Dennis Lewallyn laughs at the memory, the innocent naivety he encountered in 2012 when the Pensacola Blue Wahoos made their franchise debut.
There was a lack of awareness on the baseball talent Pensacola fans would see.
"I had friends of mine, here in town, who came up to me and said, 'Is this going to be kinda like the (former Pensacola Pelicans) team that played (Independent League) out at UWF?' And I had to tell them, no, no, this affiliated baseball with the big leagues," said Lewallyn, who went from Escambia High School to the major leagues as a pitcher, and is now pitching coach with the Mississippi Braves.
"I would tell them, hey, the players you are seeing here (at Blue Wahoos Stadium)… some of them will be in the big leagues in a couple years," said Lewallyn, who has been in professional baseball for nearly a half-century.
Now, the understanding is even greater.
When Major League Baseball stages its 90th All-Star Game on Tuesday night in Cleveland, five of the National League starters all played against the Blue Wahoos in the Southern League.
The leadoff batter Tuesday night will be the Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich, the 2018 National League MVP, who played in Blue Wahoos Stadium during the 2013 season for the now-Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, while then member of the Miami Martlins organization.
The last three hitters in the NL starting lineup: Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras (2015 Tennessee Smokies), Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Ketel Marte (2014 Jackson Suns), and Atlanta Braves centerfielder Ronald Acuna (2017 Mississippi Braves), all played in Blue Wahoos Stadium.
In addition, Cubs shortstop Javier Baez, who bats second Tuesday, played against the Blue Wahoos in 2013, but not in Pensacola.
It's a stunning array of talent, all of whom passed through Blue Wahoos Stadium.
"I know it's probably going to be the same way if you went to Birmingham or Chattanooga or wherever in the Southern League…. people now are starting to get a good grasp on the level of talent in this league and the kind of players who have been on this field," said Lewallyn during the Blue Wahoos last homestand against the M-Braves.
"It's really special. It's really cool."
There are no such connections with the American League starting lineup. Those players were either in the Eastern League or Texas League during their Double-A level stop.
The NL All-Stars pitching staff includes the Cincinnati Reds Luis Castillo, who wowed Pensacola fans in 2017 during the 14 games he started on the mound for the Blue Wahoos.
Castillo had a 4-4 record and 2.58 ERA for the Blue Wahoos that season.
Another NL All-Star pitcher, the Braves' Mike Soroka, pitched against the Blue Wahoos in 2017. Same with the Brewers Josh Hader (2015-16 Biloxi Shuckers).
Among the NL All-Star reserves, Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto (2013-14 Jacksonville) and Cubs infielder Kris Bryant (2014 Tennessee Smokies), are two others who played at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
"To see the guys like Acuna, Soroka and the others who came through this league, and played here, played in the other cities, it's great," Lewallyn said. "And it's really good for baseball. And it's good for people in Pensacola to realize that, hey, this is where they start.
"This is where they make that jump. So, it's fun to see and now the fans here in Pensacola are starting to understand it."
The Minnesota Twins have one American League starter, shortstop Jorge Polanco, as well as pitchers Jake Ordorizzi (injured), replaced by teammate Jose Berrios.
Polanco did not play against the Blue Wahoos during his Double-A stop in 2015 with the Chattanooga Lookouts. The same for Berrios. Ordorizzi played in the Texas League during his Double-A stop.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.