Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Interview with Miami Minor League Baseball Historian Kurt Schweizer - Part 2

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

This is Part 2 of our interview with Kurt Schweizer. You can find Part 1 here.

Bus Leagues Baseball: When did you start documenting the end of Miami Stadium?

KS: Well, I knew, going back to about the early-90s, that its days were really numbered. There was a fight to save it from demolition, that was led by a couple of the producers of the documentary and I was involved with that. But, that movement was not ultimately successful. So I was not surprised when I read in the Miami Herald that demolition had begun. That was in late May of 2001. I went there the next day and just started taking as many pictures as I could from every angle feasible. I got permission from the president of the demolition company to be on the property as long as I wore a hardhat and agreed to the assumption of risk for legal purposes, which I did. So, over the course of about the next two months after that, I went to the stadium about 3 or 4 days a week to document the demolition process. And even in the years prior to that, I got permission from the City of Miami Parks Department to take pictures of it several times and they were very cooperative with me on that.

BLB: When did you realize the end was near?

KS: The first real sign was the Marlins moving out of there, in the middle of the 1988 season. Then when the Orioles discontinued using it for Spring Training after the 1990 season, I knew it was very likely just a matter of time. The baseball team from the downtown campus of Miami Dade College still used it through 1996 and I even went to many of those games, but I knew that team, alone, would not be enough for the City to justify keeping the stadium open. So, it was bought, I believe, in about 1999 by a housing developer. And then the clock started to speed up a bit on its death watch. So when the demolition finally started to occur a couple years later, I was still sad but not a bit surprised.

BLB: How important was Miami Stadium to the people of the area? What made Miami Stadium so important to baseball history in general?

KS: It was important as it hosted not only Minor League ball from the time just after it opened in 1949 right up to 1988 but also Spring Training, from 1950 to 1990. It helped put Florida on the map for both of those things. And in Florida, especially, the two have generally been pretty intertwined. Plus that was and still is very important to the economy and tourism industry in the state. Miami Stadium was also used for many other events besides baseball, such as concerts and things of that nature, in addition to other sports. And from the purely historical perspective, there were countless Hall of Famers who played at Miami Stadium, either in a spring game and/or in a Minor League game. On top of that, it had an innovative architectural design, which included the grand cantilevered roof that it became famous for amongst architects and some photographers.

BLB: Miami seems to get a bad rap in the baseball world these days. Why do you think that is? Have the attitudes towards baseball in South Florida changed?

KS: Many people have wrestled with that question for a while. It’s not an easy question to answer. There are many variables. But, I would say that Miami has, for over 70 years now, been primarily a football town, for college and then also pro. And, of course, we are one of only a handful of metro areas to have the big four major sports, but football is usually where most of the local sports fans want to put their entertainment dollar. But, baseball has always, I believe, been the favorite local participatory sport, which doesn’t always translate into significant revenue for admission-charging teams. Another aspect, too, is that there are so many non-sports choices for people all over Florida from which to choose to spend their money. So, baseball, as a spectator sport, often gets left behind. But, the main way I have seen baseball in Florida flourishing is within Spring Training, which is, indeed, very closely tied to tourism. For the last 15 or so years that it was held there, though, attendance suffered during the spring at Miami Stadium, because the area that it was in was not perceived as being a safe place to go to anymore. I think that’s a relative thing, but I could see where people thought that.

BLB: You made a comment on a website once that said you will never set foot in the new Marlins stadium. Why not?

KS: That is a question that I am a bit hesitant to fully answer because I have several acquaintances and former classmates whom work for the Florida Marlins. I respect all of those people and I think they are very good at what they do and I don’t want to insult any of them in any way shape or form. Having said that, though, I know that a lot of people in South Florida were not pleased with the way their ownership group went about securing some of the funding for the new stadium and I can see why some people have some hard feelings towards the Marlins about that. Also, for me, it has a lot to do with the demolition of the Orange Bowl and the way all of that was handled. Of course, my main interest related to sports is baseball history. But I am also a huge fan of football and its history. I think the fact that the Orange Bowl was torn down without any attempt at retrofitting it or preserving any part of its structure is almost a crime. I will miss the Orange Bowl almost as much as Miami Stadium. And I know a lot of people share that sentiment and many even more so than myself, I’m sure. Another important aspect that I think the Marlins and the City overlooked is the traffic infrastructure issue around the new stadium. Anyone who has driven to that area during rush hour will understand what I’m referring to. Of course, it wasn’t a problem for the Dolphins and Hurricanes because the vast majority of their games were on weekends. But, I don’t think that area’s roads can properly support game-day traffic on business days during the afternoon rush, which, of course, is when most of the Marlins games will start. If I am proven wrong, so be it, but I certainly don’t want to try it, personally.

(Thanks to Kurt for this interview. Part 3 coming Friday!)