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Flashback: Blue Wahoos 1st Opening Day, April 2012

Minor league Baseball

More than five thousand people crowded into Bayfront Stadium on a Thursday night in April, 2012, to welcome minor league baseball back to Pensacola. This story originally aired for the first Blue Wahoos opening night.

The crowd ranged from elected officials and business leaders to fans in Pensacola Blue Wahoo caps, shirts and other regalia. The pristine new stadium was ready, as were the employees who will work all 70 home games.

After 24 hours of monitoring the weather – thunderstorms were in the forecast all the way up to game time – the skies cleared and the pre-game ceremonies kicked off about an hour before first pitch.

“Good evening, Pensacola, whaddya think?” asked Pat O’Connor, the President of Minor League Baseball, to an eruption of loud cheering.

“On behalf of 40 million-plus fans a year; over 250 clubs nationally and internationally, our Major League Baseball partners, and all of the Minor League Baseball family, I’m here to officially welcome you to THE minor leagues,” said O’Connor.

A cadre of elected officials and other local leaders – seated on chairs between home plate and the pitcher’s mound – were recognized with some making some brief remarks. Among them, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward.

“Like baseball, Pensacola’s rich with history,” said the Mayor. “And tonight, all of you are creating new history.”

Special tributes were paid to the late Mayor Emeritus Vince Whibbs and the late retired Vice Admiral Jack Fetterman, two of the early forces for building on the old Trillium property.

After the national anthem, complete with not one, but two flyovers by the Blue Angels – it was time for baseball – five and a half years after voters approved the project and two and a half years after groundbreaking.  

The first pitch from Pensacola’s Pedro Villarreal was fouled straight back by the Montgomery Biscuits’ leadoff hitter Hak-Ju Lee at 7:02 p.m. Taking it all in from his seat behind home plate was Blue Wahoos owner Quint Studer. He was asked what was going through his mind.

“How great this is for the community, what a community melting pot,” Studer said. “We don’t really have a community melting pot, a place to hang out. So this park is going to be the city’s neighborhood.”

He was also asked if he felt vindicated, after a large amount of criticism aimed at him and the construction of the stadium.

“Life’s about moving forward,” said Studer. “It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, it’s time to move forward.”

The Wahoos scored their first-ever run in the bottom of the first on a sacrifice fly by Henry Rodriguez. Montgomery tied it up in the top of the third. The game then settled into one of pitching and defense until the bottom of the 8th, when Rodriguez struck again, slamming a two-run homer over the left-centerfield wall. Donnie Joseph picked up the save, and just over two and a half hours after the first pitch, the Wahoos had a 3-1 victory.

Fast forward to 2015, where the Pensacola Blue Wahoos host the Jacksonville Suns Tuesday, in the Wahoos’ home opener at the newly-christened Fetterman Field.