Photo by Cliff Welch / Getty Images

Thirty-two years of Gator baseball played in a once world-class facility on Stadium Road ended abruptly with the conclusion of this season due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alfred A. McKethan Stadium, or “The Mac” as it’s so affectionately called, was retired and will be torn down after the last game of the 2020 season was played within its walls.

The names and faces on Perry Field at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium have changed over those 32 years. The boys in blue pinstripes grow older, graduate and move on to life outside the first and third base lines.

Now, the time has come for their beloved stadium to do the same.

Next season, the players, fans and traditions will travel 1.6 miles to Hull Road for the inaugural game in Florida Ballpark.

32 years worth of homeruns, strikeouts, walk-offs, and dogpiles are now forever immortalized in the record books as statistics of a bygone era.

Whether you ask players or fans about the esteemed stadium, the answer is always the same: There was just something about The Mac.

The theatre style seating primed for fans eager to watch their beloved Gators defeat the visiting team in dramatic fashion, the glaring Gainesville sun and infamous Rainesville weather delays all contributed to an environment unlike any other.

When the baseball team’s Twitter posted a video memorializing The Mac, several former players reminisced about their days on the diamond. Tyler Dyson, UF pitcher from 2017-2019 and pitcher in the Washington Nationals organization, said the place was “more than just a field.”

In 32 years, a lot of memories were made in that ballpark by athletes and spectators alike.

For Terri and RW Walker, longtime members of the Gator Dugout Club, baseball was just “something between basketball and football.”

“We came to the baseball stadium not knowing anyone,” the couple said. “Who could have predicted it would become our passion?”

Strangers to the game and its devoted fans at first, the Walkers expressed that the best part of Gator baseball was becoming lifelong friends with their seatmates in Section B and getting to know the players and their families as members of the booster club.

While The Mac facilitated friendships and housed some of their favorite memories of Gators sports, the Walkers in turn gave back to the stadium in the form of a new tradition.

“One game, we decided to honor the recently departed legendary announcer, Keith Jackson, by saying his famous “Whoa Nelly” when number 27, Nelson Maldonado came to bat,” the couple said. “We thought it would be a fitting motivation for Nelson.”

At first, Terri and RW were the only two chanting the late announcer’s catchphrase. But soon, the rest of their section and the stadium joined in.

“A simple saying became pom-poms, the big Nelly head, and the ‘1,2,3 -Whoa Nelly!’ the couple said.

After graduating in 2019 and being drafted in the 21st round by the Chicago Cubs, Maldonado returned to The Mac in 2020 for one last “Whoa Nelly” cheer led by “The Whoa Nelly People” themselves, as Terri and RW are referred to as by the rest of the Dugout Club.

Club president Henrietta Logan’s booster origin story is a stark contrast from the Walkers’s.

“In 1999, one of the earliest things I did when I joined the faculty at the University of Florida was to check out the baseball stadium,” Logan said.

Coming from a long tradition of championship caliber baseball, she was eager to see what Florida had to offer in that respect.

“(The Mac) was a cozy stadium with lots of open seating — Oh, and don’t forget, lots of rain delays,” Logan said.

Aside from the small crowds, she was pleased with what she saw. After buying single-game tickets through much of the early 2000s, Logan and her husband purchased season tickets.

“In 2005, we could not get tickets to the Regional or Super Regional,” she said. “So we decided, sun or no sun, shade or no shade, we needed season tickets.”

When coach Kevin O’Sullivan took over the program, season ticket stubs became a necessity for Logan.

From her early days at the ballpark to her final bout at The Mac, Logan said her favorite memory in the iconic stadium was in 2017 when the team came back to Gainesville to celebrate the program’s first College World Series title.

“That was a party,” Logan said. “I know I won’t forget that. Players got to talk, and Sully of course talked and we cheered and cheered and cheered.”

While the closing of The Mac makes her melancholy, Logan is looking forward to new memories she will make in the new ballpark just six minutes up the road. In fact, she already knows where she wants to sit.

“I want to go to Florida baseball games until I’m 100 years old,” Logan said. “So I’d like to be somewhere protected from the sun and near an elevator.”

Gordon Burleson, longtime Dugout Club member and creator of the Da-dee-da-da cheer, finds it easy to reminisce on his 23 years as a booster and Gator baseball fan. While the College World Series berths, the rivalry games where Florida emerged the victor and the capricious Gainesville weather seem to stick out in his mind, Burleson says that all of those memories seem to muddle together.

But one thing is certain. All of those games at The Mac, rain or shine, win or lose, left fans with memories to last a lifetime.

And for Burleson, “All are fond memories because it was Gator Baseball.”

Note: Sunday marks what should have been a potential Game Three of the NCAA Super Regionals, which could have been the final game ever played at McKethan Stadium.

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