By Simon Evans
MIAMI (Reuters) - If they are not careful, the Miami Marlins could end up being as hated by the rest of America as the National Basketball Association's Miami Heat.
A new ballpark, new name, new manager, new uniforms and some high-profile new players are transforming one of Major League Baseball's more miserly teams into nouveau riche challengers.
One thing is for sure, the Miami Marlins that take to the field in April will be very different than the Florida Marlins team that said farewell to their old stadium, a shared home with the National Football League's Miami Dolphins, in September.
Baseball never felt right in suburban Miami Gardens where fans were asked to sit sweating in the Floridian heat without any of the special ambience that a MLB ballpark can offer, and the result was the league's lowest attendance in 2011.
The new air-conditioned home of the Marlins in located on the edge of downtown Miami, features a retractable roof, and promises to attract more fans.
The relocation and rebranding could also be helping to attract top players to come and live and play in South Florida.
"It is going to be totally different," said All-Star closer Heath Bell, who signed a $27 million, three-year deal with Miami last week. "We're now the Miami Marlins, people are going to be in the seats, it's going to be loud and exciting. There's going to be a buzz."
In a sport where many of the key protagonists are Spanish-speakers from Central and South American backgrounds, Miami's Latin culture and lifestyle could help it become a magnet.
"It's not only a destination for Latin players, it's a wonderful city," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said this week. "It's an energy city and I think that's one of the things that brings the players there. Not only Latin players. All players."
But while the buzz around the franchise and appeal of the city should undoubtedly help the Marlins recruit - along with the appointment of charismatic Ozzie Guillen as manager - as in all professional sports it is the money that is the real appeal.
Although the Marlins, established in 1993, have won two World Series, they dismantled those championship teams and gained a reputation as one of the league's low-budget teams.
On Tuesday, reports said the Marlins offered free agent slugger Albert Pujols a 10-year deal worth over $200 million.
First baseman Pujols, who was a key part of the St. Louis Cardinals World Series winning team last season, is the biggest name in the free agent market - a nine-times All Star, two times World Series champion and three-times National League MVP.
On Monday, the Marlins reached an agreement on a six-year deal worth a reported $106 million with former New York Mets All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes.
For locals, the Marlins' aggressive free-agency moves recall the Heat's acquisitions of All-Stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh for last season's NBA campaign, which took Miami to the finals.
With Hanley Ramirez, playing the role of the Heat's Dwyane Wade, the established favorite, the Marlins are hoping to be contenders in the National League East, a tough division that includes established forces Philadelphia and Atlanta.
For the moment though, the Marlins officials wheeling and dealing in a Dallas hotel at MLB's annual Winter Meetings are enjoying the novelty of being the league's big spenders.
"It's a lot of fun," Larry Beinfest, president of baseball operations told the Miami Herald, "It's part of the whole energy behind the organization right now. It's a lot different than it has been in past years."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)