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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Jacksonville State University (JSU) is located in Jacksonville, Alabama, which is one-and-a-half hours west of Atlanta and one-and-a-half hours east of Birmingham, 14 miles north of I-20. The population of the city is approximately 12,000, of which 9,504 are students at the university. Founded as a liberal arts college in 1883, the school does offer a unique major, a Bachelor of Science in Emergency Management. Courses within this major include Homeland Security, Public Safety Communications and Emergency Services Management.
The JSU baseball team is named the Gamecocks, primarily for its fighting spirit and large population base of poultry in this rural area. The Gamecocks play in the Ohio Valley Conference and have a very successful baseball history, with a nearly .700 all-time winning percentage. Rudy Abbott Field has served as the home field for the Gamecocks since 1995. It has dimensions of 300 feet in left field, 400 feet to dead center and 335 feet to right field. It seats 1,500 people.
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The concession stand offers standard baseball fare. Hot dogs, hamburgers and nachos are $3.50; popcorn, sodas and bottled water go for $2.00. The best buy is a combo of a drink, hamburger and chips for $5.00. Abbott Field does not allow alcoholic beverages to be consumed, as it is located on university property. The off-field dining selections are primarily fast food chains, as this is very much a college town. They are within walking distance of the field.
Rudy Abbott Field is a pretty place to watch a ball game. It is located at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, which set a wonderful backdrop over the left fence .The field faces south and east, so the sun is not usually a factor when viewing the game. However, bring the sunscreen, as there is no shade to speak of. The exterior of the field is chain link fence with a nice planting of trees beyond the outfield fence, which provides a nice backdrop for hitters. Admission is through a single gate, with general admission seating at a very reasonable cost of $5. Season ticket holders are rewarded with reserved red seats right behind the backstop .Fans can roam the exterior of the field with no restrictions, and you can bring in lawn chairs if you want. Many people choose this option over the aluminum bench seating provided behind home plate. The bullpens are in foul territory on each side of the field, so it is easy to watch someone warming up. The sight lines throughout the stadium are very good, as there is little foul territory. You truly feel a part of the game, as you can often hear comments from the dugouts and the field. Banners celebrating past Gamecock championships are hung on fences surrounding the field.
There are a couple of unique Gamecock touches that are nice. The country band Alabama's rendition of the National Anthem is used (the band is from nearby Ft. Payne, Alabama) prior to the game. Another fun feature is the "cock-a-doodle-doo!" sound effect when an opposing team member strikes out or a Gamecock scores.
The baseball stadium is located within the athletic complex on the JSU campus. While parking is free and adjacent to the field, you might want to stroll through the well-landscaped campus, which features several gardens and interesting architecture. It is a very safe environment, as we saw campus security staff and call boxes scattered throughout the campus. The town itself basically acts as a front door to the campus, and is primarily service-oriented.
There are two interesting points of interest in Jacksonville. There are the Chief Ladiga Trail, a paved 32-mile long hike/bike trail which passes directly though the campus, and the Silver Lakes Golf Course located just north of town. The course is one of the famous Robert Trent Jones-designed courses that make up Alabama's Golf Trails program. For NASCAR fans, a 45 minute drive south and east will bring you to the Talladega Motor Speedway and its International Motor Sports Hall of Fame.
Effina's Tuscan Grill was suggested by the locals as the place for a meal in the non-fast food sector. I was very pleasantly surprised by a very broad menu featuring the obvious Italian dishes, but also many fish, chicken and beef selections, with prices in the $10 to $15 range. Effina's also has a fine selection of beers, wines and microbrews, including Sweetwater 420. The only hotel within the city of Jacksonville is the University Hampton Inn, adjacent to the campus. A majority of the dining and lodging options are located 14 miles south of the field, in the city of Anniston.
The locals are friendly folks who appreciate a good game of baseball. The Gamecocks have enjoyed recent success, so the crowd is very involved in the game. As a whole, the attendees are students or family members, and they often know the players as classmates or friends. There is also a good turnout of the seniors in the area, who seem to prefer their lawn chairs to the aluminum benches. The cheer factor is loud, but the comments are family-friendly, for the most part. People are also considerate, in that they wait until an inning or half-inning break before heading to the restroom, concession stand or to chat with a friend.
It is impossible to get lost finding Abbott Field. From I-20, take the Anniston/Oxford exit (exit 185). Go north on Highway 21 for 14 miles until you reach the campus, which will be on your left. Continue through town until you reach the light for Highway 204, the Rudy Abbott Highway. Turn left on Highway 204, and the stadium will be on your left in about a mile. Free parking is available immediately outside the stadium. Traffic is not an issue unless graduation is underway or there is a race at nearby Talladega Speedway.
The game is the focus for this field. Figuring in $5.00 for a ticket, free parking and maybe $5 for a soda and a hot dog, it is not an expensive day at the ballpark. There is no team paraphernalia on sale at the park, although it is available at the bookstore on campus. Do not expect the "extras," such as a flashy scoreboard, entertainment between innings, and the like.
The school honors its past baseball success with a banner that shows all of their previous championships.
If you are looking for an entertaining ball game without all the bells and whistles, Abbott Field is a great way to spend a sunny spring day.
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1041 JD&L Dr
Jacksonville, AL 36265