MIAMI -- A brand new ballpark. A star player with a long-term contract.
Times are changing for the Florida Marlins.
The Marlins formally announced the $70 million, six-year contract extension of shortstop Hanley Ramirez at the site of their future ballpark Saturday, a sign of stability for a team that has been repeatedly dismantled. The ballpark, plans for which are still being finalized, is expected to substantially increase revenue for a franchise with a history of poor attendance and tight budgets.
"Today we're taking not one, but two giant steps forward," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said. "The first is that by standing here on this very site we reaffirmed the vision of our city and county leaders to guarantee Major League Baseball stays here in South Florida ... and we have one of the greatest young players ever to wear a Marlins uniform."
About 250 fans, city and county leaders cheered Ramirez and the Marlins on the ground where the stadium is expected to open in 2011. The Marlins -- and Ramirez -- couldn't wait that long to start securing their future.
"You never expect something like this will happen one day," said Ramirez, whose family and friends attended the announcement. "That's why you work so hard when you're a little kid. I'm just so happy, happy that I can be with the Marlins when this stadium opens."
Loria said plans are to break ground on the ballpark in November or December at the site, where the famed Orange Bowl stadium has been reduced to rubble.
In February, the Marlins reached an agreement to build a long-sought, retractable-roof stadium at the site in Little Havana near downtown.
Ramirez's contract, the first major deal given to a player for the soon-to-be renamed Miami Marlins, is the kind of change the Marlins have promised with a new stadium.
"I think [the stadium] is definitely a big part of it," Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest said. "We've had a lot of good young players here. Whether it's Derrek Lee or Dontrelle Willis, several players were probably worthy of multiyear consideration. But there wasn't a stadium on the horizon. Now there is."
The Marlins, who began Saturday atop the NL East, still have a wave of players approaching first-year arbitration, including Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen. The team's historically frugal payroll -- which was a league-low $21.8 million on Opening Day -- would soar if they sign all to long-term deals.
Ramirez, who is making $439,000 this season, gets $5.5 million next year, $7 million in 2010, $11 million in 2011, $15 million in 2012, $15.5 million in 2013 and $16 million in 2014.
Beinfest said he has not made any recommendations to Loria to offer contract extensions to current players.
"The stadium changes things, so we'll see," Beinfest said.
There are still kinks in the stadium deal, part of a broader project to revitalize areas of Miami, that have some worried the effort might get derailed. The project is also facing a lawsuit from auto magnate Norman Braman, who wants voters, not lawmakers, to decide on the deal and claims it is a misuse of taxpayer dollars. He's arguing the deal is unconstitutional because of the way it is financed.
Besides the 37,000-seat ballpark and parking garage, the plan calls for construction of a tunnel to Miami's port, a new downtown trolley line and money for the arts.
But Loria said he is confident the Marlins will break ground on their stadium this year.
"I take the leaders on their word. They voted yes to the new stadium, the city did, the county did," Loria said. "Frankly, it's inconceivable to me that anything would go forward without this new stadium."