Opening night at the ballpark is always a much-anticipated and special event. But this one promises to be a little more special than usual, and probably a lot more memorable.
Because it’s the last one.
When Marshall takes on Florida tonight, it will mark not only the start of the college baseball season for the Gators, but the beginning of McKethan Stadium’s farewell season.
“It’s one of those days that’s long-waited for,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “This one has more special meaning with it being the last year at the Mac.”
When this farewell season concludes in May with the final out, next up to the plate is the wrecking ball, which will take its mighty cuts until the old stadium has been leveled to make room for UF’s new stand-alone football facility.
The focus right now is not on the ending, but the beginning. The Gators are eager to launch another season.
Other than the fact it is the last, this should play out like a typical opening night, and weekend, O’Sullivan said.
He has a team with a nice mix of veterans and freshmen, and the plan is to play a lot of players and try different combinations, with the goal of eventually establishing his every-day roster by the time SEC play begins.
“The bottom line is the lineup isn’t going to be the same at the end of the year as it is in the beginning,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m just trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together to give us the best opportunity to be successful this weekend. There are a lot of things we are going to try and tinker with.
“I’m really looking forward to getting as many guys game experience as possible. It’s our job to put players in positions to be successful. It’s a little bit tricky with the young, new players. Especially pitching wise, you try to get them in there in non-pressure situations so hopefully they can get their feet wet and the anxiety level is kept at a minimum.”
In terms of batting lineup, O’Sullivan apparently has plenty of options.
“We’ll try some different things with the lineup,” he said. “We’ve got about 13, 14 hitters that we like. We’ll have a rotation early on. I don’t think it’s going to be a bad thing to give guys some days off at times.”
O’Sullivan singled out five players who have been tearing it up at the plate — senior outfielder Austin Langworthy, outfielder Jud Fabian, infielder Kris Armstrong, third baseman Kirby McMullen and freshman infielder Josh Rivera.
“We’re swinging the bat well,” O’Sullivan said. “Collectively, as a group, I’ve been pleased.
“We just need to play somebody else. The hitters have been swinging the bat pretty good against our pitching. Our pitchers need to see another lineup.”
The Gators have hit and pitched well going back to fall. Now it’s a matter of transferring it to the field this weekend, starting with opening night.
“We still have to do it when the lights go on,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s easy to do it out here on Feb. 11 when there’s nobody in the stands. When you play somebody else, your heartbeat starts getting a little bit quicker.
“There will be some things this weekend where we’ll say, ‘Boy, we haven’t seen that the whole spring.’ It will happen. It’s inevitable. It’s human nature. But I do like our roster. The fact of the matter is we have to go out there and do it when the lights go on.”
What: Opening weekend
Who: Marshall vs. Florida
When: 6:30 p.m. today, 4 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: McKethan Stadium
Radio: 98.1-FM, AM-850
Live stream: SEC Network+, via the ESPN app