On a picture-perfect day for baseball — sunny, breezy and warm — the University of Florida broke ground on a new $65-million baseball stadium Friday.
The ceremony drew several hundred, including some financial donors, UF president Kent Fuchs and dozens of former Gator players, including Matt LaPorta, Darren O’Day and Allen Trammell.
“It’s a great day for Florida baseball, for Florida athletics and for the University of Florida,” Fuchs said. “This is a huge step forward as we set the standard for the SEC and the NCAA.”
The stadium, scheduled for completion in June of 2020, is going to be located on former IFAS land on the southwest corner of campus, just off Hull Road and adjacent to the softball and lacrosse stadiums/facilities.
Workers will begin clearing the land, which is dotted with citrus trees and other vegetation, sometime in the next few weeks.
“Coach (Steve) Spurrier has the saying, ‘When God smiles on the Gators,’ ” UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “This day is a great example of that. It’s a beautiful day, a beautiful day for baseball. Monumental day for Florida baseball.”
The new stadium will be ready for play at the start of the 2021 season.
It will feature a 360-degree open concourse, shade structures for fans, grass berms and non-traditional seating that will allow for capacity of more than 7,000, chairback permanent seating, high-definition video and sound, enhanced concession space and food options and prominent entry gates.
There also will be modern student-athlete and staff amenities, including a private nutrition area and team lounge, film/meeting room and expanded locker room, indoor pitching and batting cages and enhanced training and rehabilitation area.
“I’ve seen the pictures. It looks incredibly awesome,” UF baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “But you know me, I’m thinking about practice starting at 2:30 today. This is an exciting day, just to see the pictures and what it’s going to look like.
“I really can’t put into words how fortunate it feels to be a part of something like this.”
Stricklin said the new stadium will be more player — and fan — friendly than McKethan Stadium, the current home of the Gators.
“We have a national championship-caliber program. We have national championship-caliber fans,” Sticklin said. “They deserve a national championship-caliber ballpark to go along with that.
“We don’t have a lot of room to do creative fan-oriented things in the current site. We’re going to have that in this location. A half-open concourse where people can move around and stay engaged with the game.
“Families can come. Older people can come. There will be shade. All the things we’ve struggled with at the current site we’re going to be able to address here.”
The original plan was to renovate McKethan Stadium. But, eventually, the decision was made to build a new stadium and tear down the old one and build a stand-alone football facility on the site.
Sticklin said the plan is to start tearing down McKethan Stadium and clearing the site after the 2020 season. At that time, construction will begin on the football facility if UF has met some fundraising benchmarks between now and then, Stricklin said.
“Assuming we hit where we need to, we should be ready to start then,” he said. “That’s about an 18-month project. If we hit all our marks, when our team is coming back from their bowl game after the 2021 season, our football team should be ready to move into their new training center.”
But Friday’s ceremony wasn’t about football. It was about baseball and a brand-new stadium that will be ready for play for the start of the 2021 season.
“I know our players are so excited about having the opportunity to play in a new stadium,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s going to be an incredible facility. We’re looking forward to being a part of it. It’s going to be a neat process seeing it all come together.”