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Monday, June 27, 2022

Florida-Georgia baseball reignite fall ball rivalry in Jacksonville

The Gators and Bulldogs kick off the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party for the second time in franchise history.

<p>Florida&#x27;s Colby Halter chases after a ball on March 14 during a game against Jacksonville. He recorded 3 RBIs in UF&#x27;s 7-3 win over Central Michigan Friday.</p>

Florida's Colby Halter chases after a ball on March 14 during a game against Jacksonville. He recorded 3 RBIs in UF's 7-3 win over Central Michigan Friday.

Though all eyes in Jacksonville are sure to be on the annual Florida-Georgia football game over Halloween weekend, the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” includes more than just the gridiron rivalry this year. 

Florida and Georgia meet for the first time on the diamond in 2021 at 121 Financial Ballpark on Friday. The fall ball meeting marks just the second time the two teams joined the Florida-Georgia rivalry festivities prior to the spring season. 

The relatively new tradition began in November 2019, when the Gators and the Bulldogs met to play an exhibition game at 121 Financial Ballpark in Jacksonville. The Gators defeated the Bulldogs 5-3 in Jacksonville, foreshadowing a torrid 17-0 start to their 2020 season. 

The first installment involved additional fanfare, with a post-game concert featuring Brett Young and Chase Rice and a fireworks show to cap off the night. The game gathered a crowd of 8,640 people. 

Though both sides intended to continue the tradition in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic effectively placed a one-year hold on those plans. 

Senior infielder Kris Armstrong said the team missed the fall ball matchup last season, mainly for the preparation for the season. 

“Playing another SEC team right off the bat was huge, and I think it was big for us to get prepared for the spring season,” Armstrong said. 

However, the show is back on this year, and Florida and Georgia plan to continue meeting on the diamond in Jacksonville each year through as far as 2025, pending agreements between the two schools. 

Sophomore infielder Colby Halter said the return of the game this year could be huge for the young Gators squad. 

“It’ll be good to have some competition and definitely be good for the young guys to see what it’s like to go out there and play against another team,” Halter said. 

The rivalry between the two squads extends well beyond the young fall exhibition series, though. 

The two schools first met on the diamond in 1931, when they went head-to-head in four games in the month of April. Each team hosted a two-game series, and the Bulldogs took three of the four inaugural games from the Gators. 

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It’s been nearly a century since that first matchup, and the Gators have taken control of the overall series record with 191 wins against only 111 losses. The teams have also tied twice, in 1952 and 1984. 

Since Florida hired head coach Kevin O’Sullivan in 2008, the Gators are 28-13 against their conference rival.

In the last 10 matchups, the teams are deadlocked at 5-5, with Georgia holding the most recent win. 

In their 2017 National Championship run, the Gators swept the series against the Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia. However, the tables turned during Florida’s disappointing 2019 campaign, when the Bulldogs cleaned up on their home field. 

The most recent bout between the two teams showcased a weekend series in May at Florida Ballpark in Gainesville. The meeting marked the first between the two teams at Florida’s new home. 

In the end, the Gators took the series two games to one, securing wins on Friday and Saturday, and dropping Sunday’s series finale. 

As far as the Jacksonville-based fall rivalry goes, that’s still fairly fresh. Although the Florida and Georgia football teams have met in Jacksonville as early as 1915, and all but two meetings since 1933, baseball wasn’t added to the celebration until just two years ago. 

Baseball is a spring sport, typically playing intrasquad scrimmages in the fall season. Due to the success seen in 2019, however, it looks like the diamond will keep its Friday spot in the highly celebrated Florida-Georgia weekend festivities. 

Halter, a Jacksonville native, attended the 2019 ball game as a fan, but now he’ll suit up to play for the Gators. He said the atmosphere of the game adds excitement to the weekend and strengthens the rivalry discussion. 

“I’m really excited to play in front of a hometown crowd in Jacksonville,” Halter said. “Also, never take it lightly to get a chance to play a rival, and we want to take it to Georgia for sure.”

Georgia’s current 2022 roster includes two faces the Gators may be familiar with as well.

Senior infielder Cory Acton will show up to Jacksonville in black and red this year after sporting orange and blue for the majority of his collegiate career. Acton entered the NCAA transfer portal after the 2021 season, landing in rival territory for his senior season. 

Junior right-handed pitcher Nolan Crisp, another former Gator, pledged allegiance to the Bulldogs. Crisp transferred to Georgia after the shortened 2020 season when he did not make an appearance on the mound for the Gators prior to the season’s cancellation. 

“Now having a few guys who are ex-Florida Gators there on the team makes it even more competitive, in a good way,” Armstrong said. 

It will be interesting to see who comes out on top in this second fall head-to-head in franchise history. Both teams are looking to have comeback seasons after unsatisfying endings in 2021. 

First pitch for the game is set for 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, just under 24 hours before football kickoff. 

Contact Sara Kate Dyson at skatedyson@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter at @sarakatedyson.

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