NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland -- In 2014, shortly after winning his second Masters Tournament, Bubba Watson threw out a ceremonial first pitch for his hometown Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Bigger things were soon to come.
"After [I threw the first pitch], I saw [Blue Wahoos owner] Quint Studer," said Watson. "I said, 'Hey, how can I get involved and be a part of this team?' He stopped and said, 'You want to be a part of the team?' I said, "Yeah, I'm a sportsman. This is my dream. This is my hometown. This is where I was born and raised. Why wouldn't I want to be a part of the team?'"
This partnership officially came to be in January 2015, with the announcement that Watson had purchased a share of ownership in the Blue Wahoos. He's been a regular presence with the team over the past two seasons -- to the extent to which his professional golf schedule allows -- and on Monday was in National Harbor for his first Baseball Winter Meetings.
"This year I was available, so I came right up here," said Watson. "I can't wait for the Trade Show, to see all the gadgets and vendors. This being my first time, it's all been a whirlwind. I'm trying to get people to realize that I'm not just a celebrity with the team, I'm an owner and I'm part of it. I go to meetings and I try to help with the budget and make sure that we're doing the right thing for fan engagement."
During Monday afternoon's Winter Meetings Awards Luncheon, the Blue Wahoos received the Bob Freitas Award for best overall franchise in Double-A baseball in regards to front-office operations. This marked the first season in which Pensacola was eligible for the award -- teams cannot win until they have operated for five full seasons -- and Watson was particularly proud of the accomplishment.
"I told Quint that we need to get our full-time staff something special," said Watson. "This is their World Series, there is no higher award. I said, 'Why not a ring?' Quint agreed, he loved the idea. We modeled it after a championship ring and we passed them out to, give or take, 30 people. And then we gave pendants to the gameday staff."
Over the past two seasons, Watson has received a crash course in Minor League Baseball marketing and branding. He's a big fan of the "Pensacola Mullets" identity the team unveiled during last season's "What If? Night," but is first and foremost a fan of the Blue Wahoos name.
"I think when you see the logo with 'BW' on it, well, that's already 'Bubba Watson,'" he said. "So it's perfect."
At this, Studer chimed in.
"People think that we knew Bubba was going to come along one day, so that's why we named it the Blue Wahoos. Maybe now we'll change the name to the Pensacola Bubbas."
A Watson-centric rebrand is unlikely, to say the least, but the team still honors him at the ballpark in other, comparatively more subtle ways.
"We've got the Bubba Dub [sandwich]," he said. "I love grilled cheese.... And I go to Waffle House a lot. I go in and get two grilled cheese and hash browns -- covered. The chef at the stadium for the Wahoos, he came up with the Bubba Dub, where it's two grilled cheese with hash browns right in the middle. We've had that for two years now, but this year we're gonna add bacon to it to change it up even more."
Watson said his connection with the Blue Wahoos has inspired interest among his golfing peers, though he claimed with a laugh that "I'm way too smart for them in business."
"I wear [Blue Wahoos] hats, and they'll say 'Oh, man, get me one of those hats,'" he said. "So I'll always ask them to throw out a first pitch, come hang out and enjoy it. They're all asking about it, because a lot of golfers, a lot of sports people, they don't think about business until after the fact. But I've already started thinking about it and how I want to do things when I walk away from golf.
"It's about finding the right fit and the right fit for me was Pensacola where I was born and raised. It's not like I needed to move somewhere to be a part of the team, and that's where I have the advantage over everybody else. And it's pretty cool, it's pretty cool just talking about it."