baseball

Baseball Stadiums: Pensacola Bayfront Stadium

After a long school year, I decided to blow off a bit of steam with a three-day baseball jaunt to the Gulf Coast.  So last Thursday, I hit the road and drove to Tallahassee, Fla.  Visiting Tallahassee has nothing to do with baseball, but everything to do with one of my other travel interests: state capitols.

Tallahassee isn’t on the way to many places, so when I planned a trip to visit the Gulf Coast I added Tallahassee so I could visit Florida’s capitol.  Unfortunately, visiting Tallahassee cost me some time and caused me to be late to the other primary objective: a Pensacola Blue Wahoos home game.

I arrived at the stadium box office just as the national anthem was being performed.  Unfortunately because it was Thursday (a.k.a Thirsty Thursday) there was a lengthy line of people waiting to buy tickets so I missed the first pitch, but I did make it into the stadium before the visiting Tennessee Smokies completed their at bat in the 1st inning.

Main entrance to Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.

Once I made my way in the gate, I quickly set up to get my standard photo of a pitch from behind home plate.

Pensacola Blue Wahoos starting pitcher Daniel Wright getting ready to deliver a pitch
to Tennessee Smokies right fielder Bijan Rademacher.

Luckily the Smokies loaded the bases and got to the No. 5 hitter in their lineup, which allowed me the opportunity to get a picture of them still batting in the 1st inning.  It’s not the picture I prefer, but it’s the picture I got.

After getting the picture from behind home plate, I walked around a bit and took advantage of the Thirsty Thursday promotion buy purchasing a $3 16-oz. Rolling Rock.  As I explored the stadium I took advantage of the setting sun to take some photos.

View of left field with condominiums in the background.
Center field with Pensacola Bay in the background.
The scoreboard over right field with the outfield bar.

While exploring I stopped into Bubba’s Sand Trap, which is named after co-owner and PGA golfer Bubba Watson, to sample their craft beer selection.  I also took advantage of the $5 pints in the 5th inning as part of their Thirsty Thursday promotion.

Bubba’s Sand Trap, which features craft beer and sushi.

During my usual stop at the gift shop I asked one of the employees about what “signature” food item I should try.  She offered a lot of suggestions ranging from the sushi at Bubba’s Sand Trap to the sea dog (a piece of fish served on a hot dog bun), but the suggestion that hit home was shrimp and grits.  Despite settling on having shrimp and grits, I wasn’t particularly hungry and decided to watch some of the game before getting food.

Although I had bought a ticket for a seat along the first base line, I ended up standing at a bar along the third base line, which is where I took a majority of my pictures.  It gave me the opportunity to capture the Smokies new powder blue uniforms, which I had not seen before that night’s game.

Tennessee Smokies starting pitcher Corey Black on the mound
with Pensacola Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelley in the third base coach’s box.
Closeup of Tennessee Smokies starting pitcher Corey Black on the mound.
Pensacola Blue Wahoos first baseman Kyle Waldrop at the plate.

While watching the game the Blue Wahoos mascot, Kazoo, walked by.  After he posed for the usual pictures with kids I seized the opportunity and had my photo taken with him.

Me with Kazoo.

After my photo with Kazoo, I decided it was time to get my shrimp and grits.  Here are the basics: they are available at the concession stand on the third base side.  Or as the Blue Wahoos call it the “Port Side Grille” because it’s on the left side of the stadium, which in nautical terminology would be the port side.  And yes, the concession stand on the first base side is called the Starboard Side Grille.

A nautically-named concession stand.

Now onto the most important part: the food!  Those who grew up in the South don’t need an explanation of shrimp and grits, but people from elsewhere in the U.S. or those who grew up outside the U.S. may need a primer.

So here’s some background on shrimp and girts.  Grits is derived from corn production with the leftover coarse material from grinding corn being used as grits, which are made by boiling them in water.  When cooked grits look like a porridge of sorts.  Traditionally Southerners add salt, pepper, and butter, but sometimes other items are added.  Along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts people naturally added seafood.  So seeing shrimp and grits in Pensacola, Fla., is not a surprise, but the dish has gained in popularity and is found at many restaurants throughout the South and beyond.

Shrimp and grits in a mini helmet.

If you get the shrimp and grits be careful.  The helmet will not melt, but it will be very hot!  It won’t be McDonald’s-coffee, burn-your-hand hot, but it’ll be hot enough that you need a few extra napkins if you plan on holding it.  Also, as MiLB.com’s Ben Hill notes, the shrimp and grits in the helmet is a new frontier.

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Back to the game, and my stadium visit.  I spent most of the later innings chatting with a fan next to me at the tabletop bar, which was great because I got to pick her brain about watching Billy Hamilton play here a few years ago.  The most interesting thing I learned was that the Blue Wahoos were now selling season-ticket packages based on certain days of the week.  She had full-season tickets previously, but opted for the Thursday-only tickets this season.  I love the idea, and hope more teams adopt that strategy.

After falling behind early, Pensacola tied the game in the 6th inning.  In the bottom of the 9th, Jesse Winker (the Reds No. 2 prospect according to MLB.com) lined a single to center field that brought home Juan Perez and capped the comeback to give the Blue Wahoos a 5-4 #RallyFish victory.

It also left me with a satisfied feeling following a long day of driving.  Pensacola Bayfront Stadium has a great view of the bay with a wide, nearly-wraparound concourse.  It was a full stadium, but it never felt full, which is a testament to the design.  The craft beer selection was good.  The drink specials on Thirsty Thursday were also good.  The food was excellent.  But most importantly, the staff, from the ticket office to the ticket takers to the gift shop employees to the bartenders to the concession stand employees were all hospitable, friendly, and great as doing their jobs.

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Categories: baseball, Florida, MiLB, stadiums

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