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Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Gators enjoying new Florida Ballpark and facilities in first offseason

Stereo imaging cameras and turf infields make their debuts as Florida unveils first new stadium in more than 30 years

<p>A new scoreboard looms over the right-center gap, which coach Kevin O’Sullivan said measured 380 feet deep</p>

A new scoreboard looms over the right-center gap, which coach Kevin O’Sullivan said measured 380 feet deep

If you ask the Florida Gators baseball team how they expect their new ballpark to play, you’ll get one answer — big.

Dead center measures 400 feet, outdistancing 4 MLB stadiums, and the walls in the right-center and left-center gaps each sit 380 feet from home plate, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

“You’ve got to make a lot of hard contact to get the ball out of the yard,” he said.

However, the differences the players wanted to highlight expanded beyond how far the outfielders have to run to get to the warning track. The project wasn’t just the construction of a diamond and some seats. It was an investment into the entire baseball program, and the team is reaping the benefits.

Florida-Ballpark2

The new Florida Ballpark features an overhang that shades all seats from the evening sun.

The ballpark comes equipped with a new pitching lab along the third-base side, right-handed pitcher Tommy Mace said. Some new technology is also available for pitchers to hone their craft, including a Yakkertech.

A Yakkertech is a stereo imaging system that uses a camera to instantly measure data from a pitch. It aims to provide accurate, immediate data from ball tracking to player motion and provide pitchers a deeper look into their throws. 

The Yakkertech measures a pitch’s velocity, pitch location and movement through the air. It also calculates the ball’s spin rate, which affects the direction the ball moves through the air and the impression the batter has as the ball flies toward home plate. 

The camera also measures the ball’s observed spin axis, the measure of direction the ball is spinning in the air from the pitcher’s perspective, and spin efficiency, the ball’s useful spin (the amount of spin on the ball that contributes to in-air movement) divided by total spin. All of these calculations factor into how pitchers can optimize every move they make and every pitch they throw. 

Equipment like a Yakkertech can show pitchers like Mace things about the way they throw that are invisible to the naked eye. If Florida’s pitchers have direct access to information like spin rate and spin efficiency and improve upon those numbers, they can add velocity and movement to their pitches, a thought that shouldn’t excite opposing batters.

The new pitching lab has a camera that shows pitch designs. While Mace said it hasn’t been a primary bullpen for the team, it’s been instrumental for Gators to explore new pitches and sharpen their skills.

Another novel feature installed this offseason along Hull Road was the turf infield behind the right-field foul pole, which O’Sullivan and third baseman Kirby McMullen both praised.

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Turf-infield

A new turf infield allows the Gators to practice more fielding in the same amount of time.

“We’ve been putting that to good use already, and I think it’s going to be really good here come during the spring too,” McMullen said.

The new infield allows the team to get more work done fielding and baserunning in the same amount of time, O’Sullivan said. Other top teams in the SEC East have turf infields of their own. The new addition will allow the Gators to better compete against divisional opponents like Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri.

“Obviously, your first goal as a program is to win the East,” O’Sullivan said. “That gives you an opportunity to obviously win an SEC Championship.”

Florida-Ballpark

The view of the new diamond from behind the left field wall.

However, all the shiny new toys and sparkling amenities haven’t lessened the memories of Alfred A. McKethan Stadium, the Gators’ old home of more than 30 years. 

O’Sullivan said his son rewatched his favorite Florida moment last week: Austin Langworthy’s 11th-inning walk-off against Auburn that sent the orange and blue to the College World Series in 2018 — a moment cemented in Gator lore for all time.

No matter how much weight nostalgia carries, it always gives way to progress. While the seats of Florida Ballpark don’t hold decades of history, what’s held within the walls sets the Gators up to etch even more.

Contact Ryan Haley at rhaley@alligator.org or follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley


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Ryan Haley

Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.


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