Marlins dedicate 2012 season to fans

Marlins dedicate 2012 season to fans

MIAMI -- Before the festivities and ballgame got under way on Wednesday night, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria made a declaration.

The 2012 season, the franchise's first at Marlins Park, is being dedicated to the fans of Miami and South Florida.

"We are dedicating this season to our fans," Loria said. "We are grateful to them. We appreciate them. I think that's the right thing to do."

The Marlins on Wednesday night had a gala grand opening to their sparkling retractable-roof ballpark.

For more than a decade, three different Marlins owners struggled to get a baseball-only facility for the franchise that joined the big leagues in 1993.

Now that the club has a new home and a new beginning, the organization is thankful to its loyal supporters.

"This whole process has been about the fans," Marlins president David Samson said. "The whole long saga of getting the ballpark was always about our fans and our guests. Now, it's up to them to enjoy it. Enjoy their season and enjoy their park."

At the start of their pregame ceremony, former Marlins standouts Mike Lowell and Jeff Conine raised the championship flags for the 2003 and 1997 seasons, respectively.

The Marlins brought in boxing legend Muhammad Ali on a cart with Loria to cap off the pregame ceremonies, as fans chanted "Ali, Ali!"

Wednesday's game against the Cardinals is being televised on ESPN, marking a rare appearance for the Marlins on national TV.

"We think that once this ballpark and this team are showcased, they'll be coming to us for a lot of games," Loria said. "It's special."

At least for the first game of the new season, the Marlins and city of Miami are on display.

"Tonight, I'm excited for people here watching this game and all over the world," Samson said. "They're getting to see what a great city Miami is. And for all the fans here to enjoy what Miami is.

"This is a big step. This is what this market has never had, its own ballpark. Now we have it. We have a team on the field we expect to be good, so it should be an interesting confluence of events creating some championships and excitement."