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Official Review by Jim Folsom, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
McKethan Stadium on the campus of the University of Florida is the home of the defending SEC Champion and College World Series runner-up Florida Gators. The stadium is experiencing quite a run of outstanding college baseball these days as this year’s team has been ranked #1 in the nation all season long. The current Gator team has won, as of this writing, 18 of their 19 games this season and that includes the last 16 in a row (a school record). So if you want to visit a true college baseball juggernaut and you are visiting Florida, you might want to come and check out McKethan 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".
The day I went to the stadium was on a Sunday. Every Sunday is "Family Friendly Sunday", so bags of popcorn and 12 ounce sodas were $1.00. So, that was good for me. I had my two kids with me and $5.00 fed us enough to make it through the game just fine. If you aren't on a budget or are not a fan of popcorn, there are other options. There is a Domino's Pizza stand on the concourse where you can purchase a personal size pizza for $5.00. There is also the standard ballpark fare such as hot dogs, burgers, nachos, candy, etc. Prices are typically inflated like in all stadiums and theatres, etc. But as far as those go, prices aren't too bad.
The weather can be a concern when visiting the Mac. There is not a bit of shade in the ballpark where you can watch the game. I have been on occasions where it is so hot that they have cooling fans like you see at college and pro football games to keep the players cool and on the concourse level for the fans. You have to go down about every three innings and stand in front for a half inning or so and then go back in the stands for about three more innings. But if you go to a night game or go early in the year before it gets too hot, then it's a nice place to watch a game.
The reserved seats are the stadium chairs that most modern stadiums have and the general admission seats are metal benches, but they have a back to them. So, if you bring a seat cushion it is plenty comfortable.
The field is gorgeous. Green grass with not a dead patch on it. There is a new hi-def video scoreboard in right-centerfield. As you look over the left field fence you can see the O'Connell Center, where the Gators play basketball and other indoor sports, and past that you can see Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the home of the Gators' football team.
Over the right field and center field walls are tall trees, and among them are the dorms where students live. Down each foul line they have a concrete pavilion where kids can go with their baseball gloves and chase foul balls.
The fans in the left field stands love to heckle the opponents. They do the "left, right, left, right, step, step, step...SIT DOWN" to any opposing batter who strikes out. Also every opposing pitcher's name is "Earl". I asked why that is and was told there was once an opposing pitcher named Earl who had a wild inning and the more they heckled the wilder he got. So now all opposing pitchers hear "Come on EARL! You can do better than that" or "better not walk him, Earl!" or "Hey Earl! Is that all you got?"
The neighborhood is the campus of the University of Florida. There are dorms, libraries, classroom buildings, beautiful scenery, many places to eat, and shop for Gator souvenirs, etc. You park for free in an indoor parking garage that is right next to the ball park. If you go there any time over the next month, you will walk right past the Gator football team on their practice field. So you could sit on the top row of the general admission stands on the third base side and watch the baseball game and the football practice at the same time. How can you beat that?
The fans that come are great fans. They know the game and they love their Gators. Many of the fans are kids that come with their little league teams. They are there wearing their uniforms, and on many occasions they go out on the field with the players for the National Anthem. Some of the people are season ticket holders and they come to every game.
The only complaint I would make is that the park is half-empty on many occasions. Baseball games at other SEC schools like South Carolina, LSU, and Georgia are almost-always packed. Considering Florida has a program as good or better than anyone in the nation, it would be nice if more people showed up. Florida fans are notorious for being "football fans" and don't really support other sports as much. The basketball team has been very successful the past two decades and has the same problem. Too many Gator fans are so obsessed with football they don't care about anything else.
The access to the ballpark can't be any easier. You can drive right up to the stadium off of University Avenue and park in the parking garage right next door.
Now getting to Gainesville? That depends on which direction you come from. If you're coming from the Gulf Coast of Florida, you can take Interstate 75 and exit on to University Avenue and drive straight to the stadium. But if you are coming from the East Coast, there is no interstate to take you to Gainesville. So be sure to allow enough time for your drive, because there will be two-lane roads through the small towns of north central Florida ahead of you.
Well, you can't beat the prices for a baseball game that are $1.00 per GA ticket, which is what we paid on Sunday. Every Sunday as part of the "Family Friendly" promo, all general admission seats are a buck. So with $1.00 sodas and $1.00 popcorn, how can you beat that?
Of course, when you live 100 miles away and it's mostly two lane roads, at $4.00 per gallon that can cut into your piggy bank a little bit. For a football game, you don't mind that too much. How many big time 90,000 seat stadiums are there between my house and Gainesville? Not many. But for college baseball I can count four teams that are NCAA Tournament-caliber teams, most of the time, that are closer than Gainesville I can go to, so that has to be considered. But all in all, it's a pretty affordable day for a pretty good day's entertainment.
One thing I did notice is they use any excuse to throw tee-shirts into the crowd. Gators turn a double play? Throw tee-shirts into the crowd. Gators strike a batter out? Throw tee-shirts into the crowd. Three times I have gone in recent years they had giveaways to the fans. Once, it was tee-shirts. Twice, it was hats. They also have the players stick around after the game to sign autographs. Try getting the pros to do that. So, the extras are more than you get at most venues. So, a baseball game at McKethan Stadium is a good way to spend a day.
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