Blue Wahoos Are Back After Lost 2020 Season
When the Pensacola Blue Wahoos begin the 2021 season, the fans will be welcomed back amid new COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
After opening the up on the road vs. the Mississippi Braves May 4, the Wahoos’ home opener is set for May 11 against the Birmingham Barons.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, team President Jonathan Griffith said that Major League Baseball has given the green light for 98% capacity at the stadium, which holds just over five thousand.
“Basically, we’ll have our sections down where the bullpens are; we’ll have a couple of rows knocked out there for that buffer zone as they call it,” said Griffith. “But after that then we’ll have seating everywhere else. We’ll have our party decks open, we’ll have all the other seating available; all of our season ticket holders will have their season tickets.”
Because of safety concerns, Griffith said there are some new wrinkles this season to many of the old favorite events.
“We’ll not have on-field activations, so you won’t see the ‘dizzy bat’ races and things like that on the field,” Griffith said. “We’re going to use the Cox clubhouse as our stage; and we’ll be doing a lot of video. The cockroach run will be a post-game event [and] we’re going to have kids run the bases post-game. We’re no longer allowed to do first pitches before the game.”
One of the main rules to be observed — no questions or debate — will be mandatory face coverings to enter the stadium.
“Face masks whenever you’re in a general area, and when you’re sitting down at your seat you’ll be able to take your face mask off to eat, drink, those type of things,” said Griffith. “And then we’ll ask you to put your face mask back on. We’ll have hand-sanitizing stations around concourse areas; we’ll have social distancing required as well throughout the concession lines and around the area.”
MLB’s top priority — and the Blue Wahoos — says Griffith, is keeping fans and players safe; that means a lot less interaction with the guys in uniform at least for the beginning of the year.
“We have to maintain a 12-foot buffer zone throughout the month of May; and every month Major League Baseball will give us new guidelines,” said Griffith. “Hopefully by the end [of the season], everything will be normal – not have to have masks on, but to start off, we’re just grateful to have fans back, to have baseball here in our community.”
Also new is a mobile ordering app, so fans can remain in their seats while food and drink are delivered to them; and fans will be directed to enter and exit the stadium through designated gates to expedite the process and limit crowding at any one entrance.
“If we feel people aren’t following our rules, that’s why we have the staff and the extra staff that we have,” Griffith said. “We run here normally about 250 people a game as far as employees, and that’s not something that’s normal. You go to Biloxi, they would have maybe 10 ushers, tops, for the whole ballpark. We’ve never been that way.”
Travel to the other seven Southern League cities, says Griffith, will also be vastly different from a quote-unquote normal season — three buses will be used to ensure proper distancing. And Griffith says the entire league is under the same laws and rules.
“This has been a long process,” said Griffith. “We went from 25% [capacity] to 50% to 67%. And we’ve gotten it more and more. And basically, what we’ve seen as the protocols come, it’s more and more rules for more and more people.”
With masking up, social distancing and separate entrances and exits the most visible measures at the stadium, Griffith says numerous other unseen actions are aimed at player and staff safety. For example, the pre-game schedules for the players are significantly more exacting.
“The old school of baseball, you come and hang out, right? You love your teammates, be teammates, that good teamwork kind of thing; that’s gone now, at least during COVID for the first month,” said Blue Wahoos President Jonathan Griffith. “It will be more of a business of, ‘you’re coming in at this time, you work out at this time, and you’ll leave or you’ll go to a different area, and spacing everyone out.”
One big help in keeping everyone safe is that the Miami Marlins are requiring all players in the organization to be vaccinated before they report to Pensacola and their other minor league teams.