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After Helping Win Title, Banfield Thrilled For Return With Blue Wahoos Fans At Fish Fest

Will Banfield runs through a line of U.S. Navy and Blue Angels members during a home game last season at Blue Wahoos Stadium. Banfield will be part of Wahoos' second Fish Fest event on Jan. 19 (Dan Venn/Blue Wahoos)
January 11, 2023

Will Banfield has barely paused the past three months, since helping the Blue Wahoos win their first outright championship. He’s adhered to a daily workout regimen. Examined ways to further improve. And mixed in time with family and friends. “The offseason is really never the offseason,” he said, laughing. Soon,

Will Banfield has barely paused the past three months, since helping the Blue Wahoos win their first outright championship.

He’s adhered to a daily workout regimen. Examined ways to further improve. And mixed in time with family and friends.

“The offseason is really never the offseason,” he said, laughing.

Soon, he will rekindle a special memory.

The 23-year-old catcher, whose play and durability were pivotal in the Blue Wahoos’ dramatic, post-season run to the 2022 Southern League title, will be part of the second “Fish Fest” event for fans on Jan. 19 at Blue Wahoos Stadium. Banfield will be joined by teammate Griffin Conine along with the team’s new hitting coach Matt Snyder, a former Ole Miss star from a decade ago.

The free event will be from 6-8 p.m. on Jan. 19 and will allow fans a chance to meet the guests, tour the Blue Wahoos team clubhouse, have complete access to the field, plus other activities that night. Food and beverages will be available for purchase with use of debit or credit in the transition to cashless operations.

“Oh man, it is so humbling to go back to Pensacola and return back to those fans,” said Banfield, who was the 69th overall pick in the 2018 draft from Brookville High School in Snellville, Georgia, located 32 miles from Atlanta.

“It definitely took a little bit to settle in (winning championship).,” he said. “And the way we won it and how we won it, we had a great group of guys and we had a great team. We came together and it was so much fun.

“Some of the games we won, you could look back and say we should not have a won some of those, but it shows how resilient we were and how together we were as a team.”

Will Banfield, who be at the Blue Wahoos Fish Fest on Jan. 19, became a second-half star as the team won its first Southern League outright championship.

Banfield had six hits in 14 at-bats during the Blue Wahoos’ three-game, championship series win against the Tennessee Smokies, including a 2-for-4 performance with three runs scored in the 11-4 win in the deciding road game on Sept. 28. He threw out three runners on steal attempts during that series.

Banfield also had the unforgettable memory that night of catching star prospect Eury Perez, who struck out the first eight batters he faced in an incredible start to the game.

The following day, the Blue Wahoos were provided a heroes’ welcome with fans lining the sidewalks as busses returned to Blue Wahoos Stadium.

“Knowing how when we got off the bus how excited they were was special,” Banfield said. “And we could see it during the (regular season) games. It was a big help from fans when we needed those close games.

“I had always heard about the fans in Pensacola and how electric they are. Seeing that in close games when we needed them the most… they were always there for us.”

The expectation is that both Banfield and Conine will start the 2023 season in Pensacola as they continue progressing toward a hopeful shot at the big leagues with the Miami Marlins. This will be the third season of the Blue Wahoos affiliation with the Marlins.

The Marlins had gone eight years without a minor league affiliation winning a championship until Pensacola delivered a title in the Blue Wahoos’ 10th anniversary season.

Will Banfield walks to dugout with star pitcher Eury Perez after a warmup session before a Blue Wahoos game. Banfield was the catcher in the dramatic Southern League championship game on Sept. 28 when Perez fanned first eight batters he faced. Dan Venn/Blue Wahoos

“It was a whirlwind. It was a great time,” Banfield said. “We finished as champions and we will always remember that. A great group of guys coming together. So, it was a blast. We had fun every single day we were on the field.”

Banfield joined the Blue Wahoos on July 22. He played in 31 games, batting .267 with five doubles, a triple, three home runs and 16 RBI. An injury to fellow catcher Paul McIntosh, who began the 2022 season with the Blue Wahoos, made Banfield’s performance more pronounced.

He exited the season named the Marlins’ best minor league defensive catcher by Baseball America.

“When I got called up (from Beloit), I was brought in with open arms from everybody on the team and everybody in the fan base,” Banfield said. “It was a great time and I will never forget that.

“It was a blessing to be able to get called up to Double-A and put some work to be able to be in that position and it paid off. I kept building on my game during the season. I am never going to be content where I am at. I always want to be better every day.”

His batting average after being elevated to Double-A was 40 points higher than his first half of the season with the Beloit Sky Carp, the Marlins’ High-A affiliate in Beloit, Wisconsin, which is co-owned by Blue Wahoos owners Quint and Rishy Studer.

“I found something that clicked for the offensive side and I kind of ran with it a little bit,” he said. “And I got confident. I think the confidence really helped me be where to put myself where I wanted to be and where I knew I could be at the plate.”

He’ll share some of those experiences Jan. 19 when meeting with fans and participating in a question-answer session with Blue Wahoos broadcaster Erik Bremer.

“I’m really excited to be able to come down (to Pensacola) and be part of this,” he said.

WHAT: Fish Fest 2023

WHEN: January 19, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.

WHO: Blue Wahoos Catcher Will Banfield, outfielder Griffin Conine, hitting coach Matt Snyder, Pensacola’s Jordan McCants, expected to begin second full season in Marlins’ Class A level.

WHERE: Blue Wahoos Stadium

ADMISSION: Free.

TICKETS: Fans encouraged to access link at www.bluewahoos.com/fishfest to obtain free tickets in advance.

ACTIVITIES: Complete stadium access, including the Blue Wahoos clubhouse, autograph availability, field access to play catch, the Blue Wahoos Bait & Tackle shop for merchandise purchase, question-answer sessions in the first base side lounge, concession items for purchase and other activities.