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Growing Awareness Boosts Blue Wahoos' Event-Filled Year Of Community Impact

A first-ever Youth Sports Summitt was held Dec. 21 at Blue Wahoos Stadium brining together children and parents for youth activities and parental seminar in the final event of a busy event year at ballpark. (Bill Vilona/Pensacola Blue Wahoos)
January 4, 2024

Former Pensacola mayor Ashton Hayward nodded with a smile, while looking out on a field of future dreams. There were about 100 children at Blue Wahoos Stadium on this day in late December, participating in the inaugural Youth Sports Summit and running from station to station for different athletic skills.

Former Pensacola mayor Ashton Hayward nodded with a smile, while looking out on a field of future dreams.

There were about 100 children at Blue Wahoos Stadium on this day in late December, participating in the inaugural Youth Sports Summit and running from station to station for different athletic skills.

It was part of the final event of 2023 at Blue Wahoos Stadium that combined youthful exuberance with a seminar for parents, arranged by medical specialists, to bring attention on proper development for youth athletes.

“When we did the referendum (in 2006) to build the stadium, I was so about having this kind of multipurpose facility,” said Hayward, who served as Pensacola’s mayor from 2011-2018. “When you build a stadium, it brings in a whole new element of the community coming here to do events.”

In this case, the Dec. 21 event was put together by the Florida State University College of Medicine in Pensacola, the Medical Education Council of Pensacola and the Andrews Research and Education Foundation, which Hayward now presides as the foundation president.

The space and versatility at Blue Wahoos Stadium has been a popular lure for people looking to hold private events at the ballpark.Bill Vilona/Pensacola Blue Wahoos

It was another example of the kind of dual events Blue Wahoos Stadium can stage. In 2023, the Blue Wahoos held 70 different events apart from the Blue Wahoos home baseball schedule.

These events ranged from a Fourth of July celebration with on-field inflatables, the annual Pensacola Eggfest food and beverage event in November, all the way to smaller-scale events like a wedding reception and Christmas holiday parties.

“I just feel the word is really out there now and we’ve established ourselves and developed trust to make it easy for someone to hold events here at the stadium,” said Shannon Hannah, now in her seventh year as the events sales manager at Blue Wahoos Stadium.

“People really have discovered us as a place to hold events and that really made (2023) a special year,” she said. I think people are catching on to how busy and fun and unique it is. I think people like the fact there is not a lot of decorating to be done, because the stadium is beautiful as it is.”

Blue Wahoos Stadium played host to 70 different events beyond baseball during the 2023 calendar year such as the inaugural Youth Sports Summit on Dec. 21.Bill Vilona/Pensacola Blue Wahoos

The stadium’s synthetic field surface provides more durability for hosting various events at the ballpark. The stadium also can utilize the Hancock Whitney Club, the Regions Club lounge and even the Blue Wahoos home clubhouse in the non-baseball months as host venues.

“We’ve got everything we need here to succeed for every type of event,” Hannah said. “We’ve got the big video board, the field itself is perfect for inflatables, you can have tables all set up on the infield area for a big dinner. We have everything under the sun to make it happen here.

“It’s a city-center, downtown with plenty of parking and it lends itself so well to anything you can imagine and it’s special.”

The Hancock Whitney Club level at Blue Wahoos Stadium was a venue for several company Chistmas parties as part of a busy event year for the ballpark in 2023.Bill Vilona/Pensacola Blue Wahoos

The stadium offers a vista unlike any stadium across the nation. The combination of Pensacola Bay as the backdrop and the Gulf of Mexico in the far distance create a wowing impression.

“I was like a kid in a candy store,” said Hayward, during the Dec. 21 event. “I took a photo of the stadium, of the field, and the bay and sent it to a friend of mine who was a New York Mets fan. He immediately called and said, ‘That’s the most beautiful stadium that I have ever seen! And this guy goes to every stadium all over the place.

“It’s special. I remember when I was a kid in Pensacola and every morning I would pass by this (then undeveloped) property with my parents “Fast forward now. We did this for the community and now everyone benefits.

“How the Blue Wahoos have kept everything inclusive and not exclusive has been the biggest storyline for me. It’s a place people enjoy for all different events.”

The Blue Wahoos wrapped up their busiest December for events. Two others were postponed until spring due to inclement weather. The first public event in 2024 will be the “Fish Fest” on January 24 that will help usher the upcoming Blue Wahoos baseball season.

In March, the Blue Wahoos will host high school baseball games on five different dates, along with the return of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater baseball team to stage a 10-day, nine-team baseball series with multiple games per-day.

“People get exposed to this bay, this beautiful view, they are downtown, it’s pro social,” said Hayward, who joined the Andrews Research and Education Foundation in December 2018. “You think about any kind of sporting event that you may attend and what happens is that you talk to strangers, you meet people who you have never met in the community. And then you can have all these events and it becomes a community asset.”