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Friday, July 01, 2022
McKethan Seats
McKethan Seats

Jim White was eager to talk about the newest addition to his fire pit. This wasn’t exactly something you would find on HGTV.

White, 63, is a diehard Gators fan. More specifically, he’s a diehard Gators baseball fan.

He was going to have a lot to cheer for this year. Florida started the season 16-0 before a 2-0 loss at home to Florida State on March 10. This was also the last season that the Gators would play at McKethan Stadium, the place they called home since 1988.

That all changed on March 12, when the SEC canceled all sporting events until the end of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Mac,” as it was lovingly dubbed, would not get its cinematic ride into the sunset. Any hopes of one last run through the postseason at The Mac were gone.

The fans who packed The Mac for decades had seen their last game at the stadium without even knowing it.

White was one of them, but because of the virus, he decided to play it safe and stay home for the FSU game.

“I wasn’t there, so it was a game before that (a 2-1 win over USF) was my last game at The Mac,” he said. “Having the seats eases the pain a little bit.”

On May 12, three days after The Mac was originally scheduled to host its last regular-season game, the UAA announced that season-ticket holders could purchase chairback seats from The Mac to keep.

“I was joking on Twitter that I planned at the last game of the super regional to bring my ratchet with me to bring my seats home with me that day, whether there was a program for that or not,” White said. “It turned out to be really great that they decided to sell them.”

White, a season-ticket holder since 2006, jumped at the opportunity. He bought all four of his seats, which were seats 11-14 in the 11th row in Section D, right behind home plate. White originally sat a little lower but changed after a few seasons because the sightlines were better higher up.

White’s four seats were originally supposed to be for himself, his wife (Lisa McElwee-White, who is the chair of the chemistry department at UF) and their two daughters. As time went on, his daughters grew up and moved away, but he still bought four tickets every year.

“My wife gives me kind of a hard time that I still maintained four seats, but I just couldn’t bear to give up any of them,” he said. “Sometimes, if it’s going to be a pretty big crowd and if I don’t have somebody lined up to take the seats, I would now and then even just take the extra tickets and hand them off to somebody in line waiting to buy a ticket, because why not?”

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White purchased his seats for $150 each and posted a picture of them on Twitter.

While the UAA couldn’t guarantee anyone who bought seats would get their exact seat, White is pretty convinced that his are the same ones that he and his family sat in for years.

“I’m pretty sure those are definitely my four seats that they got for me,” White said. “They certainly got the same numbers on them, but I think they look like they’re the ones from our row.”

The seats are a part of White’s revamped fire pit, which is his latest project.

“I’d been leaning toward redoing it, and I was hoping to get the seats,” he said.

While The Mac had some charm to it, there were signs that it was about time for changes to be made. The biggest issue was that the stadium didn’t have any cover to provide fans respite from the blistering Florida heat or afternoon storms. The conditions for fans at The Mac were enough to make even the most loyal fans think twice about going to a game, especially those with families.

The other issue was that UF’s football team badly needed a football-specific facility in order to keep up with the facilities at other SEC schools. With the football stadium a short walk away and the football team’s indoor practice facility next door, the McKethan Stadium site seemed like the best place to build a new facility.

The new baseball stadium, also named after Alfred A. McKethan, is located off Hull Road, adjacent to Donald R. Dizney Stadium and across the street from the recently renovated Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Unlike its predecessor, the new stadium will have a canopy above the seats to protect fans from the elements, and it is oriented so the sun will be behind the fans.

But the memories of The Mac will still remain, and the seats the Whites have are a constant reminder of the time they spent and the memories they made there.

Lisa’s favorite memory of The Mac was walking around the field and talking to players after the team returned from Omaha as national champions in 2017.

“That was a blast,” she said. “We had a great time at that.”

For Jim, Austin Langworthy’s walk-off home run against Auburn to send the Gators to the College World Series in 2018 was the memory that he cherishes the most.

“It was just so tense and such a relief,” he said. “Everybody went nuts.”

The two are excited about the new stadium, but they also know that, deep down, they’ll miss The Mac dearly.

“The Mac was familiar,” Lisa said. “We had those season tickets for years and years and years. It was kind of a homey sort of place. We’ll have to see if we get attached to the new one.”

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