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Official Review by Jackson Wolek, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
While FIU may not be well-known for their athletics, their baseball program has been the most successful sport at the university and gets much wanted (and unwanted) attention through the media for the actions both on and off the field. Just last year they had their icon, Garrett Wittels, on the verge of breaking Robin Ventura’s 58-game NCAA Division I record hitting streak. In the first game of the season however, Wittels went 0-4 and fell two short of tying the record. Before that game, Wittels had been part of some controversy off the field involving an alleged rape charge in the Bahamas back on December 28, 2010.
Other than the recent media coverage that the Panthers got, they also have a good history of championships and former players in MLB. The team has made it to the postseason a total of nine times in Division I play and made it to the Super-Regionals once in 2001, their best season. The most notable player to come out of FIU is Mike Lowell, the 2007 World Series MVP of the Boston Red Sox.
After the stadium opened in 1996, it went nine seasons before it got renovated into what it looks like today. As of right now, there are no plans on changing it again any time soon. Baseball is one of the biggest sports in Miami, and the FIU fans are involved in the team based on the type of success they have had over the years. There isn’t anything that makes the stadium stick out as in being unique. Overall, I would put it as being a fine stadium to hold a Division I baseball team, but extras would help make it even better.
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As far as food selection goes, there isn't much going on once you get inside the stadium. There is only one concession stand, which is run by the athletes of other sports at FIU. You can get a chicken sandwich for $5 and various snacks from $1-$2. Other various ballpark items that you would see anywhere else are burgers, hot dogs, popcorn, and peanuts. It's a real shame that the stadium doesn't have Hispanic foods, seeing as the stadium is in Miami. That, in my view, would give it its own unique menu not seen at many other parks and it wouldn't be too hard to do either.
On campus, there is a Chili's as well as some fast food options. Off campus, you will see fast food and table service restaurants as well, but nothing spectacular. I think the best place to check out is across from the school, a burger joint called Five Guys. A bit pricy, but well worth the taste.
I went opening night and it still wasn't a sellout. Granted, they did play against Ivy League Brown University. The legend of the program, Garret Wittels, was even in attendance to watch the game. There were some small games and prizes for kids to win while at the game, and surprisingly there were a large amount of students at the game, which was nice to see. Overall, it was a decent mood to watch a baseball game in. With the students at the game, there was still no major cheering section or face paint on anyone. It wasn't like it was a sophisticated crowd, but certainly not a rowdy one either.
The stadium is located on the campus of FIU in the middle of Miami, about 25 minutes away from South Beach. That being said, there really isn't much to do near the campus and stadium. The biggest attraction appears to be the Dolphin Mall, about a five-minute drive from FIU. While FIU is in Miami, the actual town it is in is Sweetwater, which is mainly residential. FIU built their athletic facilities all on campus and within walking distance to each other. You can actually see the football field, soccer field, and basketball arena in the stands of the stadium.
The fans there for opening night were a mixture of alumni and current students. It was clear that the fans knew the team well and were engaged with what was happening on the field. However, there wasn't much enthusiasm being showed as in chants or school spirit. It definitely was more of a relaxed crowd. What it could use is the fraternities and sororities to get involved with the games. That would bring it a much more college-like feeling.
Access to the stadium was easy. Parking was free, which is always a plus in my book. It was also very easy to find too. As far as finding the concession stands and bathroom, since the stadium is small, they are not hard to find. There is only one area for bathrooms though, but it didn't cause much of a problem in terms of overcrowding.
Tickets to get into the game are $7 for the general public and $5 for student, grad students, alumni, and faculty and staff. This is a decent price to see a decent FIU baseball team face off against Sun Belt opponents. With nothing special being done at the stadium though, you are paying for what you came for, which is to watch a baseball game; you don't get much more than that.
This was the sad part of the stadium; while FIU was giving out posters and programs to fans as they walked in and did some small games for the kids where they could win prizes, there wasn't more than that. I will give one more extra to the chairback seating at the stadium however, which outnumbered the bleachers. You could sit wherever you want once you buy your ticket, as there isn't assigned seating.
I feel that with the renovations that FIU has given the arena and the expansion that they are preparing for the football stadium, that something more can be done with the baseball stadium. It's fine to watch baseball, but could still use some more pizazz.
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