UF deals with stadium chaos
Published: Friday, January 20, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 20, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
The plan AT A GLANCE
THE SITE: McKethan Stadium
START DATE: July 7, 2005
COMPLETION DATE: October
THE DETAILS: Included in the $13M renovations are a new baseball office; locker, equipment and training facility; batting and pitching cages; and a pavilion.
Pitcher Darren O'Day's favorite dressing room is a track & field office on the second floor of the Lemerand Center.
In and around McKethan Stadium these days, in almost every nook and hallway, the Gators have had to invent new and interesting places to change their clothes.
"I've been walked in on a couple of times," O'Day said. "But nothing too revealing."
It's an unusual time for the Gators as they prepare to hold their first practice of the 2006 season this weekend.
The team has been without a locker room since a $12 million renovation project on McKethan Stadium and the Lemerand Center began last summer.
The team's old locker room in the Lemerand Center is being moved to a new building being constructed down the left field foul line. The construction simply adds to the chaos.
Giant cranes and bulldozers provide a peculiar backdrop to players hitting and throwing on the field. A portable green toilet sits in foul territory down the left field line. Players take batting practice as sounds of hammering and drilling pierce the air.
"They make a lot of noise over there," catcher Brian Jeroloman said. "But when we hear the noise we get excited because we know our locker room is about to become a real locker room."
Not having a locker room at McKethan Stadium is the biggest inconvenience at the moment, the Gators say. During fall practice, some players would leave home in the morning in their baseball clothes and wear them to class. Others would go home and change. And many more would dip into a hallway or unoccupied room to change shirts, pants and shoes.
"I just got done changing in the equipment room," LaPorta said Thursday afternoon after taking batting practice. "People are coming in and I'm sitting there wearing my sliders."
But the Gators say their locker room was more than a place to change clothes. It was a place to bond.
"It's hard to build team chemistry right now without a locker room," LaPorta said. "When we had a locker room we could all sit in there and talk, play some cards and just hang out and get to know each other better."
The university is allowing the team to use the visiting locker room at Florida Field in the meantime. But the location of that locker room is inconvenient and several players admitted they haven't even set foot in it yet.
Florida's coaches have yet to decide where the team will settle in once the season starts. But there are three possibilities for Florida's locker room during the 2006 season. They are: the visiting locker room at Florida Field, the locker room in the maintenance building behind the third base dugout, used by opponents in the past, and the tunnel underneath the right field plaza.
Regardless of where the team settles in, the players are anxious to have a locker room.
"That's where a lot of the camaraderie develops," O'Day said. "It's a big team right now, 45 guys. We've had to go out of our way to become friends as opposed to years past."
The Gators have formed some friendly, and interesting, relationships with the construction workers on site. Some of the workers sit in the stands during their lunch break and watch the team take batting practice. The workers also round up stray balls which end up in the construction zone and throw them back on the field.
"I don't think they have any problems keeping the hard hats on those guys," pitching coach Ross Jones said.
Especially when last year's national home run leader, LaPorta, steps into the box.
"They kind of got on us today," LaPorta said. "They told us to yell, 'Head's up' whenever we hit balls over there. But they've got all that equipment going. Do you think they're really going to hear us?"
Workers have already installed about 1,000 new chairbacks. The final project, which will include a new battling cage and bullpen in left field, isn't slated to be finished until October, according to associate athletic director Chip Howard.
The Gators aren't complaining. They know the final project will be rewarding.
"They've handled it really well," Jones said. "They see what's going on, that this program is taking steps.
"It's an inconvenience. But it's not hindering what we're trying to do."
Outfielder Gavin Dickey agrees. "We just want to get out on the field," Dickey said. "It's not that big of a deal."
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