Category Archives: Pensacola Blue Wahoos

Huntsville Stars Fell Out of Alabama

Not that long ago it was announced that the Huntsville Stars of the Southern League are moving from Alabama to Mississippi to become the Biloxi Shuckers beginning with the 2015 season.

It is not uncommon for baseball teams to move from one city to another, but there are two sides to every move.

For the city getting the team there is the excitement of welcoming baseball to town and having new options for entertainment.

For the city losing the team there are the thoughts of what could have been done differently to keep the team in town.

Although I never made it to Huntsville, Alabma to see them play I did see the Huntsville Stars in action against the Orlando Rays in 1990. Since that time the Rays moved to Alabama and changed their name to the Biscuits while the Stars are headed to Mississippi to become the Shuckers. Photo R. Anderson
Although I never made it to Huntsville, Alabama to see them play I did see the Huntsville Stars in action against the Orlando Rays in 1990. Since that time the Rays moved to Alabama and changed their name to the Biscuits while the Stars are headed to Mississippi to become the Shuckers.
Photo R. Anderson

For Huntsville the decision to move to Biloxi was Ballpark driven. After a deal to construct a new Ballpark in Huntsville failed to materialize the team was sold and moved to a brand new Ballpark in Biloxi.

There are doubts about whether the new Biloxi Ballpark will be done in time which leads to a possible awkward scenario where the team may still play some games in Huntsville next year but for all intents and purposes the days of baseball in Huntsville are done for now.

As I have said many times, I grew up on Southern League baseball at Orlando’s Tinker Field.

Despite several facelifts through the years Tinker Field was, by all accounts, a very old ballpark which lacked luxury boxes, suites, organic concession stands and the other must haves in today’s Ballparks.

While some found the lack of amenities as a negative, in my opinion the lack of those features added to the charm and made the games more fun to watch.

For me a Ballpark should be a little gritty and show some wear and tear. I want to feel like generations of people before me sat in similar chairs and watched nine innings played on a humid summer night under the stars sipping sweet tea and trying to catch a foul ball in the stands.

Although I never managed to catch a foul ball Tinker Field always gave me that time capsule feeling whenever I saw a game there.

Unfortunately for Tinker Field a new Ballpark was built up the road at Walt Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex at the end of the 20th Century and the Orlando Rays, the Double-A Affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, moved to the Ballpark that the Mouse built in 2000 and left Tinker Field without a Minor League Baseball team.

Despite moving to what they thought was greener pastures, the Orlando Rays broke their 10-year lease with Walt Disney World’s Ballpark and left the Orlando market entirely following the 2003 season and became the Montgomery Biscuits.

Orlando’s loss became Montgomery, Alabama’s gain.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are another Southern League team that moved in the last couple of years. The team formerly known as the Carolina Mudcats made the westward journey from North Carolina to the sugar sand shores of Florida in 2012.

In 2012 the Pensacola Blue Wahoos were born when the team formerly known as the Carolina Mudcats made the westward journey from North Carolina to the sugar sand shores of Florida.  Photo R. Anderson
In 2012 the Pensacola Blue Wahoos were born when the team formerly known as the Carolina Mudcats made the westward journey from North Carolina to the sugar sand shores of Florida.
Photo R. Anderson

Since moving to Pensacola the Blue Wahoos have been named one of the best organizations in baseball and have had their Ballpark, which they sell out routinely, listed at the top of several polls.

The Shuckers appear to be trying to follow the Pensacola model of running a franchise where a new baseball starved market replaces a market and/or Ballpark that is deemed to be outdated.

While there are certainly nice features in the new Ballparks being built I think in the era of Ballpark building people forget that the main reason to go to a Ballpark should be to see the actual game.

In recent years I have seen more and more people at baseball games that probably don’t even know that there is a game going on.

It is certainly an individual’s right to pay for a ticket and then spend nine innings reading a book or sitting with their back to the field the whole game, but the actual baseball game should still be the main attraction at a Ballpark.

Pensacola quickly moved to the top of the Southern League ballparks when they took the field in 2012. Biloxi is looking to duplicate that success when they open their new Ballpark next year.  Photo R. Anderson
Pensacola quickly moved to the top of the Southern League ballparks when they took the field in 2012. Biloxi is looking to duplicate that success when they open their new Ballpark next year.
Photo R. Anderson

I will admit that when I am watching a game at home on television I will often find myself doing two or three other things at the same time so my attention is not fully on the game.

But when I am watching a game in person I could not fathom spending nine innings not watching the game.

Of course these new Ballparks are not always built for the regular fan in mind and tend to cater more to businesses who use their suites as places to hold corporate events or other functions.

I am sure that Biloxi will be a fine city for baseball and I look forward to adding it to my list of cities to catch a game in. And while Biloxi is certainly close for me to get to then Huntsville, I do feel bad for the people who lost their team.

I know how I felt when Orlando lost their Minor League Baseball foothold so it is definitely rough for the fan bases that are left behind.

While I am a firm believer in keeping Ballparks free of distractions that take away from the game I will admit that I enjoy watching the boats go by when I attend games in Pensacola. It is also possible to see the Blue Angels flying home to Pensacola Naval Air Station some nights. Photo R. Anderson
While I am a firm believer in keeping Ballparks free of distractions that take away from the game I will admit that I enjoy watching the boats go by when I attend games in Pensacola. It is also possible to see the Blue Angels flying home to Pensacola Naval Air Station some nights.
Photo R. Anderson

The Southern League currently has teams playing in Birmingham, Alabama, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Jackson, Tennessee, Montgomery, Alabama, Kodak, Tennessee, Biloxi, Mississippi, Jacksonville, Florida, Pearl, Mississippi, Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida.

By comparison the cities represented by the Southern League in 1992 were Memphis, Tennessee, Charlotte, North Carolina, Greenville, South Carolina, Knoxville, Tennessee, Raleigh, North Carolina, Huntsville, Alabama, Orlando, Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama.

It is likely that the Southern League has not seen the last team relocation. There are already rumblings that Huntsville is going to try to get a team to replace the one that they lost. Panama City, Florida is also rumored to be looking to add a team so for either of those cities to gain another must lose.

While there can be only one when it comes to certain sword wielding movie immortals, in the Southern League there can only be 10.

With only 10 slots available at any given time that leaves a lot of southern cities fighting to join the league. I just hope no one loses their head in the process.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am suddenly in the mood to watch the Highlander.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

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Baseballs are Made of Basic Things but Spark Fantastic Memories

On the surface, and even down to their core, baseballs are pretty basic items.

Start with a cork core, add two thin rubber wrappings, cover with about 370 yards of wool yarn in varied thickness and color, adhere a cover of white cowhide with rubber cement and hand stitch exactly 216 times with 88 inches of red thread and one has a completed baseball.

On the surface there is nothing really special about a baseball's individual parts. Once those parts are assembled though a baseball can have a life of its own and can be highly sought after. Photo R. Anderson
On the surface there is nothing really special about a baseball’s individual parts. Once those parts are assembled though a baseball can have a life of its own and can be highly sought after.
Photo R. Anderson

The cork-cored ball was introduced around 1910 and standardized the way baseballs were made. Very few modifications have been made to the design in the 104 years since.

Of course the simplistic breakdown of a baseball does not really convey the role that they play in the culture of the game.

Pitchers try their best to make a baseball move in ways that trick the batters while the batters are looking for that one perfect pitch to hit out of the park.

The battle over control of the baseball between pitchers and batters lies at the very cork core of the game of baseball itself.

Of course not all interactions with baseballs occur between a pitcher and a batter.

Recently two examples of interaction with baseballs within a Ballpark showed how they can be much more than the sum of their parts in the eyes of the beholder.

Our first example takes us to Pensacola, Florida and Bayfront Stadium home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos of the Southern League.

Last Thursday night before a game against the Jacksonville Suns Pensacola Blue Wahoos catcher Ross Perez was called upon to catch the ceremonial first pitch.

On the surface a catcher being asked to take part in the opening pitch is really nothing out of the ordinary as they are often called upon to partake in opening ceremonies.

What made this particular first pitch different was the person throwing it.

Recently the Pensacola Blue Wahoos hosted a father/son first pitch. Photo R. Anderson
Recently the Pensacola Blue Wahoos hosted a father/son first pitch.
Photo R. Anderson

Perez was surprised to discover that the person throwing the pitch was his father who had come all the way from Venezuela in a surprise visit.

Making the moment more special for the father and son was the fact that the elder Perez had never had seen his son play a professional baseball game.

So a baseball made of basic materials helped a father and son from Venezuela connect on a Florida baseball diamond.

The second example of the power of a baseball came from Arlington, Texas and the Ballpark of the Texas Rangers.

In this particular instance a young male fan received a ball during the game and then proceeded to give it to a woman sitting behind him.

Of course the chivalrous act was caught on camera and the fan had his 15 minutes of fame for giving the ball away.

A closer look at the exchange revealed that a decoy ball caught during batting practice was given to the girl while the young man kept the game ball.

It is fairly common for fans to use decoy balls and this particular fan’s sleight of hand was the sort of thing that would put Penn and Teller to shame.

Ceremonial pitches such as J.J. Watt's during the season opener of the Houston Astros last year have been a part of the baseball landscape for decades but sometimes they can take on a deeper meaning. Photo R. Anderson
Ceremonial pitches such as J.J. Watt’s during the season opener of the Houston Astros last year have been a part of the baseball landscape for decades but sometimes they can take on a deeper meaning.
Photo R. Anderson

So while the ball given to the “cute girl” was not the actual game ball it is still a nice gesture but it also shows the power of a baseball and the desire to keep the real thing.

These are just two examples of baseballs creating lasting memories and opportunities inside Ballparks.

There are countless more that occur every night in Ballparks of every shape and size. In fact during the time it takes to read this article it is likely that several such baseball memories have occurred somewhere in the world.

Individually the pieces of a baseball are nothing special but when something as simple as cork and twine wrapped in cow hide is put together they become almost magical under the right circumstances.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about cow hide has me craving a juicy cheeseburger with some Heinz 57 and perhaps even some french fried potatoes.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Wahoo Wishes and Other Notes From Beside the Bay

This past weekend I took my first baseball road trip of the 2013 season to book end the opening week of the baseball season.

After starting the week at the home opener for the Houston Astros, the week was rounded out with a trip to Bayfront Stadium in Pensacola, FL for a Southern League game between the home standing Blue Wahoos and the visiting Tennessee Smokies.

Prior to moving to Texas, the bulk of my non Spring Training in person baseball watching was through Southern League games at Tinker Field in Orlando FL.

Despite moving about 800 miles away from the borders of the Southern League, to this day I still try to catch Southern League games whenever I can.

It was clear skies at game time but as the flags indicate there was a stiff wind blowing. Photo R. Anderson
It was clear skies at game time but as the flags indicate there was a stiff wind blowing.
Photo R. Anderson

I am sure this is partially due to history and familiarity with the league and the various teams but a lot of it is also based on the fact that there is some good baseball being played on the farm teams of the Southern League.

Such was the case on this colder than normal April night at the stadium on the bay.

More on the game in a bit but I feel it is important to stop and mention the weather at game time and throughout the festivities.

Anyone who knows me well, most likely knows the following two things about me. First, I check the weather constantly before a trip to make sure that I am properly prepared for the conditions.

Second, it takes in awful lot for me to be cold. I am the type who has a fan going year round and I have not turned the heater on in my house in over 8 years.

More ballparks should be waterfront ballparks to allow for scenery like this. Photo R. Anderson
More ballparks should be waterfront ballparks to allow for scenery like this.
Photo R. Anderson

So after checking the forecast before heading to the game, I was fairly satisfied with my no jacket required assessment. Unfortunately while the temperature was within a good short sleeve window, in my haste to make it to the game after a nine-hour drive to the ballpark I forgot to account for the wind chill and feels like factor.

To say it was cold with the wind coming in off the bay would be an understatement. How cold did it feel?

It felt cold enough that I was seriously considering buying a $100 jacket in the gift shop or at the very least a $60 sweatshirt to try to stay warm. How a jacket and sweatshirt can cost that much is certainly another story for another day.

At least I was not alone in my frigid feelings. Apparently the guy sitting to my right had also made the same error in judgment as we were the only two people in the ballpark wearing short sleeves.

As the innings wore on we became very close as we tried to block the wind and stay warm. Not a word was spoken but a knowing nod was all that was required to show that the contest was one to see who could last the longest.

He ended up leaving in the bottom of the sixth inning which meant I just had to make it to the seventh inning stretch to get the victory in the two cold guys challenge. Yes, boys and girls this is what men do, we turn everything into a contest.

So I made it an extra half inning and then packed up my bobble head, souvenir cup and other assorted stadium items and walked the 10 blocks back to the car.

Although the game was a very lopsided affair and included a Man versus Wild like survival challenge in the stands, there were several items of note that occurred.

It was Billy Hamilton bobble head giveaway night. For those who are unfamiliar with Billy Hamilton he set the single season stolen base record with 146 last season.

Billy Hamilton stole a record number of bases last season and became immortalized as a bobble head this season.  Photo R. Anderson
Billy Hamilton stole a record number of bases last season and became immortalized as a bobble head this season.
Photo R. Anderson

I met Billy last season when he was about four steals away from the record and although he has moved on to the Triple-A affiliate of the Reds it was nice to be there for the bobble head night and close the circle as it were.

I have little doubt that after one more season of seasoning in the Minors Billy Hamilton will make the Reds roster and show his speed in front of the larger audience.

I have always enjoyed the art of the stolen base. Major League Baseball’s all-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson was always a favorite players of mine. When everyone in the stands knows that you are going to try to steal the base and you still manage to do it, that is some serious talent and is something to be respected.

Billy Hamilton has a very good chance to be a Rickey Henderson like player and set the base paths on fire. And when he does, I will be one of the people who gets to say I knew him when.

While Billy Hamilton was not in attendance for his bobble head night there was another player who was certainly worth paying attention to.

At 7'1", Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil of the Blue Wahoos is the tallest pitcher in baseball. Photo R. Anderson
At 7’1″, Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos is the tallest pitcher in baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, or the more sportswriter friendly Loek Van Mil, is the tallest pitcher in Professional Baseball topping out at 7’1”.

During his warm-up pitches it became very clear that he was a very tall man. Van Mil is currently being targeted as a relief pitcher but time will tell whether he can find the right balance between control and velocity to make it to the Big Leagues.

As with my previous visit to the ballpark there was a lot of opportunity to people watch. Being seated directly behind the all you can eat party deck provided ample amounts of entertainment. One fun game was the how many trips through the hot dog and hamburger line will particular people make game. Of course the rush of steam when the hot dog tray was opened provided a little bit of warmth for me as well so I was certainly counting on people making as many trips as possible.

While the party deck in front of me provided countless amounts of amusement when the action on the field became lopsided, the row of people behind me was very annoying. I am a huge believer in free speech so in no way am I suggesting that people shouldn’t be allowed to talk in a ballpark. I am saying that a row of people should not talk so loud that everyone in the section can hear every little detail about them.

But despite a losing effort by the home team, cold temperatures and certain annoying fans my first road trip of the 2013 baseball season was certainly enjoyable. I came, I cheered, I left and I have the bobble head to prove it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to plan another road trip.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson