Blue Wahoos season ticket members Ron and Donna Schulert marveled at the field they helped recreate.
Together with the Blue Wahoos front office staff, led by groundskeeper Scotty Atkins, the Schulerts were part of recent collaborative effort to get the ballfield at the Gull Point Resource Center back into quality shape.
“It’s beautiful,” said Ron Schulert, after several hours of group effort. “It looks 10 times better than it did when we first got here. Being a baseball player and now coach my whole life, the field looks playable now. It did not look playable before. This is a great thing being done.”
Bringing needed care and improvement to a local, youth baseball field is something the Blue Wahoos staff has done annually since the organization’s first season in 2012.
In a partnership with Waste Management, a charter partner with the Blue Wahoos, a team of front office staff members have taken a day each year to provide care for a local field chosen for its need.
The same equipment used at Blue Wahoos Stadium was transported to Gull Point, located off Spanish Trail Road to help the massive effort. The field, which is several decades old, is part of the Pensacola City of Parks and Recreation facilities.
The Blue Wahoos staff, along with several season ticket holders, teamed to remove weeds, debris, replace the bases with shiny new ones, replace the pitching rubber, restore home plate, level and smooth the infield, line the field, set up the pitching mound and create needed edging between infield and outfield grass.
All of it was done in less than a full day of work on Jan. 11.
“This is sort of my forte,” said Atkins, who was named the 2023 Southern League groundskeeper of the year in a vote of the league managers, following his first year with the Blue Wahoos. “It started with me in rec leagues and local high schools (in his native Virgina), so I felt right at home today doing this.
“The good thing about this field, when I first looked at it, was its potential,” Atkins said. “Yes, there were a lot of weeds and a lot of things that needed to be done, but it wasn’t more than we could do. And I knew that being able to just do a few things would make a big difference with this field.”
Pensacola mayor D.C. Reeves visited during the renovation efforts. Reeves pointed out Pensacola has a combined 94 parks and recreation centers within city limits, which is a special amount of venues for a city this size.
“We have about 550 acres of park property, so we have about 15-20 percent more park property to maintain than the average city our size,” said Reeves, a Pensacola native and Pensacola Catholic and Florida State graduate. “Having that many parks is one of the things that makes our community so great -- there are very few places you can live in this city where you are not within walking distance of a park.
“But with it that, comes the need to maintain and prioritize that,” he said “The work being done today truly makes an impact. This is something we don’t know when we would have the ability or the money to have this kind of care. (Renovation) really is a lasting change for this neighborhood and this community.”
When Blue Wahoos Stadium was built and Pensacola became one of just 30 cities in America with a Double-A level team directly connected to Major League Baseball, team owners Quint and Rishy Studer assured the stadium would lead to a greater impact than just a summer baseball season.
The team has kept its mission statement pledge to improve the quality of life for all in the Pensacola area community. A project like the one at Gull Point was made possible through having the team and its year-round operation.
“This is why the Blue Wahoos and their care for our community is so vital, because this is not just a ‘nice-to-have-project’ this is a need-to-have-project,” Reeves said. “What is great about the mission of the Blue Wahoos is the tactic is baseball, right? And that’s what makes us love the Blue Wahoos, the games and brings us downtown.
“But days like this are when you see the greater mission. Baseball may bring us together for the games, but this is really walking the walk about being community partners.
”We’ve had so much conversation in this city during the last 12 months about maintaining and taking care of the things we have. This is something that the Blue Wahoos have made a mission of theirs for many years in coming out and reinvesting in our community and in our youth and our facilities.”
The Schulerts moved to Pensacola from Michigan two years ago. Once they learned about the Blue Wahoos, they became season-ticket holders. They were notified of the opportunity to help join with the team’s front office staff and help with the field renovation.
Cully Turner, another season-ticket holder, who is also involved with the Blue Wahoos Booster Club, joined in the field repair efforts. He remembered how he helped renovate youth league fields while working and living in Mississippi.
“We had a field there with red clay (infield surface) all done and then a big thunderstorm hit,” he said, laughing at the memory. “This is great to help. The weather is perfect.”
Tonya Byrd, assistant parks and recreation director for the city of Pensacola, said the field at Gull Point gets used year-round for practices by teams in the Bill Bond League, as well as games played during after-school and summer camps and neighborhood children usage.
“We use the ballfield for kickball, baseball, softball, any kind of game we want to do. Our kids pound it down in the summer with their summer camps, so it gets plenty of use,” Byrd said. “I think no matter how big your city is, or how many fields you have, especially when you have a lot of public demand to use those facilities, it’s going to be a challenge.
“We try to be open and not close off our ballfields in our neighborhood parks in Pensacola. We try to make them for everyone.”
Given the wide-ranging weather in Pensacola in January, especially in recent days, the group project was handled in balmy weather, no wind, no threat of rain on this day.
“You think about this, everything just fell into place,” said Atkins, who previously worked as assistant groundskeeper for the Richmond (Va.) Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. “It was very rewarding and satisfying to see what we have accomplished.
“You can almost now smell the leather of the kids’ gloves and the fans cheering, which is why I got into this profession from the get-go.”