Remember the first game at Marlins Park? The Cardinals and Marlins opened the 2012 season as the national game of the week on ESPN. Giancarlo Stanton blasted two long fly balls that were caught on the warning track, and the new stadium immediately earned a reputation as Death Valley for hitters.
That initial judgment has largely remained true. According to ESPN's Park Factor, which compares the rate of home runs the Marlins and their opponents hit at home vs. on the road, Marlins Park ranks 23rd in the majors in home run difficulty. From 2014 to 2016, "The Bill James Handbook" rated Marlins Park as the fourth-toughest home run park, behind only AT&T Park, Kauffman Stadium and the Oakland Coliseum.
Of course, not all hitters are affected equally. Since 2012, Stanton has hit 94 home runs at home, one every 13 at-bats; he's hit 81 on the road, one every 14.8 at-bats. Teammate Justin Bour, who will join Stanton in Monday's highly anticipated Home Run Derby, has homered every 16.1 at-bats at home and every 19.3 at-bats on the road.
Still, as Stanton looks to defend his Derby title against the likes of hotshot rookies Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, a central theme will certainly be how the ball is carrying. It's also worth noting that the park has been a little friendlier to left-handed batters, so that could help Bour, Bellinger, Mike Moustakas and Charlie Blackmon, the four lefties.
What else do you need to know about Marlins Park and home runs?
Not a home run for Miami-Dade County: We can't ignore the financial boondoggle the park has turned into for the county. The county was responsible for about $500 million in construction costs -- the Marlins and their owner, Jeffrey Loria, meanwhile, were responsible for less than 20 percent of the costs -- but the county didn't have the money. So it borrowed $400 million by selling bonds on Wall Street. A few years ago, the Miami Herald did the math. One set of bonds worth $91 million will eventually cost the county more than $1 billion to pay back, because payments on the bonds don't even kick in until 2026 and come with high interest rates.
Basically, it's probably the worst publicly funded stadium deal in history. And what happened? Loria did sign three high-priced free agents that first season, and when the team still finished in last place, Loria went back into perpetual rebuilding mode, raking in profits with low-salaried teams. It's probably no coincidence that he's looking to sell the team now, as Stanton's mega-contract escalates from a $14.5 million salary in 2017 to $25 million next year.
Meanwhile, the new park hasn't done anything for attendance; the Marlins are on their way to finishing last in the National League in attendance for the 11th time in 12 seasons. They escaped the cellar in that department in the park's first year.
Notable home runs: Not surprisingly, Stanton has the eight longest home runs hit at Marlins Park in the Statcast era, including a 479-foot blast on June 23, 2015. But none of those lengthy shots top the first walk-off home run at Marlins Park, a grand slam to beat the Mets on Mother's Day in 2012. He added another walk-off grand slam to beat the Mariners in 2014, and then there was the time he broke a panel on the scoreboard in left field:
Another infamous home run was the one Jose Fernandez hit against the Braves in 2013, the first of his career, which led to a benches-clearing incident after the Braves took exception to Fernandez admiring his shot:
The most memorable home run, however, came in the first game after Fernandez's death last September, when light-hitting Dee Gordon led off the game with an emotional home run –- the only one he hit all season:
The home run sculpture: So, that thing out beyond the outfield fence? Modern art, dear readers! Loria made his money as an art dealer and he commissioned pop artist Red Grooms for the $2.5 million sculpture. In 2013, only three Marlins had a higher salary than the cost of the sculpture. It's unclear whether Loria gets to take the sculpture with him when he sells the club.
The sculpture, which does all kinds of fancy things when home runs are hit, had a moment of fame in April, when a cat climbed over the outfield well and onto the sculpture:
That leads to some obvious questions: Will the sculpture do its thing with every home run during the Derby, and can it handle the onslaught of homers? Will the cat make a special guest appearance?
How will Judge and Bellinger do? So, my smart co-workers at ESPN Stats & Info dug up the percentage of home runs each contestant in the Derby hit that also would have been a home run at Marlins Park (through Thursday):
Prediction: Hard to go against the hometown favorite. Stanton launched 61 home runs in winning last year's Home Run Derby in San Diego, when he hit the 10 longest home runs, including two estimated at 497 feet.
Match that, Mr. Judge.