Dolphin Stadium gobbled by Land Shark

The Mermaids help keep passion for Marlins baseball alive and kicking. Steve Mitchell/US Presswire

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The home stadium of the Miami Dolphins, the Miami Hurricanes and the Florida Marlins has been called a lot of things, but there's no question it's a great place to catch a ballgame.

The facility formerly known as Dolphin Stadium -- and originally as Joe Robbie Stadium, then as Pro Player Stadium, then briefly as Dolphins Stadium before the plural S was dropped -- recently underwent another name change, becoming Land Shark Stadium in a recent deal between the Dolphins and Jimmy Buffett and his Margaritaville brand, which includes Land Shark Lager.

"It's really a partnership between Jimmy Buffett's brand and the Dolphins, because obviously he represents a south Florida tropical lifestyle that's unique," said Harvey Greene, Dolphins senior vice president of media relations.

It's Miami by any name

For a gallery of images of Land Shark Stadium,
click here.

"The stadium name tries to actually represent all that Jimmy symbolizes. ... We have a lifestyle here that's different from most places in the country."

The Land Shark name is good for this season only, and will expire before the stadium hosts the Super Bowl in 2010. While the sponsorship came together in part because Buffett is friends with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, it is the Dolphins' summertime tenants, the Marlins, who played the first game under the Land Shark sign in right field.

Oddly enough, the one constant for the Marlins has been their "temporary" home.

Despite the stadium's name changes and the franchise's leadership rotation under three different owners, the Marlins have 18 years of rich history here, including World Series titles in 1997 and 2003.

And despite these past accomplishments, the Marlins are perpetually a team of the future.

After both championship seasons, the team underwent a major fire sale, with huge roster turnover an economic necessity because of the Marlins' small-market, low-revenue status. Once star players like Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Mike Lowell came into their own and thrived, the team couldn't afford to pay the high salaries they commanded.

But that's all changing: Soon the Marlins will have a new stadium to call their own, and what seems to be growing is a renewed passion for Florida baseball and a new generation of fans.

None of the players from the 2003 team remain, but the Marlins have once again rebuilt the roster with talented youngsters.

The team got off to a phenomenal start this season, going 11-1, but has since fallen back to the pack, sitting at 23-28 and in fourth place in the National League East through Sunday. Nonetheless, the Marlins have a nucleus of young sluggers like Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla, and a stable of young pitchers with superior stuff, including Josh Johnson and Chris Volstad.

"We're gonna be fun to watch not only this year but years to come," said Marlins veteran utility man Wes Helms, the team's elder statesmen with 12 years' experience in the NL. "We have a young crowd, and it's fun because we play this game for the kids. You want the kids to look up to you because that's who's going to be up here taking our spot one day."

And while the Marlins don't always draw a large crowd to their games, they're not lacking for young fans. Tickets are relatively cheap and readily available, and Marlins management realizes that there's no better way to build lasting loyalty than to cater to a young audience of potential lifelong fans by offering cheap entertainment.

One promotion that has been very successful is the Saturday night concert series, which is in its third year and features a free show and fireworks after the game. Another popular option for young fans is a locally available coupon that's good for two tickets for the price of one.

While home games often draw a fair amount of supporters of the visiting teams, there's a noticeably youthful element to the Marlins' fan base.

In the parking lot as well as the concourse for a Sunday afternoon game against the Phillies in late April, there is an abundance of groups of 20-somethings, who grew up cheering for the Marlins, alongside a slightly younger generation of teenagers decked out in Marlins gear. Another common sight is parents wearing Cubs or Yankees or Red Sox hats with small children decked out in Marlins garb.

Miami lawyer David Rothman has been a Marlins season-ticket holder since the very beginning of the franchise in 1993, and has been coming to games with his wife, Jeanne, and son, Greg, ever since.

"We grew up with this team," Rothman said. "It's a young team, a fun team."

Rothman was originally a Dodgers fan, and didn't consider himself a Marlins fan "until four or five years" of Florida baseball. The transformation, perhaps not surprisingly, came around the time of the Marlins' 1997 World Series championship. When Edgar Renteria drove in Craig Counsell with the winning run in the bottom on the 11th inning of Game 7, then 11-year-old Greg Rothman said, with tears in his eyes, "I've waited my whole life for this."

Florida's fans are as passionate as any in baseball.

"It's fun to play in front of them," Helms said. "They're really loud when they do get loud."

"Opening Day was nuts," said Marlins fan and frequent tailgater Geo Hough, who attends roughly 20 games a year. Hough was lucky enough to catch his first-ever foul ball during the Marlins' April 6 opener, a game in which they blasted four home runs, including a Hanley Ramirez grand slam, en route to a 12-6 victory over the Nationals. "It was everything you could ask for on Opening Day."

The Marlins drew 34,323 on Opening Day, nearly double their 18,763 average attendance through 22 home games.

"They had people in the upper deck, and if you see that, that's a pretty decent crowd," Hough said, alluding to the fact Land Shark Stadium, designed to host 75,000 football fans, hardly ever has anyone in its upper deck to see the Marlins.