The No. 1 Florida Gators baseball team opened up its 2016 season with four games at home. They were treated to a record number of fans on opening weekend and defended McKethan Stadium all four times they played. Wednesday night will be different as Florida finishes up a two game stint against Eastern Michigan on the road in Lakeland, Florida at Joker Marchant Stadium — the spring training home of the Detroit Tigers.
While it may not be a true road game with a hostile crowd, it will be the first time that Florida leaves the friendly confines of the Mac and hit the road.
“It will be a learning experience,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It’s the first of five games in a row we have on the road. It will be a goo challenge for us.”
The Gators have a good mix of juniors, sophomores and freshmen on the ball club. They aren’t relying on any class more than the other, but several freshmen have started their careers hot and will face a new test on Wednesday.
“We’re traveling somewhere else besides McKethan to go play,” junior Pete Alonso said. “I haven’t really talked too much about it but we’re trying to get [the freshmen] ready for the big, loud places. Tomorrow will be a good start, traveling and stuff, getting their feet wet.”
Wednesday is also a dry run for Florida, they simply don’t have time to go through the motions and simulate what a road trip will be like for the freshmen. O’Sullivan kept the players in the dugout a little longer than normal after the Tuesday win, making sure his team was on the same page as far as room assignments, what to pack and when to be at the facility to get on the bus. Florida won’t come back to Gainesville until Sunday night. After the final game against Eastern Michigan, Florida will stay the night in Lakeland before heading south for a weekend series against Miami. The neutral site game is a nice warm up run to get the team, especially the freshman, ready for what promises to be a hostile crowd and amped up environment in Coral Gables.
“[Wednesday] will be a learning experience for them,” said O’Sullivan. “To get on a bus, head down to Lakeland, spend the night in Lakeland on Wednesday night and then drive down to Miami on Thursday, practice there Thursday night. It will be a new experience for a lot of the players.”
The trip to Lakeland and Miami is also unique in the sense that Florida will get a chance to play closer to the homes of several players. When conference play starts the team is restricted to a 27-man travel roster, but this out of conference travel schedule will allow O’Sullivan bring his entire team, allowing everyone to experience a true road trip.
“A couple guys are from central Florida, an Orlando guy, that’s right down the road,” Alonso said. “We have a lot of Florida guys and it should be a lot of parents, friends and family at the game.”