Robbie Stadium may tempt Giants from San Francisco

April 02, 1991|By Bruce Jenkins | Bruce Jenkins,San Francisco Chronicle

MIAMI -- The city of Miami unveiled major-league baseball in the renovated Joe Robbie Stadium on Saturday night, and a San Francisco fan's nightmare is that Giants owner Bob Lurie was on the sidelines, chatting away with Mr. Blockbuster Video, Wayne Huizenga, making those final plans to move the Giants out of San Francisco.

Of course, Lurie is a lifelong San Franciscan (can there be a more pure existence?), and his status in the community depends heavily on baseball. And we know that while he's been battered around like a punch-drunk fighter in the political arena, he believes, deep down, that the Giants can never move. Not under Lurie's ownership or anyone he would

deem to take over.

That's why we acknowledge him as the major American he is.

Still, there are temptations. It's a good thing Lurie has a ton of money, because the temptation of baseball in Miami will be very, very sweet.

As you're probably tired of reading by now, the National League will choose two expansion sites from the six-city group of Denver; Buffalo, N.Y.; Washington; Miami; Tampa-St. Petersburg; and Orlando.

The decision should come down around the All-Star break, and VTC insiders say there will be at least one team in Florida.

Orlando is considered a long shot at best. When you get a first-hand look at Tampa-St. Petersburg, you figure the expansion proposal is some kind of practical joke.

Neither city has a thing to offer beyond a hideous sequence of fast-food restaurants, third-class architecture, Holiday Inn-style sophistication and crowded "causeway" traffic over a vast expanse of nothingness. Good heavens, what an unappealing part of the world.

To top it off, the folks around Tampa-St. Pete decided the weather was so spotty, they would have to build a dome.

Ponder that one for a moment: People flee the frigid Northeast each winter, looking for a touch of the tropics in sunny Florida, and big-league baseball crams itself into a dome!

In what must go down as one of the great gambles of all time, local organizers didn't need a team; they went ahead and built the preposterous Suncoast Dome anyway, on a hunch. It just sits there now, making a lousy view intolerable. Perhaps it will rot there.

Apparently, after close calls with the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox, the Suncoast people believe they are owed a team.

Well, they're wrong.

By all accounts, commissioner Fay Vincent is making tremendous strides toward traditional thinking. He's fighting to eliminate the DH and supporting old-style ballpark concepts like the one being executed in Baltimore.

If Tampa-St. Petersburg gets a team, call in the Lone Ranger, the FBI and an exterminator, because there will be a horrible stink in the air.

To the outside observer, Miami doesn't sound so great, either. The Orioles always had a tough time here in spring training, due mostly to a rickety old stadium in a nasty neighborhood, and they abandoned Miami last year.

But Joe Robbie Stadium, home of the NFL Dolphins, is a whole new world. The place was built with both football and baseball in mind, and after some major alterations, the 1991 version has more charm than at least 11 of the 13 multipurpose stadiums (Oakland no longer counts) in the big leagues.

"This place doesn't look like a stadium any more," manager Frank Robinson said as his Orioles prepared to meet the New York Yankees in Saturday night's exhibition game.

"It feels like a ballpark. If I had to grade it, I'd give it an A."

It has real grass, making it an automatic improvement over Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Montreal. It welcomes the fresh, open air, putting it centuries ahead of Seattle, Minneapolis and Houston.

With only a few feet of foul territory and low fences, it has a sense of intimacy you can't find in Atlanta or San Diego.

Cleveland compares nicely, but only when the place is packed. Candlestick has soul and character, but nobody wants to acknowledge it.

The most legitimate comparison is with Anaheim Stadium, and that is a favorable one, indeed. Miami might even have a slight edge there, because in a splendid little touch, its outfield dimensions are not symmetrical (335 down the left-field line, 345 to right).

Even if the expansion sites are awarded elsewhere, Miami will have (a) a major media market and (b) a first-rate stadium ready to go.

That's where the Giants come in, along with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Houston and other franchises that have considered moving.

Huizenga is a strong factor, too.

His Blockbuster Video company is not only recession-proof, it's a runaway success that is threatening small-time video outfits all over the country. He's the sole owner with a strong, likable personality.

And his plan for big-league baseball looked awfully good Saturday night, when 67,654 fans packed Joe Robbie for the Yanks and Orioles.

"Baseball hasn't let anybody move in a long time," Huizenga said. No kidding. It's been 22 years since the Seattle Pilots, a one-year wonder, moved to Milwaukee.

"But we'd pursue any team wanting to move here. If we got the green light from baseball, we'd do it in a minute."

They're passing out "SF: Major League Baseball" caps around Miami lately, and they look pretty spiffy.

Hmmm . . . South Florida. SF. Baseball. Aw, forget it. Just a bad dream.

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