Loving the longball: MLB's home run celebrations

Ballparks around the Majors embrace whimsical ways to honor homers

June 16th, 2017

The ball clears the fence, the slugger rounds the bases and the crowd goes wild -- but that's only the beginning of the excitement when a Miami hitter goes deep at Marlins Park. Fans are also treated to 27 seconds of what can only be described as a quintessential South Florida-style celebration, when the 75-foot sculpture beyond the center-field wall explodes in a kaleidoscope of color and replica marlins whirl around the waterworks.

Rising from multimedia pop artist Red Grooms' vision of a Florida seascape, with flamingos standing watch, the sculpture comes to life. Huge marlins jump from and fall back into the sea. The water splashes. The psychedelic yellow Florida sun (or is it a flower?) blooms. The pink clouds, the lush palm trees, the biggest marlin floating in midair above the whole arched contraption … it's all there, larger than life, just like the most exciting play in the game that it honors.

But for as out-there as the home run sculpture might be, in some ways it's completely normal. It's just baseball tradition, after all.

Teams have been celebrating home runs in their home parks for decades, and even the quirkiest of the rituals have become beloved staples of the ballpark experience. All over the stadiums of the American and National Leagues, fans revel in the sometimes-campy humor and pure joy of it all.

At Milwaukee's Miller Park, the Brewers have kept the memory of 1970s superfan Milt Mason alive with the Bernie Brewer mascot, who cascades down his very own yellow spiral slide from his "dugout" beyond the left-field bleachers upon the mashing of any Brewers homer.

Legend has it that Mason camped out atop the scoreboard at old County Stadium in 1970, waiting for the park to attract a crowd of 40,000. After 40 days, the people came, and Mason slid down from his trailer on a rope, burning his hands and legs. His dedication has clearly not been forgotten.

Outside Citi Field in Queens, Mets fans stroll by a piece of the franchise's illustrious history every day before they enter the ballpark gates. Parked comfortably amid a flowerbed, the famed Home Run Apple from Shea Stadium, born in 1980 and popularized for popping out of an upside-down top hat labeled "Home Run" after every Mets round-tripper, gives off an aura of nostalgia while raising the question: Is there a new one inside?

Why yes, of course there is. Citi Field's Home Run Apple is prominently placed right behind the wall in dead center. It might have lost the top hat, but the apple still rises with the crowd for homers, inspiring smiles among the Mets' faithful.

Former Mets executive Al Harazin is largely credited with the creation of the apple, which was originally nine feet tall and almost 600 pounds with a wood frame and plaster board apple flesh. The Mets logo affixed to its front would light up upon emergence, and the poor fruit got dented over its 28 years of service prior to Shea's permanent closing in 2008.

"We wanted a symbol of something identifiable," Harazin said. "So New York, the Big Apple … an apple. Sure, it was a little bizarre. We weren't a terribly successful team back then. We were starting to get successful. It was fun and more marketable. [If] you want to say it's campy, yeah, it's campy.

"But the thing about New York is that [it] tends to be cynical about a lot of things. Somehow [the apple] got a good reception. It caught on. And it gave us a great piece of footage on the news every night. They'd show a homer and they'd show the apple."

Harazin's story could double as the story for many ballparks today, from the steam train that runs along the back wall of Houston's Minute Maid Park whenever an Astros hitter homers to the Liberty Bell high above center field at Citizens Bank in Philadelphia, which swings into action for Phillies longballs.

Chicago White Sox fans gaze in awe after homers as fireworks go off from the top of the scoreboard and multicolored pinwheels spin. Smokestacks by the Ohio River emit pyrotechnics when the Reds go deep at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Twins homers are honored by a handshake between the large caricatures of "Minnie" and "Paul," who represent the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. And the strains of Randy Newman's ubiquitous instrumental theme from The Natural blast at Globe Life Park in Arlington when Texas Rangers hitters leave that yard.

And then there's the $2.5-million creation from Grooms, a Nashville-born, New York-based artist tasked with making something unique and wholly unforgettable at Marlins Park. And he did exactly that, combining the aesthetics of the area with local animal life and Miami's famed Art Deco architecture while never losing a sense of humor.

"There's not a serious bone in the piece," Grooms told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 2012. "I hope it goes well with the fans and brings people to the park to enjoy the game."

At this year's All-Star Game, more than five years after the sculpture's installation, Marlins fans are more than happy to groove along to its unconventional vibes, which proves that there are only a few rules to abide by when planning a signature homer celebration at a stadium: Take into account the local flavor, and have a good time.

"It's completely here to celebrate the Marlins if and when they hit a home run," Grooms said. "Hopefully, several a game."

This article appears in the 2017 MLB Official All-Star Game Program. Read more features on allstargame.com.