In a year without a season, the Blue Wahoos have earned a historic sweep of Minor League Baseball’s three most prestigious awards.
The final bow was applied December 3 when Baseball America lauded the Blue Wahoos with the prestigious Bob Freitas Award as the top Double-A organization of 2020.
It is the second time in four years the Blue Wahoos won this award among the 30 Double-A teams.
The feat coincides with the team in July winning the Ballpark Digest award for Best Double-A Ballpark, then on September 30 being presented the MILB Golden Bobblehead Award for Best Overall Promotion for all MILB levels with the team’s acclaimed Airbnb clubhouse experience.
“It means a lot to win these big awards in such a tough year that every team has experienced,” said team president Jonathan Griffith, who led the Blue Wahoos efforts to transition from a canceled season due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We definitely met our mission this year to improve the quality of life in our community.”
No other MILB team has won these three awards in the same year.
The Blue Wahoos ability to pivot into staging more than 200 community events ranging from dinner nights, movie nights, disc golf, target golf, graduations, flag football, and fundraiser events raised national awareness.
“The stadium provides such a beautiful, wide open space to safely hold so many different kinds of events,” said Shannon Reeves, the Blue Wahoos events director. “This year it’s really been a multi-use facility.”
On back to back nights, December 5 and 6th, for example, the Blue Wahoos hosted the White Tie Rock Ensemble Christmas Concert, then a candlelight, memorial vigil at the stadium to commemorate the Dec. 6, 2019 terrorist shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
“We just turned our whole mindset out of baseball,” Griffith said. “We stopped being a baseball team back in March. We got together and knew we’re not going to have baseball, now what do we do?
“So we turned into an Airbnb team. We turned into an operations team, we turned into an events team, a food team. We created ourselves into a different organization overall. That is a big deal. No other team I know did that.”
In announcing its Bob Freitas Awards for each MILB level, Baseball America cited the Blue Wahoos for “their commitment to caring for their community and the loyalty they’ve shown to their staff.”
The Blue Wahoos staff worked full time as an events operation and community service outreach. The staff has helped a variety of non-profit agencies with projects.
“Winning the Freitas Award twice in four years is an incredible honor,” said Anna Striano, the Blue Wahoos community relations and merchandise manager. “To have all of our hard work be acknowledged in such a way is really validating.
“This was such a difficult year that forced each of us out of our comfort zones but it also allowed everyone to really tap into their creativity. I think winning the Freitas Award is a real representation of the grit and dedication of this staff.”
In May, Blue Wahoos owners Quint and Rishy Studer announced they would retain all 24 front office employees without any furloughs or temporary layoffs the remainder of 2020.
In doing so, the Blue Wahoos remain one of the few professional baseball organizations at any level, including the major leagues, to not issue staff furloughs or layoffs.
“Our entire staff would like to thank Quint and Rishy Studer for their commitment to our employees and our community throughout the pandemic,” Griffith said. “The decision to keep our full staff on throughout the year despite the baseball season being canceled may not have made sense financially.
“But it was the right decision for our community, allowing our team to take an active role both in community service and to use our ballpark as a safe and fun place for families to gather.”
Also in May, the Blue Wahoos launched the first Airbnb at a sports venue in the world. That moment brought immediate attention from media outlets across the globe.
In October, NBC News in New York sent a team to produce a segment on the Weekend Today Show during the World Series. The Blue Wahoos’ Airbnb, which earned two Golden Bobblehead Awards, has attracted guest stays from people residing in 22 different states and more than 60 guest night stays overall.
“I think the Airbnb really signified how much we are part of the community in the sense that we didn’t have baseball games, but we provided baseball experiences,” said Bailie Tate, the Blue Wahoos group sales manager, who has managed the team’s Airbnb from its first stay in May.
“We are able to allow guests to come to the stadium, stay the night and experience what actual professional baseball players would experience,” she said. “We’re all so grateful that Quint and Rishy made this happen by keeping us all employed.
“Winning these three awards signifies how hard we work as team here and how much we value each other.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sally on Sept. 16, the Blue Wahoos reach in the community expanded to include a variety of work experiences with various non-profit agencies.
Striano said more than 1,000 hours of community service were provided, including more than 600 hours of community service work by Blue Wahoos staff in the first two weeks after Hurricane Sally.
Striano was able to set up the Blue Wahoos staff to participate in a variety of efforts to clear debris and clean properties. She also arranged for the Blue Wahoos to partner with Mercy Chefs, a national agency, to help prepare and deliver food for two days at the Brownsville Community Center and Assembly of God Church.
“It has been really inspirational to watch everyone take part in the community service projects over the last eight months,” Striano said. “I think the fact that we were able to donate over 1,000 hours of our time to our community is beyond amazing.
“I am so proud to be a part of a team that is so willing to serve their community in a multitude of different ways,” she said. “I am unsure if people even realize the impact that they have had, but I can say without a doubt that we have had a huge impact on the lives of those we have served.”