The World Series is presenting a reminder to Pensacola baseball fans of players with a familiar connection.
A combined 15 players, including 13 on the Atlanta Braves roster, played at Blue Wahoos Stadium during their minor league careers. That’s more than a fourth of the two World Series teams’ rosters.
“It’s like I tell people all the time, if you want to see future major league players, go to a (Blue Wahoos) game and watch these guys play. Whether it’s players on the Blue Wahoos or the other team,” said Kevin Saucier, who went from Escambia High to eventually winning a World Series title with the Philadelphia Phillies as a reliever in 1980.
Saucier, a former regional scouting director in Major League Baseball, worked with the Blue Wahoos in the 2021 season as a scouting liaison. He was the contact when teams sent general managers, minor league directors or regional scouts to home games.
“There has just been so much talent come through here,” Saucier said.
Four of the Braves’ standout players in their Game 1 win Tuesday night against the Houston Astros -- infielders Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, outfielder Jorge Soler and reliever A.J. Minton – all competed against the Blue Wahoos in Pensacola.
Soler played in 2014 with the Tennessee Smokies when he was part of the Chicago Cubs organization. The others were with the Mississippi Braves.
The Game 2 starter Wednesday night for Atlanta, Max Fried, pitched for the M-Braves at Blue Wahoos Stadium in 2017. The Braves’ scheduled Game 3 starter, Ian Anderson, pitched multiple times in 2019 against the Blue Wahoos.
Pensacola’s Dennis Lewallyn mentored both pitchers in Double-A during his six years as the M-Braves pitching coach. He also saw most of the players now on Atlanta’s World Series roster come through Mississippi during his time.
“I’ve sent all of ‘em a text (who he helped coach with M-Braves),” Lewallyn said. “I congratulated them for getting there and said, hey take it one pitch at a time, enjoy the moment, enjoy the experience and make sure you share it all with your family.”
Lewallyn, 69, an Escambia grad like Saucier, reached the major leagues as a pitcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers. During last week’s National League Championship Series, he was asked by friends on torn allegiance. He reminded the Braves were his team now.
“My response is there’s one person who still works for the Dodgers during my time with the Dodgers,” said Lewallyn, whose son, Bryan, is the Pensacola State College baseball coach and assistant athletic director. “And just about everybody in the organization while I was with the Braves is still with the Braves, so I’m pulling with the Braves.”
Both Fried and Anderson, who pitched in recent years at Blue Wahoos Stadium during their fast rise to the big leagues, were part of Atlanta’s strong minor league system. They are among six former M-Braves pitchers, along with
“You have to give Dennis a lot of credit for those guys,” said Saucier, who played five seasons in MLB for the Detroit Tigers and Phillies. “He is very, very good at handling young pitchers. It wasn’t just mechanics… he knew how to talk to these kids mentally.”
Both stars were part of five former M-Braves pitchers, along with five former M-Braves position players, who played against the Blue Wahoos in Pensacola.
“It’s exciting,” Lewallyn said. “Anytime you see one of your guys get there.
“Because when you’re down in the minor leagues and you’re throwing a bullpen (pregrame) in Mississippi at 2:30 in the afternoon and it’s 95 degrees and you’re saying, hey you got a 2-2 count, bases loaded, and so-and-so at the plate, and you’ve gotta to make this pitch right now.
“And (pitchers) are like, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ You tell him, look, if you want to pitch in the big leagues, if you want to pitch in the World Series this is what you’ve gotta do and challenge the guys.”
For the Astros, reserve outfielder Jose Siri played for the Blue Wahoos in 2018 as a Cincinnati Reds prospect. He is the lone former Blue Wahoos player in the World Series.
Houston pitcher Yimi Garcia, who threw a scoreless third inning Tuesday night with two strikeouts in relief of starter Framber Valdez, pitched in Blue Wahoos Stadium in 2013 while with the Chattanooga Lookouts as a Los Angeles Dodgers prospect.
“Look at the stage these guys are on right now and you think that all of them were on roads that led through Pensacola during their minor league careers,” Saucier said.
And it’s not just the players with Pensacola connections.
Astros bench coach Joe Espada is remembered as a popular player with the Pensacola Pelicans during the twilight of his playing career with Pensacola’s former Independent League team.
Astros manager Dusty Baker visited Pensacola decades ago as guest instructor at the former Fred Waters Youth Baseball Clinic at the University of West Florida.
“When I was in Atlanta about four years during my time (scouting) with the (St. Louis) Cardinals, Dusty was managing the Washington Nationals (2016, 2017 seasons),” Saucier said. “I went to the field to see him in batting practice and we talked for a long time.
“And all he kept asking me was all the different people here in Pensacola. So even Pensacola had an impact on Dusty Baker.”
These are part of the memories evoked as the World Series includes Pensacola ties. Here is a look at the 14 players who played at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
Max Fried – Game 2 starter pitched for the Mississippi Braves in Pensacola during 2017 season.
Ian Anderson – Scheduled Game 3 starter pitched four times against the Blue Wahoos in 2019 with M-Braves.
Dylan Lee – Reliever was part of Miami Marlins organization and pitcher for Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp in 2018-19.
A.J. Minter – One of bullpen standouts in Game 1 with MLB career high 43 pitches, pitched for M-Braves in 2016.
Kyle Wright –- Was a starter in 20 games for M-Braves in 2018, including against Blue Wahoos.
Tucker Davidson – Added Wednesday to replaced injured starter Charlie Morton, pitched for M-Braves in 2019.
William Contreras -- Braves catcher played for M-Braves in 2019 when facing Blue Wahoos.
Ozzie Albies –Second baseman started 156 games for Braves in 2021, played against Blue Wahoos in 2016.
Orlando Arcia – Reserve infielder played for Biloxi Shuckers in Pensacola in 2015, while a Milwaukee Brewers prospect.
Austin Riley –The 24-year-old, star third baseman, played parts of 2017-2018 season for M-Braves (75 games), including in Pensacola. Now a Silver Slugger Award finalist.
Dansby Swanson – Braves star shortstop, former overall No. 1 pick in 2014 (Arizona Diamondbacks) played for M-Braves in Pensacola in 2016.
Joc Pederson – Braves starting left fielder played against Blue Wahoos in 2013 for Chattanooga Lookouts as LA Dodgers prospect.
Jorge Soler – Braves starting right fielder played against Blue Wahoos in 2014 for Tennessee Smokies as Chicago Cubs prospect.
Jose Siri – Reserve outfielder played 66 games for Blue Wahoos in 2018 as Cincinnati Reds prospect.
Yimi Garcia – Reliever in Game 1 played in 2013 in Pensacola with Chattanooga Lookouts as LA Dodgers prospect.