Forty sellouts, an enthralled fan base and a successful ballpark opening adds up to a very good debut season, making the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Class AA; Southern League) our choice for the 2012 Ballpark Digest Organization of the Year.
Starting a ballclub from scratch is a daunting task, but when Quint and Rishy Studer decided to bring affiliated baseball to their hometown of Pensacola, they did things right from the beginning, putting together a strong front office and generated plenty of community support and enthusiasm.
“Leading the Southern League in attendance in the first year of operation is quite the accomplishment,” said Kevin Reichard, publisher of Ballpark Digest. “It’s a tribute to the strong operation put together by the Studers. Put together some experience folks like Bruce Baldwin and Jonathan Griffith, add in a great ballpark and you have the making for success. Building a first-rate operation basically from scratch is an accomplishment worth noting.”
The Studers formerly owned an independent-league team in Pensacola before engineering a franchise swap that saw the former Carolina Mudcats move to Pensacola and a Carolina League team moving to Zebulon, N.C. After that, it was a matter of building a strong front office. Bruce Baldwin, the former GM of the IL’s Richmond Braves and Gwinnett Braves, was hired as president, while Jonathan Griffith, former vice president/general manager of the Carolina League’s Potomac Nationals, was named general manager.
Throw in a great new ballpark, Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, and you had the makings of one of the most successful franchise debuts in years. The Blue Wahoos enjoyed 40 sellouts in 2012, providing instant success while building a solid foundation for the future.
“The community has really embraced the Blue Wahoos,” Reichard said. “And that’s what it’s all about in Minor League Baseball: building a sense of community at the ballpark.”
While Pensacola had an absolutely smashing season, other teams had successful 2012 campaigns as well. Worth noting:
- You could mention the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Class AAA; International League), Round Rock Express (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) and the Dayton Dragons (Low Class A; Midwest League) annually in conjunction with the Organization of the Year, and no one would bat an eye.
- The Madison Mallards (summer collegiate; Northwoods League) did more than just break their own attendance record at the Duck Pond: they entered the concert business with the successful Pondamonium and the catering business with two large (6,500 and 7,000 attendees) events.
- The Sugar Land Skeeters (independent; Atlantic League) opened a new ballpark, paced their circuit in attendance and attracted national attention with the signing of Roger Clemens. Not too shabby.
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