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Pensacola, the westernmost city in the Florida panhandle, was the penultimate stop of my latest and greatest Minor League ballpark road trip. I was in town to see the Blue Wahoos (Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins), a Southern League entity that debuted in 2012.
I first visited Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium during that inaugural 2012 campaign, enjoying the facility’s Pensacola Bay backdrop, walkability from downtown, open layout, creative concession offerings and, of course, more. “I’ll be back soon,” I thought to myself upon leaving. “Or if not soon, then surely within the next 11 years.” It was never in doubt.
I returned to Blue Wahoos Stadium in this, the year of our Lord 2023, in order to see a pair of games between the Blue Wahoos and Mississippi Braves. The weather was lousy throughout my stay in Pensacola, but the combination of fortuitous start times and exemplary field drainage resulted in both being played in full after a delayed start. I was impressed with the crowd on both days, as fans showed up in force despite the inclement conditions.
Remove the tarp!
On Saturday, June 17, the Blue Wahoos suited up as their Copa de la Diversión identity, the Pok-Ta-Pok. This is an homage to the oldest ball sport in the Americas, a fast-paced and often brutal game (on some occasions, participants were literally playing for their lives).
This was the second time that the Blue Wahoos played as the Pok-Ta-Pok (pronounced “poke-ta-poke”) which is one of the Minor Leagues’ most unique and creative Copa identities. Unfortunately, there weren’t any special guests or concourse displays or things of that nature, so I didn’t learn as much as I would have liked (or have as much to write about as I would have liked). It will be interesting to see what the Blue Wahoos have planned for this identity going forward; the next Pok-Ta-Pok game is Sept. 16.
If it’s Pok-Ta-Pok merch you’re looking for -- or any type of Blue Wahoos gear -- then Donna Kirby is the person to talk to. She’s been with the Blue Wahoos since the beginning and has seemingly done it all at the ballpark; this season she filled a need in the front office by stepping back into the merchandise realm. I enjoyed talking to Donna about her multifaceted Blue Wahoos career, and how it was a natural extension of the work she’d done prior to landing a job with the team.
Another interesting ballpark career path is that of Nino Mendez, who was born in Guatemala and now serves as the Blue Wahoos team photographer (in addition to working as a Spanish instructor at Pensacola Christian College). Nino didn’t have much knowledge of baseball prior to working for the team, who initially contacted him after seeing photos he took of a Blue Wahoos ballpark fireworks display. It’s funny how life works out.
Nino Mendez takes pictures, while Erik Bremer paints them in the minds of his listeners. Erik’s in his second season as the voice of the Wahoos, and it was good to see him (and spend a couple innings on the air). Pensacola is the fourth Minor League locale in which we’ve crossed paths, following Colorado Springs, Potomac and Fredericksburg. Have voice, will travel.
Many of the Blue Wahoos’ gameday workers have served in the military; this is in large part thanks to the nearby Naval Air Station Pensacola. I spent a couple innings in conversation with usher Bob DeStafney, a third-generation Marine whose father was stationed in Pensacola. It was fitting, perhaps, that the Blue Angels did an (unscheduled) flyover while Bob and I were talking.
In the below photo, Bob poses with Angela, one of his fellow ushers.
The concourse of Blue Wahoos Stadium is lined with concession areas that resemble themed, standalone storefronts. These include the Fish and Hits Pub, Casa de Kazoo (Mexican food, named after the mascot) and the Wheelhouse Diner.
On the morning of June 18, I put out a tweet saying, in effect, that I needed a Designated Eater (you know, an individual whose job is to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits) for that afternoon’s Blue Wahoos game.
Eric Elger, a vacationing resident of Kenosha, Wis., answered the call.
Eric, who attended the game with his wife, Kim, is eating Cracker Jack Chicken and Waffles in the above photo. That was part of a spread that included a BLT Shrimp Po Boy, Cuban Tacos, The Bullpen barbecue bacon cheeseburger and, for dessert, Dole Whip.
Eric (and Kim) ate it all with gusto and aplomb. I’ll give this all a fuller write-up in the coming weeks or months or years, but for now please enjoy this close-up of the BLT Shrimp Po' Boy.
And, OK, fine: Here’s the Cracker Jack Chicken and Waffles.
Before ending this shaggy bit of conversational ballpark trip reportage, I would like to note that, at every Blue Wahoos game, hordes of children chase a giant roach across the outfield. Wouldn’t you know it, my photo of this spectacle does not include the roach. Just know that these children were chasing it.
Just know, also, that if you’re ever in the westernmost portion of the Florida panhandle, then a stop at Blue Wahoos Stadium is pretty much mandatory. There’s good energy throughout the ballpark, expertly cultivated by a front office staff that pulls out all the stops from a customer service standpoint. Check it out sometime. You’ll be glad you did.
And for more:
READ THE PENSACOLA BLUE WAHOOS MINOR LEAGUE BALLPARK GUIDE HERE
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.