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Official Review by Jim Folsom, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
If I told you there was a college baseball team that has been to the NCAA Tournament 14 times since 1996, is located in Florida, and is playing home games in February, where the fans are wearing t-shirts and shorts, who would you expect the team to be? How many fans would you guess they have attending home games? The first schools to pop in your head would probably be Miami, Florida, or Florida State. And those things may well also apply to them. But the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats are an annual visitor to the NCAA Tournament themselves, yet nobody knows them.
There are probably several factors as to why these Cats have not drawn well. First, they are a small historically-black college. So the local white people of the community have other schools they follow. The students may not attend because the ballpark is off campus. Football and basketball are the big sports in college. Even at schools like Florida, the baseball team does not always draw well. And UF has a campus ballpark with McKethan Stadium.
It’s a shame really. Because the team is pretty good and the venue is almost as perfectly suited ballpark for a team as there is. This ballpark is the place where Jackie Robinson made his professional baseball debut for the Dodgers organization. Having an HBC power like the Wildcats as the home team in a place that doubles as a tribute to Robinson should be a recipe for success.
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The concessions are your typical ballpark fare: hot dogs, popcorn, sodas, bottled water, nachos, etc. I spent about $13.00 and got three hot dogs, two waters, and a box of popcorn. So the prices are fairly reasonable for a ballpark. Since there was not much of a crowd at the game, there's no line at the snack bar either. But other places I've been for college ball have a bigger selection, so minus points for that
Well, the weather was great. How many places in the country can you watch a game in February wearing a t-shirt and shorts? Plus, being in the place where Jackie Robinson played in his first game wearing a Dodger uniform? Awesome. They have two retired jersey numbers posted on a light pole in right center. #9 was Robinson's number he wore while suiting up for Montreal (the Dodgers Triple-A team at the time) against the Dodgers in 1941. #42, of course, is his Brooklyn number that has been retired by all of professional baseball.
All over the park there are posters of Robinson's different accomplishments as well as replicas of newspapers recounting his games at the park. There is a long jump pit in the area called the River Walk, because Robinson was a star long jumper in college. There is also a basketball court (Robinson played college ball at UCLA) and a 90 foot stretch with a "third base" and a "home plate" on either end where kids can "steal home" as Robinson famously did in the World Series, sending Yogi Berra into a rage. All that is pretty cool, but part of the atmosphere is the crowd (or lack thereof). And because there were not more than 100 fans there, that has to be points off.
The park is on an island. In fact, the former name of it is City Island Park. There is water everywhere around the park, which gives the place a nice breeze. This is especially helpful in the late season, but does sometimes create some chilly nights early in the season. It is also located in the "downtown area" of the city. Like many cities, the area became dilapidated as newer shops and housing moved to the outskirts of town. But the city has put a lot of effort into renovating the area and now there are a lot of restaurants and shops in the area. There are bars across the street where you can go after the game if you aren't quite ready to call it a night.
What fans? Seriously, if you've ever wanted to go to a game to catch a foul ball, this is your best bet. It's too bad too because the quality of play was pretty good. The game I went to was between UCF and the Wildcats. The Knights are ranked in the Top 20 in all the polls. There was one error in the game between the two teams. The game was hotly contested. But there was no crowd noise. Perhaps if the city and local newspapers would work with the University on promoting the team, this could change. And of course a trip to the Super Regionals and maybe to Omaha would help as well.
The ballpark is located on the Halifax River on Magnolia Avenue, one block south of International Speedway Blvd (U.S. Route 92). US 92 will take you to both Interstates 4 and 95. Also, the park is within a few blocks of State Road A1A, which runs along the ocean. So, it is fairly convenient to both visiting all the tourist spots along the beach and the Daytona International Speedway, too.
The tickets for the game were $5.00. Parking is free across the street behind left field. So, you can take the kids and go to a game and not spend a lot of money. Of course, you aren't getting all the frills of going to a bigger venue. There are no mascots and people shooting t-shirts in the stands or on-field contests between innings. This is strictly baseball. But all in all, not bad.
There is not much in the way of extras. One is that you can get as close to the action as you want. If you want to sit in chair backs, you can sit on the first-base side. But you have to watch the game through a screen. If you're worried about it raining, the first-base seats are also covered. But I like the third-base bleachers better. Those are metal benches, so I bring a seat cushion, but there is no screen and no roof. So, I can watch the flight of every fly ball. Plus, in those seats you get the breeze from the ocean. If the school and the local businesses and the city would put some effort in, maybe get someone to sponsor a t-shirt give away or a cap giveaway, they might get some people to show up. Who knows; once they come one time, they may want to come back.
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