Since becoming Tate High’s baseball coach four years ago, Karl Jernigan wanted an opportunity for his team to play at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
He made it happen for this weekend in a creative way.
Months ago, Jernigan knew the ongoing coronavirus pandemic would force cancellation of the traditional Aggie Classic for a second year. So he worked to assemble a five-team, two day, set of games, beginning at 4 p.m. Friday with Tate (6-3) facing Fort Walton-Choctawhatchee (4-7).
“Hopefully the weather will cooperate,” said Jernigan, noting the recent inclement weather. “It will be a good, fun two days. I know (event) is something that’s in bold (letters) and highlighted on our schedule. It is a great opportunity for these guys to go play there.”
The event features three schools – Navarre, Fort Walton Beach High and Choctaw – playing for the first time at Blue Wahoos Stadium. It will be Tate’s first appearance at the ballpark since Jernigan became the Aggies’ coach.
In the second game Friday, Navarre plays Fort Walton Beach High. On Saturday, West Florida High (1-10) faces Fort Walton, followed by Tate against Navarre. The games will be televised by
It will give the teams a chance to play back to back games on a Friday and Saturday, something high school teams rarely can do.
“When I started contacting coaches about doing this, every one said, ‘Yes!, Mark us down. Tell me what I need to do.’ So that’s great,” said Jernigan. “What a great time to be at that park on a Saturday afternoon. We are looking forward to it.
Adding to Saturday’s backdrop, the Pensacola Tribute Music Fest will be happening at the Community Maritime Park Amphitheater beyond center field.
It might be a stadium first to have a rock concert wrapped around baseball games. In these challenging times, Jernigan has learned to adjust.
A year ago early March, the Tate Aggie Classic, which has been staged since 1993, had teams from seven different states set to be in Pensacola for the tournament. That had to be cancelled. It coincided with the first impact from COVID-19.
The event became part of the shutdown for all sporting events nationwide. All spring high school sports never resumed.
As result, Jernigan arranged through Shannon Reeves, the Blue Wahoos events manager, to have a special senior night sendoff for his senior players. They had dinner and took batting practice as parents captured the moment on cell phones.
“That was awesome,” Jernigan said. “The Blue Wahoos really took care of us. You could not ask for a better ending. I thank the Wahoos for allowing us to do it.
“We’ve now gone two years without the Aggie Classic, so hopefully next year we can get that going again.”
Tate won five of its first six games this season before a pair of losses and a rainout were followed by a March 18 win against West Florida. The Aggies were to play Tuesday at Navarre, but that game was rained out.
The games this weekend will be the first in a week among four of the teams.
“I have a very young team we’re just learning from positives and negatives,” Jernigan said. “I told them we’re going to learn from each game. I think you will see all the teams in area get better as a season goes along.”
Beyond the competition, there is a memory Jernigan hopes his players can takeaway from playing at Blue Wahoos Stadium. He has gotten to know Blue Wahoos head groundskeeper Dustin Hannah, who has helped with the Aggies field, as well as other Blue Wahoos front office staff.
“Dustin does a great job with that facility and the Blue Wahoos do a great job,” Jernigan said. “That is one of the top ballparks in minor league baseball. I know from my own experience, having played in a lot of minor league parks, that ballpark is something special in all aspect of their facilities.
“And I think 10 or 15 years from now, it means a lot for these guys to be sitting at Blue Wahoos game with say, their wife and family and being to tell, ‘Hey, I had a big hit on that field.’ It is something for the guys to experience. Especially when you have a complex like that.”
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: High School Baseball
WHO: Tate, West Florida, Navarre, Fort Walton Beach High, Fort Walton-Choctaw
WHERE: Blue Wahoos Stadium
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, Game times at 4 p.m., 7 p.m.
TICKETS: $8 general admission, each day. Available online at www.bluewahoos.com or at the Blue Wahoos Stadium box office.
TV: Cox Sports Television (CST).
SCHEDULE: Friday: Tate vs. Choctaw, 4 p.m. and Navarre vs. Fort Walton Beach, 7 p.m. Saturday: Navarre vs. West Florida High 4 p.m. and Fort Walton vs. Tate at 7 p.m.
PARKING: On Friday, parking is available at main lot fronting stadium. On Saturday, parking for baseball fans is available at the City Hall parking lot across the street.
FACE COVERING: Masks required upon entrance to ballpark, but can be removed when sitting in the seats.