball. But the fish needed a bit more protection, both from the Miami sun in the shallow tank and from stadium noises, so local tank experts created a cover for the top to shield them from the harmful elements. Of course, this cover also renders the tank less visible.
But beautifying the backstop wasn’t always the main focus of the fish tank. “At one time, and I’m not a fish expert, I wanted to put it in the outfield wall,” Santee says. “We wanted to put some big fish out there, fish that would probably be hostile to humans, like sharks. That didn’t happen.”
After Santee’s shark idea was nixed, the thought shifted to creating a signature design element for a part of the ballpark that seldom, if ever, has special aesthetic appeal. So the fish tanks moved behind home plate and were offset so as not to distract players.
The dozens of fish inside the 24-foot-long tanks range in colorful sizes of one to eight inches, but only in a depth of 36 inches. Unfortunately, Santee’s dream of getting a live marlin in the tank simply wasn’t feasible.
And while Marlins Park has some other Florida-feeling elements, such as an odd-looking fountain in centerfield and a nightclub-sponsored pool in the outfield, neither of those ideas are original to the city. But the aquarium? That’s all Miami.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.