Miami Marlins starting pitcher Josh Johnson throws the first pitch of the regular season at Marlins Park during the Opening Day baseball game between the Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals, Wednesday, April 4, 2012, in Miami.
Miami (News-Press) -- The grand opening of Marlins Park hearkened to history.
Yet the $515 million, Dade County-funded stadium also opened its roof, unveiling the promise of a professional baseball future in South Florida. The backdrop of the downtown Miami skyline could be seen through pillared glass.
The rebranded Miami Marlins lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1 on Wednesday night but won in so many other ways.
The ballpark's roof slid open over the course of 13 minutes, revealing a blue sky, a near-full moon and a cool, ocean breeze. The roof opened 35 minutes before Josh Johnson, staff ace of the Marlins, threw the ballpark's first official pitch, to St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal.
Leading up to that flashbulb moment, boxing great Muhammad Ali, who once trained at the since torn down Fifth Street Gym on nearby South Beach, handed off the ceremonial pitch, his hands shaking and his body too ravaged by Parkinson's Disease to toss the ball.
Puerto Rican native Jose Feliciano, now a Lehigh Acres resident, sang a Latin-themed National Anthem to cheers instead of the jeers he faced 44 years ago at the 1968 World Series. Feliciano landed the gig as a longtime friend of Emilio Estefan, the husband of singer Gloria Estefan, who produced the opening ceremony.
It takes about three hours to drive the 140 miles from Feliciano's home to Marlins Park - and then find a parking spot.
"You know, every time I've done the anthem for a team - like in 2003, I did it for the Marlins - they went all the way to the World Series," Feliciano said. "I hope they go to the World Series. There's a lot of people on the Marlins that I admire.
Built on the former site of the Orange Bowl football stadium, which remains remembered with a display on one of the concourses, the ballpark has a "bobblehead museum" and two huge video boards.
As the Marlins made history on their new field, St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse threatened to make it as well.
Lohse, who played for the Class A Fort Myers Miracle in 1999, had a no-hitter through six innings. Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes, who signed a six-year, $106 million contract during the offseason, broke up the no-hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning. That allowed Bob Feller to remain the only pitcher ever to throw a no-hitter on Opening Day, a feat he accomplished for the Cleveland Indians in 1940.
Miami catcher John Buck hit an RBI double, scoring second baseman Omar Infante in the bottom of the eighth. Giancarlo Stanton, who reclaimed his Latin birth name during the offseason instead of using Mike, struck out swinging in the game's final at-bat.
Cardinals third baseman David Freese hit a two-RBI single in the first inning. Furcal hit an RBI-single in the second. Freese scored on a groundout in the eighth for the fourth and final run.
The sights and sounds of baseball obviously filled Marlins Park, but so did the imagery of Miami.
As drummers pounded bongos by the "Clevelander" bar behind left-center field, bikini-clad models lounged by the adjacent swimming pool, from where they watched the Cardinals take batting practice.
Tropical fish swam in an aquarium - just 20 feet behind home plate.
A 75-foot-tall sculpture by acclaimed Nashville, Tenn., artist Red Grooms, 74, depicts clouds, flamingos, seagulls, etc., in fluorescent colors, on standby to erupt into even more of a spectacle upon a Marlins hitter slugging a home run. That home run didn't happen Wednesday night.
But the ballpark, by many accounts, hit a home run despite the controversy of using public money to fund a private business.
"It's an interesting phenomenon, because you're going through that period, and taxpayers rightfully want to know who's paying for what and why and how," Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said before the game. "Everything is justifiable. You can debate the economic advantages. I've done a fair number of studies."
Ronald Fernandez, 26, allowed eight to nine cars - however many he could cram in to his apartment's lot - to park at $20 per vehicle.
Tito Solores, 39, traveled just six miles from his Miami home for the game.
"For them to be able to build this on that hallowed ground," Solores said, referring to the Orange Bowl, "it's something else. I'm excited."
Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen wasn't happy with the loss. But he was thrilled to be a part of the atmosphere beforehand.
"There's never anything better than opening day for any player, any manager - I don't care how many years you play in the big leagues," Guillen said. "It's always exciting. But this one is different because a lot of people can't wait for this ballpark to open."
David Dorsey, Fort Myers News-Press