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Official Review by Jim Folsom, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Florida, is a very small school with a beautiful campus. Huge oak trees give most of the campus a shady drive or walk to any place on campus. It also sits up against the St. John’s River, so you have a waterfront side to the campus as well. Along with all the classroom and administration buildings, as you drive around campus you will see the football field, soccer field, lacrosse field, beach volleyball pit, Olympic sized outdoor pool, and as you drive all the way around the circular drive, at the end you find yourself at the baseball stadium.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
What's available include hot dogs, burgers, popcorn, nachos, Pepsi products...your typical ball park food. Plus, they sold candies such as M&Ms. The prices were fairly reasonable, and I have to tell you: those hot dogs were good. I could have eaten a couple more of those, but I'm trying to not get any fatter than I am already. The lady at the counter was very friendly and helpful.
Unfortunately, I probably picked a bad time to go. Had I waited until Tuesday, the Florida State Seminoles are coming to town and the place would be full. On this day it was the Mercer Bears. Since JU is having an uncharacteristically awful season, not many people showed up. It was also very hot. First pitch was 2:00. It would have been 1:00 had the game the night before had not gone extra innings. I don't quite understand why teams come in for a three game series - Friday, Saturday and Sunday - and play the Saturday games during the day. Many Florida schools do this, not just JU.
Fortunately, one of the huge oak trees is growing over the stands, providing some shade. Maybe had the team been better and the game been at night, it would have been better.
The neighborhood surrounding the campus looks to be very old and a bit run down. However, it does have many of your chain (fast food) restaurants nearby and there was a chain drug store right down the street where we could get some sunscreen. It's not a glitzy neighborhood, but could be a lot worse.
The few fans that were there were relatives of the players. They were friendly and informative. Since they know the players and travel to the away games, they could tell you about other ball parks in the league. The fans of both schools sat together too. It was almost like a little league game where they rooted for their kid's team but not necessarily against the other. Too bad there weren't more of them, but that's what happens late in the season when the home team is way out of the race.
JU is very easy to get to. From Interstate 95, take I-295 N to Merrill Road. Then Merrill Road basically dead ends into the campus. Make a right on University Ave to turn into the campus. Once you're in, just drive around the circle until you get to the ball park. There is lots of shady, free parking. From my house in Daytona, it was a little over an hour and about a quarter tank of gas.
When I got to the ball park, I went to the ticket window and they just waved me in. I didn't tell them I was there to review their ball park, so they had no idea who I was. I had my six year old son with me so I guess they were just being nice and let us in free. It's hard to beat free parking and free admission. I spent about $10 bucks on two hot dogs and two drinks, and $10 on sunscreen. So, $20 total for two people to go to a game is not too bad. College baseball and minor league baseball are probably the best "bang for your buck" in sports. College basketball might be right there with them. But college baseball you get in for peanuts and sit close to the action. It's probably the best kept secret in sports.
JU is a small school with a small crowd, so there weren't any extras. Nobody was giving away tee-shirts or anything like that. There was nobody in a mascot outfit walking around. Perhaps they should think about doing some things like having players sign autographs and pose for pictures after games or before games. There was no ceremonial first pitch, either. Things like that can get the community involved and bring more folks to the game. They should think about doing some of those things. Right now, all they have is the game itself. And unfortunately, the 2012 team isn't good.
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