Blue Wahoos Sign Beloved Bat Boy, Rally To Beat BayBears

In farewell series between teams, Blue Wahoos create special night

Wade Vadakin, right, the Mobile BayBears' beloved bat boy, joins with Blue Wahoos president Jonathan Griffith, after announcement Saturday at Hank Aaron Stadium that Vadakin will join Pensacola's team. (Bill Vilona)

By Bill Vilona, Senior Writer / Pensacola Blue Wahoos | August 11, 2019 7:36 AM

A smile enveloped his face, along with prideful joy as Wade Vadakin was presented a Pensacola Blue Wahoos jersey Saturday at Mobile's Hank Aaron Stadium.

The gesture by Blue Wahoos president Jonathan Griffith signified Vadakin's new future working in professional baseball.

After being the beloved bat boy of the Mobile BayBears since the team arrived in 1997, their exit after this season won't include another sad finality.

Vadakin, who turned 40 this year, a man who has battled his way in life since being born with congenital brain-stem damage and visual impairment, along with diabetes since he was 13 months old, will become the Blue Wahoos new batboy next season.

The on-field presentation preceded the Blue Wahoos' 8-5 win Saturday night in a game featuring 21 hits and three lead changes.

"It's going to feel bittersweet," Vadakin said, during an on-field interview with WKRG News 5 sports anchor Robby Baker, one of the Blue Wahoos new corporate partners this season. "On one hand, it sucks saying goodbye to Mobile, saying goodbye to Hank Aaron Stadium, a place I called home for 22 years.

"On the other hand, it's exciting begin part of a new team, being with a new organization, being with new players."

Vadakin, who lives with his parents, Jeff and Kit in Fairhope, was hugged by BayBears' manager David Newhan, and players in their dugout, after he signed a standard of values contract that all Blue Wahoos team employees sign when hired.

Officially titled the BayBears "Director of On-Field Operations," Vadakin is known for "riding the bull" -- pretending to be on horseback when he picks up bats following BayBears' run-scoring plays. He's been welcomed in warm ways by Mobile fans and players during the team's 22 seasons.

In 2014, Vadakin had cancer. Through chemotherapy treatments, he beat back the disease.

He has his own locker in the BayBears clubhouse. He was feted with a key to the city by Mobile's former mayor in 2012 after working his 1,000th game. He has a letter of commendation displayed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"It meets our mission," Griffith said. "We always seek to improve the quality of life in Pensacola, and in this case, we feel we're able to do that with Wade. Once we knew Mobile was going to leave (as franchise) and knowing that Wade had been at our ballpark (as visiting batboy) and has been here (Hank Aaron Stadium) since day one, it came up in conversation.

"We talked about what is Wade going to do without baseball and it became one of those things where we said we wanted to make sure he still has baseball and he's still around baseball enjoying something he loves."

The emotion-tugging scene was part of a keepsake moment the Blue Wahoos created amid this farewell series against the BayBears. Sunday will be the final time these teams will ever play. The future of the 6,000-seat Hank Aaron Stadium, honoring one of baseball's all-time greatest players, is uncertain.

The BayBears are transferring into a new franchise, the Rocket City Trash Pandas, where that team will play next season in a new, $46 million, 7,000-seat stadium in Madison, Ala., located near Huntsville. There will be no professional baseball next year in Mobile.

Four busloads of fans left Blue Wahoos Stadium at 5 p.m. Saturday for the trip to Mobile and the commemorative moment.

"The last few years I have watched games on MILB-TV and the seats were just… empty," said John Holm, a Blue Wahoos' season-ticket holder and lifelong resident, who made the trip. "The last time I watched a game, they only had one camera, but you could tell it was empty.

"It's sad. Since this stadium is named after Hank Aaron, that's the sad part of it. Hopefully something good will happen here."

The free outing for season-ticket holders, game-day staff employees, as well as the Blue Wahoos front office employees, included the charter bus transportation, a game ticket, meal voucher, along with beverages and candy on the bus, all furnished by the Blue Wahoos.

The contingent of a couple hundred, part of a crowd of 3,145, were treated to a back-and-forth game Saturday. The Blue Wahoos took a 3-1 lead in the second inning, trailed again 5-4, before scoring three runs in the fifth, highlighted by Jordan Gore's bases-loaded, two-out, two run single.

The Blue Wahoos also received strong relief pitching from Tom Hackimer (2 innings), Marcus Diplan (2 innings) and Anthony Vizcaya, who earned his third save in the ninth inning. The trio combined to allow no runs, just three hits, no walks and seven strikeouts.

Watching it all unfold behind his seat above home plate was David Ivey, 75, a Blue Wahoos season-ticket holder, who worked as an usher at Blue Wahoos Stadium from the inaugural 2012 season through 2016.

Ivey, part of the traveling contingent, attended games at Hank Aaron Stadium when it opened 22 years ago with the BayBears' franchise. Ivey played baseball at Pensacola's former Admiral Mason Park.

"So when I came here for the first time that year and I was 52 back then, I had never seen a scoreboard that big, never seen a field look that nice," he said. "And I remember looking out and counting the 12 light standards here. We had only 12 lights in the whole ballpark at Admiral Mason.

"Back then (Hank Aaron Stadium) was state of the art. It was totally different. I remember sitting back and saying, 'Wow, I am going to watch a real ballgame!' I couldn't wait to drive to games to Mobile."

The same kind of reflective moment was experienced by Tom and Terry Hoffman. Tom is among the veteran ushers at Blue Wahoos Stadium. He took players from Gulf Breeze youth league teams to see games at Hank Aaron Stadium prior to Pensacola getting its own team.

"It was such a nice stadium back then," Tom Hoffman said. "here were kids sitting out in the berm behind the outfielder walls. It was a nice experience and it was close enough from Pensacola to see real baseball."

When the Blue Wahoos began playing in 2012, they joined with the BayBears to create the "Bay To Bay Series" complete with a logo and trophy.

Including Saturday's game, Mobile leads the all-time series 92-83. The BayBears are 49-33 at home against the Blue Wahoos. This season, the Blue Wahoos are 16-8 against Mobile.

"I've been here 22 years, collecting bats and riding the bull," said Vadakin during the WKRG interview. "It's terrible to see this team end… it's terrible."

The solace is next season, Vadakin will have a new team to enjoy his baseball love.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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