Blue Wahoos Gearing Up for 2018 After A Championship Season
By about every measure you can think of, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos had a great season in 2017. "You know we really did, on and off the field" said Jonathan Griffith, the President of the Blue Wahoos and Studer Entertainment and Retail. "On the field, obviously, we won the (Southern League) championship, which was the first time since 1986 that (a) Cincinnati Reds (minor league affiliate) won a double A championship. That's a pretty cool thing! the Reds were really excited as well as the Pensacola community."
To be fair, the Blue Wahoos ended the 2017 season as co-champions with the Chattanooga Lookouts. The championship series between the two teams was canceled due to the threat of Hurricane Irma.
Other off the field honors went to team Vice President Donna Kirby, who was given the Woman of Excellence award from the Southern League; and Ray Sayre, who won his fifth Groundskeeper of the Year Award from the league. However, this will be his last for the Blue Wahoos. In October the team announced Ray will be joining the Philadelphia Phillies organization to care for their training complex in Clearwater. Jonathan Griffith says the team had some pretty big shoes to fill. "(Ray) has won, 5 straight years of Southern League Field of the Year. This year he just topped that with Double A Field of the Year! So, when you get those kind of accolades here (it shows) we have a standard."
The team did a national search for Sayre’s replacement and eventually hired Dustin Hannah, who had been the Assistant Head Groundskeeper at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. "The great story about Dustin is that he's from Crestview (and he) got to come home. It's a really cool story. He's a military brat so he moved around quite a bit, but he calls Crestview home. All of his family, his grandparents (live there). We were excited that, not only did we find a great 'grounds guy', but we got to bring somebody back home." After playing baseball in school, Dustin Hannah went to turf school at Florida Gateway College in Lake City. That eventually led him back to the diamond. "My first internship was at a golf course at the Country Club of Sapphire Valley in Sapphire, North Carolina." Said Hannah. "Then I went back to finish school, and then went to Jupiter, Florida (to work at) Roger Dean Stadium, the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins." In Jupiter Hannah cared for the main stadium and 14 practice fields.
The first job Hannah and the grounds crew will have to tackle is converting the field at Blue Wahoo Stadium back to a baseball diamond now that the UWF Football season is over. 2017 was the second year that the Wahoos have shared the stadium with the Argos and Jonathan Griffith says it’s been a good partnership. "The entire community has benefited from UWF football being downtown, including (the Blue Wahoos organization). We're getting people to come to the stadium that may have never been to a baseball game." Griffith says he looks forward to the Argos returning for the 2018 season and beyond.
As far as the business of baseball goes, the Blue Wahoos will continue their affiliation with the Cincinnati ball club. Last year was the first time total attendance for the season dipped below 300 thousand fans, but a rain-out that could not be made up was partially to blame for that. On the field The Reds have announced that manager Pat Kelly has been promoted to triple A and will not be returning. "We're excited for Pat! Getting to go to triple A is going to be a real big deal for him. He has that opportunity to possibly be in the big leagues very soon. We are (going to be) honoring him on January 20 (during) Wahoos-Fest (at the stadium). He's the winningest coach in Wahoos' history as we all know. And with the championship, we want to make sure we can get him his (championship) ring and celebrate what he's done here."
The announcement of the 2018 coaching staff is expected by the end of the month. Then it’s just a matter of weeks before spring training and the start of the 2018 baseball season. Opening day at Blue Wahoos’ Stadium is Wednesday, April 11.