The Blue Wahoos would have ended their 2020 home schedule Tuesday night.
There would have been giveaways, thank you salutes, maybe a post-game fireworks show above Blue Wahoos Stadium. All of it tied into celebratory reflection on another five-month, 70-game, journey of memories amid the team’s ninth season.
The Blue Wahoos final home series, their last home game. would have been against the Montgomery Biscuits. The Wahoos regular season would have concluded on the road in Biloxi on Sept. 7 with a Labor Day finale against the Biloxi Shuckers.
Instead, of course, Blue Wahoos Stadium was empty Sept. 1. No baseball in sight.
A year that never was. Throughout all levels of minor league baseball, the season was doomed by the coronavirus pandemic before it started.
But it has not been an empty year for the Blue Wahoos.
Quite the opposite.
Through innovative ideas, led by the world-wide attention of the stadium’s Airbnb experience when launched in late May, the Blue Wahoos have hosted movie nights, trivia nights, bingo nights, graduations, disc golf, target golf, dinner on the infield and soon-to-be a concert in October.
In all, the Blue Wahoos have totaled 132 nights of varied events, including 45 Airbnb stays, 12 movie/fireworks nights and more than 50 nights when the ballpark was used for stadium dining, bingo, or trivia-themed events.
“I think we’ve done some pretty spectacular things,” said team owner Quint Studer. “I have said this many times…. in many ways this has been our best year. Now, of course, it’s not the best year financially. It’s not great that we’re going to lose millions of dollars. But we’ve done some things that obviously the community appreciates.
“We’ve received better Net Promoter scores than we ever had with baseball. In some ways, we’ve had happier people. We really made it special for people and done it in the safest way possible. I think people need us now more than ever.”
The Airbnb experience, which will be offered the rest of this year, then throughout 2021 with exception of the five months for baseball, has brought immeasurable recognition.
It was featured in the July issue of Baseball America. A full-page story highlighted the Blue Wahoos ability, along with several other minor league teams, to pivot into other ways to bring in people and revenue.
Baseball America mentioned the Blue Wahoos again in the current August issue on how minor league teams will handle an uncertain future.
The Blue Wahoos launch of the Airbnb earned the team the Minor League Baseball Promotion of Month award in May.
“Within 24 hours, we sold 33 dates (for Airbnb stays),” said Blue Wahoos president Jonathan Griffith in the Baseball America story. “We’re just getting really creative with it and making it a really fun experience for people. We’re willing to test the limits and see what else people come up with to have at the ballpark.”
Throughout a summer without baseball, the Blue Wahoos kept going, kept producing new events, different ways to utilize the stadium. They have maintained ones most successful, like movie and fireworks on Saturday nights.
In fact, the combination of new events and repeated events provided the Blue Wahoos more nights of activity at the ballpark than the team's 70-game home schedule would have provided. By mid-September, they will have staged more activities or events at the ballpark than an entire 140-game, full season, in the Southern League.
It has also enabled the Blue Wahoos to retain their entire front office and part-time staff, becoming one of the few teams in minor league baseball to not furlough or layoff employees.
This Saturday (Sept. 5), the Walt Disney fantasy movie, “Onward” will be shown, followed by fireworks in an event sponsored by Harvester’s Federal Credit Union. Tickets are $5 and like all Blue Wahoos movie nights, people must wear a mask upon entering the stadium and can sit wherever they wish on the field or stands.
Preceding that event, the Blue Wahoos will host a bingo night on Thursday and Trivia Night on Friday with free admission and food and drinks available at the concessions.
The plan is to continue the movie nights through September, leading into the Oct. 3 concert featuring Pensacola’s popular band, White Tie Rock Ensemble.
By then, the Blue Wahoos are hoping to begin plans for a 2021 baseball schedule. A lot of issues await.
The Professional Baseball Agreement, which establishes a player development system with Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball, will expire on Sept. 30.
From that point, uncertainty looms. MLB has desired a new system with 40 or so less minor league teams. There could be changes in affiliations, revamped leagues within MILB, and teams moving into higher or lower levels.
It’s unknown when the Blue Wahoos will get their 2021 schedule.
But they do have a path moving forward on how to keep events happening year-round at the stadium.
“We have essentially become an events company,” Studer said.
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: Blue Wahoos Stadium Events
WHEN: Thursday Thru Saturday
WHERE: Blue Wahoos Stadium
SCHEDULE: Thursday (Sept. 2) Ballpark Bingo (6:30-8:30 p.m., free admission, gates open at 5 p.m., concessions open). Friday: Trivia Night (Game of Thrones theme), 7 p.m.-9 p.m., free admission, gates open at 5). Saturday: Move-Fireworks Night (Harvesters Federal Credit Union sponsor), $5 admission, gates open at 6 p.m.. The movie, Onward, begins at 7 p.m. and fireworks follow).
SAFETY: Everyone entering stadium must wear a mask or have one provided. Masks can be removed when seated. Physical distancing will be practiced on the field and in the stands.