Why I Joined The Wahoos: Bill Vilona

Pensacola Sports Hall of Fame Journalist Joins Wahoos Staff

By Bill Vilona / Pensacola Blue Wahoos | January 9, 2019 11:53 AM

So many wonderful people have recently approached with congratulations on retirement.

Thanks. If only for two weeks.

Yes, it was only a momentary pause. I'm not really out to pasture. Too young for that.

After opting to end 32 wonderful years with the Pensacola News Journal, plus six previous years with a different company and writing sports stories from 33 different states and four different time zones, the next chapter begins two weeks into 2019.

On January 15, my new career launches with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and Studer55 Communications. I will continue doing what I love in the writing realm, but also help in other ways. Plus, my continued association with the News Journal will allow some crossover publication. So you will see me in the PNJ, too.

It's exciting and soon to be rewarding.

Of the thousands of sports stories I have filed for the PNJ, both when it was just a newspaper and now multi-media operation, none carried the same fascination, importance, and local impact as the Blue Wahoos' story.

The team, the franchise, the ballpark, the entire Vince Whibbs Sr. Community Maritime Park project have forever changed Pensacola. It has transformed downtown Pensacola.

That's what makes this transition so great. The city where I moved in 1987, the one I quickly fell in love on first visit, is growing by the day.

I first met team owners Quint and Rishy Studer in 2002 when they took a leap of faith (OK, a big leap) and brought Independent League baseball here with the Pensacola Pelicans. That was the city's first foray into minor league, professional baseball since the Pensacola Senators and Dons in the old Alabama-Florida League a half-century ago.

I'll never forget the first game in 2002 when Quint and Rishy were setting up folding chairs, gathering pizza boxes, and basically handling everything with the team's debut at Pensacola State College's baseball field. They endured and sorted through all sorts of challenges in a vision to expand professional baseball in this community.

That was then. Look at now. It's an honor to be joining the Studer Company.

The Blue Wahoos are a renowned national brand. The franchise has earned so many awards for customer service and quality of operations in minor league baseball. Pensacola is one of only 30 cities in America with a Double-A baseball franchise and now affiliated with the Minnesota Twins, following seven seasons, three playoff trips, and one championship as the Cincinnati Reds affiliate.

The Twins are located in the 16th largest metropolitian area in the U.S. Minneapolis is the headquarters of Best Buy and Target, among other Fortune 500 corporations, but two recognizable companies in Pensacola.

It's special.

As I often wrote for the PNJ, this level of association with Major League Baseball puts Pensacola in rare company. It offers fans in this region a chance to see future major league players every night on both teams.

The 2019 Blue Wahoos season brings big change. From the Queen City affiliation to Twin Cities. National League to American League. Cactus League to Grapefruit League with the Twins training in Fort Myers, which now gives Blue Wahoos fans a chance to road trip for a Spring Training experience.

The Twins' minor league system and prospective talent is among the best-rated. I will be bringing the players' unique stories to you, as well as so many other elements of a Blue Wahoos game. There is a lot to tell.

Making this transition even better is Daniel Venn, the Blue Wahoos' new media and public relations manager. He grew up near Minneapolis. He's been a life-long Twins fan. He knows the team history. It's perfect timing for me.

My job at the PNJ enabled me to witness so many of the Blue Wahoos' greatest moments. It led to building connections with their staff, led by team president Jonathan Griffith. In joining the team, it's been an easy fit.

I will never forget Opening Night on April 5, 2012. There was an overflow crowd, the concourses were jammed. The Blue Angels had a flyover. An eighth-inning home run led to a Blue Wahoos win.

It all felt so surreal, after so many years of driving by the same area on Main Street and seeing the fenced-in, neglected property as an eyesore for the community. Now, it's a showcase, a community gathering place.

Every time I walk into Blue Wahoos Stadium, I think of this transformation.

Now, I'm grateful to be working as part of it.

 

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

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