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Official Review by Jim Folsom, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Just to the west of the O’Connell Center, home of the Florida Gators basketball teams, volleyball team, gymnastics team and swimming and diving teams, is McKethan Stadium. “The Mac” as it is affectionately known in Gainesville, Florida, is home to only one team. It is the home of the Gator baseball team.
Constructed in 1988, which coincidentally (or maybe not) was the first year UF made it all the way to Omaha for the College World Series, McKethan Stadium holds 5,500 fans. The venue has held NCAA Regional action 12 times and Super Regional action five times. The Gators have made it to the CWS eight times since moving into “The Mac,” so it is safe to say that the venue has a “If you build it, they will come” type of success. The stadium has been a key to attracting both fans and top notch players to be a part of Florida baseball.
Florida is part of the SEC, which is, like in so many sports, the best conference in the nation. At many SEC schools, baseball is bigger than even men’s basketball. Florida is not one of those schools, due mainly to the success of its men’s basketball program under head coach Billy Donovan, but the Gator faithful still take it quite seriously. Florida has been all the way to the College World Series final twice since 2005. Gator fans would dearly love to take home a CWS title.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Pepsi is the soda vendor at McKethan Stadium. You can purchase a large Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi or Sierra Mist in a 32-ounce souvenir cup for $5.00 or a 24-ounce souvenir cup for $3.50. A small bag of popcorn costs $3.50 and is plenty big enough to last for nine innings, but you can get a large bag for $5.00, which is big enough for two people for the entire nine innings.
If you are really hungry, they have personal size Domino's pizzas for $6.00, hamburgers for $3.50, hot dogs for $3.00, a good-sized order of nachos drenched in cheese for $5.00 and there is even a barbecue stand back in the corner, where you can get a good pulled pork sandwich and a drink for $10.00.
Weather plays a large factor in the atmosphere at Gator baseball games. There is every kind of weather possible during these games. The season starts in February, where temperatures can get quite chilly, especially for night games. Late in the season, it can be very hot and there is no shade in the stadium. Umbrellas are not allowed. Fans routinely have to go into the concourse area between innings to get away from the hot sun.
But sometimes, you get one of those very nice days where the sun is out, there is a nice little breeze, and it is absolutely gorgeous. The O'Dome is in the background looking out to left field. Trees adorn the entire length of the outfield fence. It is a great setting for a baseball game. The crowd is often times small, especially for a national contender.
LSU, South Carolina, Arkansas and so many other southern schools can regularly sell out baseball stadiums much bigger than "The Mac," yet the Gators seem to have trouble at times drawing a crowd. Perhaps this is because UF fans don't get pumped about baseball until basketball is done. But the fans that do show up are into it. Opposing players regularly get heckled. And the crowd roars with approval at every good play the home team makes.
The neighborhood surrounding the ballpark is one of a large college campus in a college town. Take the University of Florida out of Gainesville and there would be no reason to go there. The campus is the place to be and "The Mac" is right in the middle of it. There are restaurants and bars all around the ballpark. If you want to show up early and stay late you can get your drink on at The Swamp, the Reggae Shack or the Library Pub Grub Club. Not only can you drink but also eat at these establishments, as well as Burrito Brothers if you like Mexican food or Leonardo's for a great pizza.
If you want to shop for Gator gear, there are several stops within walking distance. The UF Book Store is a couple of blocks away on University Avenue, and there is also Gator Plus and the Official Gator Sports Shop at the northwest corner of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the home of the Gator football team. The atmosphere is not like you would find on a football game day with tailgate parties and 90,000 fans walking around, but it is a nice place to spend a day.
The fans that do come are into the game. However, many of them tend to come late and leave early. That has always bugged me, especially in baseball where the game truly is not ever over. The majority of the crowd is made up of Gator fans, not just baseball fans. While you may see an occasional Red Sox or Braves cap in the stands, the vast majority do wear the orange and blue of the Gators.
If they would come out in greater numbers I would give them a higher score, but the day I went the team was ranked #2 in the nation and the park was half empty. The men's basketball team is suffering lately, coming on the heels of a rough stretch for the football team. One would think these fans would be hungry to watch the Gators play well, but so far it has not really caught on.
The relatively small crowds are great for getting tickets. This is also great for getting into and out of the ballpark. For most games I've been to at "The Mac," I have walked up and bought a ticket and then walked in. Fans can routinely park in the parking garage right next to the ballpark, and unless they get there late for a big game like South Carolina or Florida State, they can park on the lower levels, which means they park in the shade.
The stadium is located just off of University Avenue, which is the main road through Gainesville from I-75. However, getting there from the east coast of Florida is a bit tough. Coming to Gainesville from I-95 is at least an hour-long drive down a bunch of two lane roads. So if you are coming from Daytona Beach or Orlando, leave early.
For the money, there is probably not a better bargain in sports than college baseball. On Fridays at "The Mac," a family of four can get four tickets, four hot dogs and four sodas for $20.00. On Sundays, general admission tickets, small sodas and small popcorn are all $1.00. Where else can you go watch a top five major college program for a buck? You probably can't go watch a local high school team for a buck.
If you are a fan on a budget, you can take the whole family to a Gators baseball game with a $20.00 bill and come home with change. Parking is free in the parking garage, and if you come on a Sunday, you and all your kids can get in for five bucks. That leaves you $15.00 to fill up on dollar sodas and popcorn. Try doing that at a movie theatre. The ticket alone would be $50.00. The only other sport that compares is Minor League Baseball.
The Gators do have several nice promotions during the season. On Sundays, kids can go out on the field and stand with a player for the national anthem. That is a big thrill for a kid. I wish they did that back when I was young! The Gators also have several 2-for1 deals for seniors or military members during the season, as well.
Also, every time a Gator pitcher strikes out a batter, they throw free tee-shirts out into the crowd between innings. With the pitchers UF recruits, there is a pretty fair chance to score a free shirt.
Hopefully, one day the Gator fans will start to show up for the baseball team like the fans of other SEC schools. Maybe if they can bring the College World Series title back to Gainesville, it will happen. Florida fans are a bit spoiled with winning three football championships, two basketball championships, and many huge SEC championships in the past couple of decades. It takes a lot to get them excited these days. But with football and basketball both struggling now, the baseball park might turn out to be "the place to be" in Gainesville.
Member Review by JimFolsom on Mar 24, 2012
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.
Member Review by okstate on Apr 30, 2014
Food & Beverage: Honestly didn't really buy any food
Atmosphere: SEC baseball is always fun. Stadium is right in the middle of the sports complex on campus so the view of all the stadiums is pretty neat.
Neighborhood: Florida has a nice campus and there are pleanty of options for food nearby.
Fans: Fan support was above average.
Return: No complaints here
Extras: Cool view and great baseball
1642 W University Ave
Gaineville, FL 32603
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