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Official Review by Tyler Green, Stadium Journey Guest Correspondent
Baseball has its charms at every level, and a University of Kentucky game at Cliff Hagan Stadium is no exception. A uniquely structured ballpark, this venue is tall and strictly behind home plate, rather than short and running down the baselines like many college parks. Renovations in the last decade have kept this 1969 structure in nice condition, though recent discussions have hinted that expansion may be necessary to make Lexington a more viable site for post-season series. Even so, Cliff Hagan Stadium is a great place for an afternoon or night out in Lexington.
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A wide variety of concessions are available for purchase during a Wildcats' game. The standard items are available for the following prices: soft drink for $3.50, hot dog for $2.50, chicken sandwich for $5, and hamburger with fries for $7.50. There are also separate stands for $5 funnel cakes and, the local favorite, Bluegrass Kettle Masters kettle corn. Some weekends feature specials such as a ballpark rendition of a Hot Brown, the classic Kentucky dish. As with all SEC venues, no alcoholic beverages are served.
Many of baseball's typical features can be found during a game at "The Cliff". Walk-up music accompanies each Wildcat's trip to the plate, and is played just long enough to get their song stuck in your head until the next batter. Unfortunately, no organ is played, and the national anthem and fight song are piped in. Short sound clips are played for foul balls and momentum-filled rallies, and a lull in an at-bat is often broken by a few notes that elicit screams from all ages of "Charge!" Like most other places to watch a baseball game, the volume of the crowd depends largely on the quality of the opponent's pitching, but the crowd can come to life nicely for scores and victories.
Cliff Hagan Stadium is tucked into the eastern edge of the University of Kentucky campus, surrounded on two sides by treed parking areas, one side by the university's track, and the last side by a treed neighborhood. The bulk of the university's dorms are a stone's throw to the west, which results in a steady stream of students making their way to and from the ballpark. As the stadium is removed from the busier part of campus and downtown Lexington, the neighborhood is perfectly quaint for an evening with the family.
However, a decent trek is required for any post-game celebrations. The UK classic burger joint Tolly-Ho has recently moved to South Broadway Road, and is a required experience during a visit to Lexington. Pizza joints Joe Bologna's, Pazzo's, and Mellow Mushroom are all located in the Historic South Hill district about a mile northwest of the stadium, and are very popular. There are also some bars at University Plaza (corner of Woodland and Euclid) and Chevy Chase Plaza (corner of Euclid and High).
Kentucky baseball games draw the expected variety of fans to a college baseball game. A decent number of students come out with a group of friends, but there is no student section that produces combined excitement. There are also many family groups, as well as older couples, who come out for the evening, many donning a baseball cap and with a bag of peanuts in hand.
There is a porch in right field, known as the Cliff, which allows open beverages, as long as the coolers and spare bottles are kept behind a fence in the nearby parking area. This location draws many polo-wearing middle-aged men and couples, and is a nice way to complete the demographic range of a game. Attendance in 2012 was solid to support the SEC-contending Bat Cats, though it has been below stellar in years past. With the capacity listed at 3,000 people, a weekend SEC series will typical draw in low 2,000s of fans for each showdown. The knowledge-level among the fans is typical, with many having personal baseball ties, but with the conversation often meandering from subject to subject.
Cliff Hagan Stadium is very easily accessible for both cars and those needing assistance. There is a parking lot along the first baseline and past right field that are often available for use on the weekends when the student traffic is down. For midweek and overflow parking, staff is on hand to direct fans to a nearby parking garage, which is less than a 5- minute walk to the stadium. Fans with wheelchairs and walkers can enter the stadium through a few ramps, which provide a handicapped area very near the action.
As is the case with most of the sporting events at the University of Kentucky, you will almost always see a good game, or at least a good opponent. The SEC is one of the nation's strongest baseball conferences, and mid-March through mid-May feature a couple weekend series a month among conference rivals. The 2012 season featured multiple top-10 matchups and highly competitive games on Friday evening and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. There will frequently be a midweek game featuring a regional rival, which provide local fans the chance to enjoy seeing the Cats match up against Louisville, Cincinnati, Indiana, Murray State, or Morehead State.
General admission adult tickets are $5 and youth (under 18) and seniors (over 65) are $2, both available at the walk-up ticket window. Kids 5 and under receive free admission. These prices are as good as or better than any other entertainment in Lexington, and make for a very affordable and rewarding family outing.
Lexington is one of the great college sports towns, and well deserving of an extra point. Another extra point goes to the University of Kentucky for providing regular upgrades to their baseball facility.
Tyler Green is the founder of Stadium Fanatic.
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385 S Limestone
Lexington, KY 40508
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