A common question among off-season visitors to Blue Wahoos Stadium is formed by natural curiosity.
“What do you all do now that baseball is over?”
Well, it’s been busy here.
Since the final out was recorded September 26 in the Blue Wahoos season – the team’s second consecutive trip to the Southern League championship series – the stadium has transformed into a wide-ranging venue with everything from football games to surprise on-field engagements.
There has been a four-course gourmet dinner event, a start-finish area for a half-marathon, a visit by the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales and a two-level Halloween party, complete with a movie amid a rising moon over left field.
“The facility just speaks for itself,” said Jerold Hall, director and organizer of Pensacola Eggfest, a smoked barbecue cookoff delight and food-and-beverage lovers’ extravaganza that will celebrate its 11th year on Sunday when the event sponsored by Kia Autosport of Pensacola happens from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. throughout Blue Wahoos Stadium.
Eggfest is the last scheduled, large-scale public event at the stadium in 2023. Tickets are $55 apiece with children 10-under admitted free. They can be purchased on the event website, www.pensacolaeggfest.com.
“It is a world class facility,” Hall said, referring to the lure of the stadium for major events. “It is an awesome venue to be on Pensacola Bay. And whether its sunny, or it’s cold, or it’s cloudy, it doesn’t matter -- it’s beautiful.
“And it’s instant recognition. When you’re having an event like ours and say, ‘Oh we’re at the stadium.’ People know where it is and people get it.”
In the 47 days since the Blue Wahoos last game of 2023, there have 14 different events at the bayfront ballpark.
Some were small gatherings and private. Others were massive like the annual Soul Bowl and the inaugural First City Bowl, which attracted a crowd of 3,000-plus Nov. 3 to watch Tate High and Booker T. Washington in the first-ever high school football game at the stadium.
Among the 14 events were five sporting events with four different sports – baseball, softball, distance running and football – staged at the stadium. Combined, these events have brought some people into the stadium for the first time, created a place to enjoy a day out.
“This stadium was built for the entire community,” said Shannon Hannah, the Blue Wahoos events manager. “And the goal from the beginning was to make lives better and enhance the communities we serve and I believe we’ve been able to keep that.
“We try to make it easy. We have a view like nowhere else in this community and really in the entire country. You don’t have to do a lot of decorating when you come in here, because it is beautiful as it is. This is true Pensacola right here. This is the best of the best of what we have.”
When Hall was thinking a decade ago about hosting a first-time food event at the then-newly opened ballpark, he pitched the idea of a sandwich competition festival.
As Hall retells the story, the former events/marketing director back then, Shelley Yates, asked Hall, “Don’t you have a Big Green Egg (cooker)?’ Well, why not do a cooking event and call it something like Eggfest?”
“I then went to (Kia Autosport general manager) Jessica (Lee) and said, Hey, I have this idea. I don’t need a lot of money, but trust me on this. And she said yes, and that’s how it started,” Hall said, laughing.
The prelude to Eggfest will be a Friday night reception for sponsors and participants at the Community Maritime Park Amphitheatre, located behind the centerfield wall at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
The cooking teams will begin arriving before well-before dawn on Sunday to begin the process of smoking and cooking the various barbecue dishes to be judged.
The stadium will feature food stations on the concourse and 10 more teams preparing food on the field. Kia Autosport will have new cars on display and there will be small boats from Legendary Marine.
The synthetic turf surface at Blue Wahoos Stadium makes it easier for setup and location, because plywood can be placed underneath the heavy equipment and not damage the field.
“When it was grass (field surface), you couldn’t touch the field,” Hall said. “Now, this is much better. Our Net Promoter Score went from 92.8 to a 97 last year (first year on synthetic turf) and the biggest reason was we were able to spread the teams out.
“The main gripe had been that the concourse gets so crowded, because we had 1500 people on the concourse. So we are able to put a third of the teams down on the field and really spread everyone out, yet not have teams way out on the warning track in the outfield.
“The Blue Wahoos staff and the people who are here make this so easy. And they are so accommodating.”
Hall remembers when Blue Wahoos owner Quint Studer visited with community leaders and various civic functions before the stadium was completed to tout its versatility.
“Quint said back then, ‘Hey when baseball is not here, you’ve got this community asset (stadium).’ And that is what it’s been. Having an event like this at the stadium brings an instant legitimacy.”
Following Sunday’s event, smaller events and company Christmas parties have booked at the stadium in December. Some of the lure is the wide expanse and beautiful vista the ballpark provides.
“First off, we have a big parking lot, plenty of room to spread out,” Hannah said. “We have tables and chairs, an award winning chef (Travis Wilson) and culinary team.
“We have a bartending team. We have this large video board that allows slide shows, personal messages, videos, all sorts of things. We really try to make it easy and make it a one-stop shop for people to come and enjoy what we have. We have created that reputation, I hope, that we can do just about anything.”
Within a seven-week period, these 14 events at the stadium have provided a full-range of demographics encompassing the entire Pensacola area.
It’s been the community gathering place that it was designed to be.
“I feel very grateful to be able to bring groups in here and help groups succeed in here,” Hannah said. “I have been here almost eight years now and it’s really helped me to have the institutional knowledge that you need.
“I’m able to say, here’s what we can do, here’s what has worked, here’s what we need to steer clear of. I am able to lend the knowledge I have gained over the years in hosting these events. In having seen everything here, I’m able to make my best recommendation on what will work.”
And it has kept the stadium active as a year-round venue.
RECENT OFF-SEASON STADIUM EVENTS
Oct. 8 – Pensacola Half-Marathon And 5K Run Start/Finish
Oct. 14 – Soul Bowl youth football event
Oct. 19 – Farm To Table Under The Lights Dinner
Oct. 28 – Wahooloween
Nov. 1 – Budweiser Clydesdales
Nov. 3 – First City Bowl
Nov. 12 – Pensacola Eggfest