© 2024 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pensacola Blue Wahoos Ready To Play Ball

Pensacola Blue Wahoos

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are out with their 120-game schedule for the 2021 season, after losing the entire 2020 campaign to the COVID-19 pandemic. Safety measures will be in place at Blue Wahoos Stadium this summer.

Starting a month later than normal, Pensacola opens on the road against the Mississippi Braves on May 4 – with the home opener a week later against the Birmingham Barons. Team President Jonathan Griffith says all series will be six games, with each Monday off.

“With the new layout it should mean less travel, but also it’s going to be great for fans,” Griffith said. “Those Monday games were always tough for us, and so now, without having the Monday games to worry about it’s going to be great.”

Miami is Pensacola’s third major league affiliation -- after Cincinnati and Minnesota -- since the first pitch in 2012. It’s part of the top-to-bottom restructuring of the minors, after Major League Baseball took over operations.

“When we were ran [sic] by Minor League Baseball, we were able to choose who we were partnered with; and we actually did kind of an interview process with each other,” said Griffith. “Now, we’re ‘voluntold’ so to say, to put us together. The major league teams got to where they wanted it to be in the country, and the Marlins decided they wanted to be here in Pensacola.”

Formerly known as the Southern League, the Double-A League – a new name could be forthcoming, or it could revert back to the old name – is also a smaller circuit, going from ten teams to eight. The Jackson Generals were not invited to remain, and the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp is now Miami’s Triple-A affiliate.

Credit Minor League Baseball
Jonathan Griffith, President, Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

The Marlins and Blue Wahoos recently signed a 10-year player development contract, and Griffith is looking forward to working with their new parent club.

“It’s a great organization to be with – young, they’ve won a couple of World Series [1997 and 2003] – but they use their minor league system to do it,” Griffith said. “Not like the Yankees or Boston, where they’re buying big names. It’s kind of, ‘Hey, we need these guys to develop in Pensacola. So they’ll really pump those players through here, which is going to be exciting for the people here in Pensacola to see some great talent.”

The late start for the minors this spring will enable everyone to get their COVID-19 precautions in place for both the players and the fans. Griffith says mandatory face coverings and distancing are but two parts of the Blue Wahoos’ plan.

“And it’s going to change a little bit of the landscape of the game; there’s no more ‘Field of Dreams’ where the kids go down and run onto the field to do the National Anthem,” said Griffith. “We’re going to have other setups so the kids can still be part of the game. Besides that, the rest of the game should be pretty much like normal as much as we can.”

Game times and the team’s promotional schedule will be released at a later date.  Still to be decided is the fate of one of the Wahoos’ most popular promotions – the “Critter Gitter” – where kids chase a team employee in a cockroach suit across the outfield.

“Our goal is to keep teams in the dugouts, let the kids run across the field, and then come up and around and have them be able to do that,” Griffith said. “We’re obviously going to have to get Major League Baseball’s blessing for that. But [for] all the other in-game type contests, the NFL has set that standard, and we’ll have the in-game activities and everybody can watch on the [scoreboard] or see them across the field.”

Although the minors did not play last year, they’re taking some pages from the major league playbook in 2021 when it comes to protecting against the pandemic.

“They want us to have ‘pod seating;’ they want us to keep fans away from the player for a certain amount of feet,” said Griffith. “Kind of a good thing about having Major League Baseball involved is to be able to have them help us guide it, because they’ve already been through it as well.”

On the field, the teams will continue to place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings. Other rules – such as the designated hitter – have yet to be firmed up. Off the field, player movement – call-ups and send-downs – are virtually unchanged, but road trips will be different.

“We’re taking two buses instead of one; and that’s just to be able to have less together as close; everybody gets their own row type of thing,” said Wahoos President Jonathan Griffith. “All the other protocols – calling guys up, calling them down – we normally fly everybody. They’ll have their typical wearing a mask in the airport and all of that type of stuff.”

Under the new system, Pensacola joins Mississippi, Montgomery, and Biloxi in the South Division. The North Division is made up of Birmingham, Chattanooga, Rocket City, and Tennessee.