McKethan Stadium – Florida Gators
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Stand and Sway at Alfred A.
The Florida Gators baseball team is one of the most successful in the nation over the past decade, including four College World Series appearances since 2010. Playing out of Alfred A. McKethan Stadium at Perry Field, the Gators are a top draw during the Gainesville spring. The venue is named for two former alumni: McKethan contributed nearly $3 million towards the stadium’s construction and subsequent improvements, while Perry’s family donated the land on which the stadium was built.
Opened in 1988, McKethan Stadium lies just to the west of the O’Connell Center and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Mac, as it is affectionately known by locals, holds 5,500 and attracts top recruits every year. There were six former Gators on MLB rosters at the start of 2016 season and 11 on 40-man rosters, the most in the SEC. Between its opening and the end of the 2015 season, the Gators have posted a 779-266 (.745) home record. The venue has hosted NCAA Regional action 11 times and Super Regional series six times.
At many SEC schools, baseball is bigger than even men’s basketball, but this is not true at Florida, due mainly to the success of its hoops program under head coach Billy Donovan. Still, Gator fans take their hardball seriously.
Food & Beverage 4
There are two main concession stands called Gator Refreshments that serve typical ballpark fare such as hot dogs ($4), nachos ($5), pretzel braids ($4.50), peanuts and cracker jack ($3), and popcorn ($3.5/$5). The more enticing options are found at the tents in the plaza. Gator Grill offers cheeseburgers, Italian sausages, Philly steaks, grilled chicken sandwiches, and jambalaya for $5 each, while chicken tenders are $7. Everglades Smoked in the Swamp stand features a Pulled Pork sandwich and BBQ Nachos ($7 each) and boiled peanuts for a fiver. Domino’s has a stand where a personal pizza is $8 and there are two dessert carts, one serving ice cream in cones and helmets and the other frozen chills ($5).
As is the case for many college venues, no alcohol is sold. Pepsi is the soda provider with a 22-oz. cup costing $4.50 while the 32 ouncer will run you an extra dollar. Gatorade bottles are $4, while water is $2 for 12 ounces and $4 for 20 ounces, a pricing decision that makes no sense. Just buy two smaller bottles and get four free ounces!
Most fans will park in the garage next to the ballpark and use the entrance next to the main box office. You will walk down a long path that brings you into the plaza behind the seating bowl. The palm trees are a nice effect here, and this is where you should stock up on food and drink.
Inside the seating bowl, you have box seats in the sections surrounding home plate, and bleachers with a seat back in the other areas. There are only two bleacher sections along first base, but six along the third base line. There are some seats that avoid the netting at the far end of this area. There is also a small section above the left field fence behind which you can see the O’Connell Center, while trees adorn the entire length of the outfield fence.
There are occasional promotions, with the most obvious being the t-shirt tossed into the stand during the inning break after a visiting batter has struck out.
Weather plays a large factor in the atmosphere at Gator baseball 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, nor are umbrellas 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. It is a great setting for a baseball game.
The neighborhood surrounding the ballpark is one of a large campus in a college town. 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. All of these places offer food as well, as does Burrito Brothers for Mexican food, or Leonardo’s for a great pizza.
Further afield, next to I-75 along Archer Road, you can find a couple of good bars. First is the Gainesville Ale House, a sports bar with a varied food menu, while the Brass Tap lies across the street and offers a number of craft beers, though there is no kitchen. The WingHouse of Gainesville is also here, a chain pub known mostly for its scantily clad servers.
Many other southern schools 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. In 2015, the Gators averaged only 3,502 over their 31 home dates. Although those fans in attendance know their team and are supportive, heckling the opposition (I do enjoy the chant of “Left, Right, Left, Right, Step, Step, Siddown!” that follows every visiting strikeout as the player slowly trudges back to the dugout), far too many of them arrive late and leave early. By the 7th inning of the game the GA sections may be only half full; a shame considering the visitors are often top-ranked SEC team. This is really a class program from top to bottom and deserves a full crowd every time they play.
Florida’s campus is about four miles from the Archer Road exit off I-75, but traffic moves well in the town. On campus, be careful as pedestrians are everywhere, especially where there are other events taking place. The main parking lot is directly north of the O’Connell Center and includes a three-story garage. Parking is free on evenings and weekends. Note that getting out of here will require a wait after the game as there is only one small lane leading back to 2nd Avenue; some fans prefer to head west to Gale Lemerand Drive which is less crowded.
Inside the seating bowl, a small walkway separates the few rows closest to the field (all box seats) with the larger sections above. There is no problem walking along here or in the large plaza behind the structure. Washrooms are adequate for the crowd.
Return on Investment 5
The cheapest ticket is $4 for general admission, which comprises the top rows of the bleachers, mostly along third base. If you are there when gates open, this is the best option as you can snag a prime spot. Once the place fills up, you might have a bit of difficulty finding a pair of decent seats together. The $8 reserved seats are quite nice and take up the area behind home plate and a little bit down both baselines. There is no need to pay more than this, as the stadium is not that big and there are no bad seats in the place.
There are also two great promotions that make a trip to Gainesville even more tempting: on Fridays, a family pack of four GA tickets, hot dogs, and sodas is only $20, while Sunday sees GA tickets, hot dogs, and popcorn all for a dollar. Coupled with the free parking and the fact that Florida is a perennial contender, and this is an incredible sports bargain and perhaps the best value in all of college baseball.
Despite the recent history of success, there aren’t a lot of extras here. A point for the tradition of singing “We Are the Boys from Old Florida” while standing and swaying, something that is done at every Gator event.
There are a couple of plaques on the walls of the breezeways honoring past coaches.
It would be nice to add a few more displays honoring players who have made it to the bigs and more championship information like some other schools have done.
NCAA ballparks are generally functional facilities designed to provide student athletes with the tools to succeed rather than to attract fans, so a visit to McKethan should appeal to those who prefer to watch the game rather than be entertained by mascots and in-game hosts. Given the high quality of the Florida baseball program and the ridiculously cheap ticket prices, I cannot figure out why more Gator fans don’t turn out to support their team. But their absence means more room for you, and if you have yet to visit Alfred A. McKethan Stadium, you should do so at your next available opportunity.
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