No. 1 UF hosted No. 19 Florida State on March 10. The Gators had won 16 games in a row to start the season and 11 in a row against the Seminoles dating back to 2016. FSU won the game 2-0 behind stellar pitching and held UF to just three hits.
Florida State handed Florida its first shutout of the season. Unbeknownst to players and fans at the time, it would also become the last game ever played at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium.
Less than 24 hours later, the SEC announced that through March 30, all league events would continue without fans, which was the initial response by many sports leagues to reduce the spread of COVID-19. A day later, the NCAA announced the cancellation of all remaining winter and spring championships, including the College World Series which were set to take place in June, and March Madness, which was supposed to begin the following week.
On March 13, the SEC extended the suspension of play through April 15. The following week, on March 17, the conference nixed all remaining conference and nonconference competition for the remainder of the 2019-20 athletic year.
One week after the first installment of the Sunshine State rivalry this season, it became clear that Florida State’s win over Florida would be the last game ever played at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium. The stadium has been open since 1988, was home to the 2017 national champions and was closed unceremoniously.
The Gators will move into the brand new Florida Ballpark for the 2021 season on the west side of campus near Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium and Donald R. Dizney Stadium. The ballpark is still under construction. The James W. “Bill” Heavener Football Training Center will take the place of Alfred A. McKethan Stadium across the street from The Swamp.
This telling of the last ever game at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium is based on the accounts of nine people who were there in varying capacities (players, journalists, fans and team employees).
Dylan Denmark, UF student: I got there right at the beginning, top of the first, it was packed, because obviously it’s Florida-Florida State, two very good teams.
Parker Messick, FSU freshman pitcher: There’s a lot of pressure going into that, seeing all of those people in orange and blue instead of garnet and gold. It was fun, though. All those people, it’s loud.
Austin Langworthy, UF senior outfielder: It’s always good when you’re playing Florida State and we were on a pretty good roll going into that game.
Brian Fox Jr., ChompTalk.com, founder, editor: The stadium was packed, it was a late-arriving crowd, which you get in these midweek games, but the feeling, the atmosphere, everything seemed normal. It was like none of this was going on behind the scenes.
Nick de La Torre, GatorCountry.com reporter: I get to the park early, and FSU didn’t really have a good infield-outfield and Florida kinda looked like they had, and they were confident. And they had this routine and it seemed like, based on the history, and based on where the teams were, it would be what the games had been — that Florida would run through FSU and FSU would find a way to lose another game to Florida.
Denmark: Right when we walked up, they gave out T-shirts that had the logo that had “McKethan Stadium final season,” and, you know, little did we know that would be the final game.
Haylee Blitch, FSU baseball social media coordinator: The guys were just ready. You could tell they wanted it so bad, they had just came off losing a series, but you could tell these guys were really excited to be there. It was just very different from past years and past games against UF.
Messick: I can’t really describe it. They talk about it pretty much all year, just what it means to play Florida, you’ll see how the adrenaline comes to you and then to actually get in, and actually pitch, and close it out was a whole other level of just excitement, the rush, the pressure...
Antonio Velez, FSU senior pitcher: The crowd was actually insane. I loved it. I loved, like, all the fans are in it, it makes the game more fun, it was just a great atmosphere.
Florida State took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on a two-out RBI single from Reese Albert that allowed Tyler Martin to score from second. Kirby McMullen nearly tied the game up on a bomb to right field in the bottom of the inning, but Robby Martin robbed his would-be home run. The Gators would not get a hit until the bottom of the fourth inning.
De la Torre: When Florida State scores in the first inning, you think, ‘No problem.” You know, Florida will come back, it’s only one inning of nine innings and it’ll be fine.
Blitch: As soon as Antonio Velez stepped on the mound, it was just totally different. Like, that guy is a bulldog, you knew he came to play that day.
Joseph Salvador, allligatorSports baseball beat writer: Kirby got robbed in the bottom of the first and then after that, a bat couldn’t find a ball.
Blitch: He hit the ball and everyone was just going crazy, and then it went dead silent as soon Robby Martin caught the ball.
Velez: Oh man, when he robbed that home run, I got super hype. It just gave me more energy and adrenaline and I was so happy when he did that.
Langworthy: Velez threw the ball really well, tip your cap to him. He was spotting up really well, throwing three pitches for strikes and you can’t really do anything, you tip your cap.
Ariya Massoudi, The Osceola reporter: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect UF at some point to find a rhythm and kind of pull away from Florida State and it just never happened. I think in the series, Florida has shown against FSU that they always have an answer, right? At least the last five or six years, it feels like UF has always found a big hit when they needed it or got out of a jam.
Salvador: Once the game started going, once no offense could be found, it was restless. I remember that. People were just exploding just to get one out. They were looking for anything to cheer for. Just a single was like a godsend.
De la Torre: It was just kind of a weird night where the game went by quickly, too. It was just kind of three up, three down, three up, three down. And I’d seen so many games where Florida had been down seven runs and been down five, been down, and all of a sudden they have an inning where they put something together.
Denmark: I was still kind of confident they were going to score because they had put up so many runs, you can look at a couple of games, they scored over 10 runs countless times.
De la Torre: The past couple of years it seemed like even when FSU was up, it seemed that something would happen. A runner would get on first and there’ll be an error and then you see this look or get this feeling from Florida State like they knew, ‘Alright, here we go again. How are we gonna blow this lead?’ Even me just being in the press box had that same idea like, ‘Alright, where is that mistake?’ You're going to blow it out. And then first and second, no outs, someone makes a nice play and the threat’s over and you’re thinking, ‘Alright, well, next inning, probably.’
Fox Jr.: I think the history of the two teams playing kind of gave us the idea that Florida was bound to make a comeback. So you get to the eighth inning when FSU scores that second run, nobody’s leaving this stadium — everybody’s expecting the big comeback, but it just wasn't happening against the left-handed pitcher out there.
Denmark: I was thinking, you know, once they get to the seventh, eighth, ninth inning, that bottom third, that we were going to get around and at least one of the at-bats get at least some type of run to collect two or three runs, but they could just never hit the lefty.
Fox Jr.: The thought was, ‘Hey look, if we can get past Velez and get into their bullpen, maybe we’re good to go, but they just bring out this lefty that was just throwing strikes all game and had kind of a weird arm angle that he was throwing at. It was like the perfect storm.
Velez threw a season-high six innings, allowed just one hit and finished with seven strikeouts. Messick relieved Velez, threw three scoreless innings, allowed just two hits and matched Velez’s strikeout total. He also recorded his first (and last) save of the season.
Velez: When I saw him (Messick) come in I was very confident in him. I was proud of what he came out and done. He’s been great all season, so I had no worries, no doubts in my mind.
Messick (“the lefty”): I knew if they had enough faith in me to bring a freshman in, in that type of situation, obviously I had to have faith in myself.
Massoudi: I thought Florida, playing at home, a walk, a bloop hit and a three-run bomb could completely change the game. You got to give Florida State credit. I thought Velez and Messick came in and did an admirable job.
Messick: After that last out I just kind of nodded my head. It was just an exciting moment for me.
Velez: It felt great, knowing we haven’t beat them since around 2016. We had one job to do and we pulled it off and it was just a great feeling knowing that we broke the streak.
Salvador: I remember the last out — they ran out onto the field like they just won the World Series.
Massoudi: I just think Florida State pitched a perfect game, pretty much. Not in a literal sense, but to beat Florida — so Florida State’s beaten Florida now twice in the last whatever that streak is and, ironically, both times FSU had to pitch a shutout to beat the Gators.
Langworthy: It’s never fun losing to those guys. Of course that was the first time I ever lost to them and it stinks, we hate that as players. They’re our biggest rival in state, probably and it probably stings for the players and especially for guys who may or may not come back, you just never know if that was their last game.
Florida State beat Florida for the first time in 1,363 days.
Fox Jr.: You kind of wish you could go and say, as you’re coming in, ‘Hey, this might be the last game.’
Langworthy: It sucks, to be frank with you. I never want to go out on a loss, but you never expect to go out 17 games into the season.
De la Torre: There was no thought in my mind like, ‘This is the last game at McKethan Stadium.’ For me it was kind of like, this one’s a blip on the radar, but this is going to be a great weekend series.
Langworthy: I did not expect the season to be canceled, for sure. We talked about it, we were going to play the Georgia series without fans. We found out the following day that we weren’t playing and it just kind of escalated from there. We’re not playing for a while, then the season’s over.
Salvador: In every other situation, I can’t think of one where you play in a historical stadium and you know it’s the last season there, you know you’re going to have celebrations throughout the season, you’re going to have a good time and you know you’re going to have that last game to really take it all in. And they never really got that.
Denmark: I was going through my console, going through my stuff and I saw a media credential I had and it said McKethan Stadium, and I kind of sat there shocked. I was like, ‘Dang, they’re not going to hand out any more of these.’ That’s when it kind of hit me, like that was the last time we’re going to go to that stadium and watch baseball.
Salvador: From the team’s perspective, maybe they didn’t have to think about ... they didn’t get distracted by that being the last game at McKethan. They were just thinking about trying to beat Florida State. It wasn’t about McKethan, it wasn’t about not being shut out — it was just about them trying to beat a rival, and they came up short.
De la Torre: The players didn’t want that to be their last game, but I think, in the moment, nobody thought it would be their last game at the Mac. I mean, they were supposed to play 72 hours later at the Mac.
Salvador: I remember exactly what Sully said, he said, ‘You know, there’s 56 games in the regular season and we’re not going to get 56-0, but we should’ve won this one.’ And someone asked him if it was good to get this loss out of the way and he was so-so about it, but he was like, ‘The games here don’t matter, games matter in the summer. In June, you want to be playing your best baseball.’ And I think that was the message, we still have months of baseball left. We’re going to start SEC play the next game against Georgia. There's plenty more games to be played and the sad truth is he didn’t know he just played his last game at McKethan and the last team to ever celebrate at McKethan was Florida State.
Langworthy: We just had so many great memories from that place. It’s going to be weird definitely, just seeing the new stadium they play at next year, for me especially.
Massoudi: I’m sure players and coaches will move on and get ready for their next season and when the first pitch is upon us I don’t think anyone will really be worried about it. But for the fans, especially now in a down period in sports where all you can do is reminisce right now with this virus, I think fans are going to hold on to whatever they can get.
De la Torre: It’s like a black eye almost, when you look at the history of McKethan Stadium. You say, ‘Oh, well what was the last game?’ It was a shutout loss to Florida State. That’s not the way you want to go and bulldoze the stadium.
Follow Kyle Wood on Twitter @Kkylewood. Contact him at [email protected].