Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Texas A&M Aggies 4 at Florida Gators 7 (NCAA Baseball, SEC) - April 1, 2016

The primary reason for going to Florida for the weekend was to take advantage of the one-way deals offered by nearly every rental car agency each spring, where you can rent from anywhere in Florida and drop the car off in another state for as low as $6 a day. I chose Dollar as they were the cheapest, but when I arrived in Tampa just before 4 p.m. (already 30 minutes behind schedule thanks to extremely strong headwinds that slowed the flight), I found myself in a very long line. Although I am a Dollar Express member, which usually means you bypass the counter and go straight to your car, that service was not available at the Tampa airport. To make matters worse, there were only three agents for a line of about 15 people. With a two-hour drive to Gainesville ahead of me, I began to worry about making it to the Gators game in time for the 7 p.m. start. When one of the agents took a break, I decided to book the same deal at Hertz, where I am also a member of their loyalty program. They allow their members to head to the garage immediately and even though I had just made my reservation, I was taken care of quickly and was on the road within minutes, while I would guess the Dollar line had hardly moved. Just an anecdote to show how customer service does pay.

Anyway, once I had gotten through Tampa's rush hour traffic, my GPS (actually my phone) said I would arrive with about 15 minutes to spare, and that is what happened as the rest of I-75 was mostly clear. As I was driving up, I heard that the Gators also had a softball game at the same time (they are two-time defending champions and quite popular), and this made parking a bit tough, but a three-level garage right next to the stadium had some space near the top. Parking is free in the evenings and on weekends, which is when most baseball games are played.

The game featured #1 Texas A&M in town to take on #3 Florida in SEC action, and I expected a near sellout with such an enticing matchup but there were still seats at the box office at McKethan Stadium.

General Admission seats are only $4 and take up the top rows of the third base bleachers (above) as well as one small section on first base. Expecting these to be quite crowded, I splurged and got an $8 reserved seat (view below). Really an unbelievable bargain; a battle between top teams in football or basketball would cost several times that, but college baseball doesn't rate highly in the sports milieu.

NCAA ballparks lack many of the amenities that make minor league stadiums so fun to visit. There were a few food concessions but no alcohol of course. There are a few infield promotions however, including t-shirts tossed after an inning in which a visiting batter strikes out, but nothing too crazy. NCAA baseball is about the game first and foremost and fans are the ones that make the atmosphere here. There were a number of traditions such as yelling "Left, Right, Left, Right, Step, Step, Siddown!" as a recent strikeout victim returned to the visiting dugout, as well as singing "We Are the Boys from Old Florida" while locking arms and swaying together, something that is done at most Gator events. Fans here have a lot of fun.

Netting protects most of the seating bowl, as it should at this level with aluminum bats, but even then there were several foul balls that looped over the netting into my area next to the press box, including one that nearly beaned a poor lady who was walking up the stairs. Even with the nets, you always need to be watching the game.

Speaking of the game, I had high hopes as the Friday series openers usually feature each team's top starter, in this case Tyler Ivey for the Aggies and Logan Shore for Florida. Unfortunately, Ivey was not sharp, giving up two runs on three doubles and a walk in the second inning before being pulled having just thrown 31 pitches. Brigham Hill came in to put out the fire but he yielded a solo homer to Peter Alonso in the third and was the victim of some shoddy fielding in the fourth, giving up an unearned run. Halfway through the game, the Aggies were down 4-0 and looked terrible, committing another error in the bottom of the fifth. Shore was removed in the top of the fifth after three straight singles loaded the bases, but Kirby Snead snuffed out the rally and when the Gators batted around in the sixth, scoring three more to take a 7-0 lead, the game looked done. A&M fought back with a run in the 7th and made things interesting in the 9th when Hunter Melton hit a two-run shot to get within three, but closer Shaun Anderson was brought in to get the final out and the easy save as Florida won 7-4.

A bit of a disappointing game as the expected pitcher's duel did not transpire, but I was very glad to finally check McKethan Stadium off my list after a previous scheduled visit was rained out in 2014.


Florida won the two remaining games in the series to sweep the Aggies and reclaim the #1 ranking. I expect to see them in Omaha when I visit there in June for the College World Series.

After the game, it takes a while for the traffic to clear out of the garage, so I wandered over to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where statues of Tim Tebow, Steve Spurrier, and Danny Wuerffel (all Heisman winners) can be found. I don't think I'll be adding any college football venues to my list, but if there is one place



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