MIAMI — Perched atop the Miami Marlins’ multicolored, provocative home-run sculpture is a blue marlin, poised for splashdown whenever the home team hits one out.
Call the artwork what you will — gaudy, goofy, grotesque, great — but there’s no denying it’s new. For the Marlins, that’s what this season is all about.
Long overlooked and underfunded, they’ve become a big-spending, attention-grabbing team as they open the season at home tonight against the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
The pop-art sculpture, futuristic ballpark, brisk ticket sales, team name, uniforms, celebrity manager, All-Star shortstop, All-Star left-hander, All-Star closer and starry-eyed optimism: all new.
With the roster significantly upgraded, the Marlins predict they’ll contend for the NL East title — and more.
“We expect to win,” new shortstop Jose Reyes says. “The kind of club we have, we’re going to compete, no doubt.”
Like the Marlins, the 2012 Cardinals have a new look. Slugger Albert Pujols and manager Tony La Russa are gone and postseason star Chris Carpenter is hurt, so Kyle Lohse will start the opener. But right-hander Adam Wainwright is back from elbow surgery, and the addition of outfielder Carlos Beltran is cause for encouragement.
Plus, only one team has a chance to repeat as the World Series champion, and baseball-crazy St. Louis is always eager for a season to start.
“There’s a buzz in every home opener,” rookie manager Mike Matheny says. “The buzz in our place is ridiculous.”
While the Cardinals will wait until April 13 to play a home game, outfielder Jon Jay is especially excited about the road opener. The Miami native attended Marlins games as a youngster when they played in the Dolphins’ stadium, so he can appreciate the new ballpark.
“To be able to play the first game there, it’s something I am going to remember forever,” he said.