Blue Wahoos Set For Opening Day 2015
Baseball returns to the bayfront Thursday evening as the Pensacola Blue Wahoos kick off their 2015 season.
This is the fourth year of Blue Wahoos in Pensacola and the team is hoping fans will enjoy some of the changes the team has made around the park. There are new video "ribbon boards" all around the stadium, which will bring more graphics and stats to fan throughout the game.
One change the fans won’t notice on the field is a restructuring of the team’s upper management. Team owner Quint Studer has created a board of directors to oversee the franchise and has installed former team president Bruce Baldwin as the board’s chairman. The board includes Studer’s wife Richy, as well as new team partner Bubba Watson. Jonathan Griffith was named team president in the reshuffling and he says the board means more stability for the future of the team. "People don't have to worry about us leaving tomorrow or anything like that". He feels having the core of the team on the board will insure smooth operations for years to come.
On the field there is also new management. Former major league catcher Pat Kelly is now running the squad, taking over for Delino DeShields who was promoted to triple A Louisville. A lot of this years players played for Kelly last year in Cincinnati's single A team in Bakersfield. Kelly says that means he has "a pretty good feel of what they can do. And the other thing is they know what to expect from me". He thinks that will help the team develop. Kelly also says developing a winner means putting some emphasis on winning at this level. A big part of minor league baseball is helping players develop into major leaguers and sometimes that means concentrating more on a player's performance than the outcome of a game. But Kelly says that winning can be an important part of that development. "Obviously some of the decisions you make involve letting the player possibly fail at times. Give a chance for a pitcher to get out of a jam or let a hitter hit off a real tough reliever. (That's) a situation that in the big leagues they might be pinch hit for or taken out of the game. So that is part of the decision process. But I've always felt that we're all competitors and at the end of the night we're here to win and if we have a chance late in a ball game we're going to go for it."
Overall, Kelly says the Cincinnati organization is restocking its farm system. He noted that three years ago they traded 14 players, 5 of whom were number one draft choices, so there was a bit of a hole in the system. Kelly feels that gap is now being filled with talented ball players.
One thing a trip to a Blue Wahoos game has become known for is the food. This year there is a new executive chef planning those menus. Travis Wilson has been the sous chef with the team since the very first game. Now that he has the big chair, and the big hat, he’s looking forward to bringing something new to the game. Wilson says you can go "anywhere and get a hot dog at a ball game, but not many places you can get a shrimp po boy or shrimp and grits. Some of the things we doing to reflect being in the south and being on the water". This year Wilson is bringing back the Bubba Dub Grilled Cheese Sandwich, a double decker grilled cheese with hash browns inside, to honor new Wahoos minority owner Bubba Watson. Wilson also says they will also be introducing an Oysters Rockefeller Po Boy, "which is kind of a different take on baked oysters, it'll be fried oysters with parmesan and spinach and bacon and all the usual fixings".
The ball park will also feature a different food special for each visiting team. Thes opening series is against the newest team in the Southern League, the Biloxi Shuckers. Wilson has cooked up the Jackpot Nachos it their honor.
There will also be new food stands with a local flair including Sonny’s Barbecue, McGuires Irish Wake Zone and Roly Poly sandwiches.
The Shuckers is the new double A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, taking the place of the Huntsville Stars. They’ll be playing most of the first half of the season on the road as their new ball park is still under construction. Blue Wahoos team president Jonathon Griffith says with Biloxi joing Pensacola, Mobile and Jacksonville in the Southern League it creates an I-10 baseball corridor.
The first game of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos 2015 season is this evening, Thursday April 9 at 6:30 against the Biloxi Shuckers. Gates open at 5:30. The national anthem will be sung by 1970s country-rock band Firefall.