The new Miami Marlins stadium has a backstop that could only have originated in South Florida -- rather than have a normal-people brick wall or those nice green pads, the stadium will have 40 feet of aquariums separating the area behind home plate from the first row of fans.
Though Marlins President David Samson says the aquarium setup "screams Miami," the setup was manufactured by Fort Lauderdale-based Living Color Aquariums, in a process that company president Mat Roy said started two years ago. I called to ask how one would go about putting an aquarium in a baseball stadium without the folks in the expensive seats getting their laps filled with dead fish.
"With a lot of consideration," Roy said. "It's been a long process for sure."
But it looks like the aquarium getting busted won't be an issue -- it's got a front panel that Roy and Marlins Executive VP for Ballpark Development Claude Delorme said was tested by, uh, having Marlins first-baseman Gaby Sanchez wing baseballs at the thing. He was allegedly clocked at 84 mph.
But the prevention of gruesome trip to the sandy stuff for the 100 fish that will populate the tank isn't the only consideration that was taken. After investigating if the company could actually pull it off, Roy said, they set out to design the two 20-foot aquariums to be insulated from stadium vibration (the sides of the tank are suspended on neoprene), protected from heat (there's a 24-hour chiller system), and prevented from reflecting sunlight into players' eyes (the front panel is angled upward, presumably directly at the denizens of the upper deck).
Surprisingly, activists are not particularly pleased with the idea. Animal Rights Foundation of Florida spokesman Don Anthony said stadiums are not really the place to be playing with tropical fish.
"I can tell you even if the glass doesn't shatter, it's going to cause a tremendous vibration and disturb and upset the fish," Anthony said. "No matter how many shock absorbers they build into the system, if there are thousands of fans screaming and jumping during a sporting event it's going to affect the fish in there."
He did say "I don't know if its on the high end of animal abuse, I don't know if its going to upset them to the point that it kills them," but pointed out that if fish in somebody's living-room aquarium get startled by one person tapping on the glass, it was a pretty safe bet the fish forever trapped in a colosseum of stomping, screaming, booing fans would be perturbed.
"Why put animals in a place like that, in a place where animals don't belong?" he said. "Fish are not a decoration."
Both Roy and Delorme said the fish were the first concern.
"This is a very high profile job. If I didn't think the job was achievable, I wouldn't have gotten involved," Roy said. "Something goes wrong on this job, the world gets to know about it."
Delorme pointed out that it's also "extremely unlikely that a tipped ball would even hit the glass," saying the main danger would be over-throws and weaker foul balls, but "if it hit on the third bounce, at that point it wouldn't be an issue."
He also said the team set up a pitching machine to launch baseballs at the tank with fish inside.
"You would see a small reaction -- they would move because they would sense something in that area," he said, adding that while the fish did swim away from the impact spot (pretty much their only way for fish to say they don't like something), they also floated back to their spots afterward.
"We've had three games on it, and there's been great reaction," Delorme said. "I really don't believe that's an issue."