Tag Archives: Pensacola

Way Back Wednesday: While Pensacola Tries to Dry Out From Hurricane Sally, I Look Back at That Time I Nearly Froze Watching the Blue Wahoos

Editor’s Note: When I turned on the television on September 16, 2020, and saw the flooding in downtown Pensacola, FL, my heart sank. Streets had turned into white capped canals filled with flooded cars. The reason behind the flooded streets was Hurricane Sally.

Sally’s storm surge turned one of my favorite towns into a soggy mess. While I wish the people of Pensacola a speedy recovery, and cannot wait to return to my favorite beach, favorite ballpark, favorite lighthouse and favorite aviation museum, I know that the City of Five Flags will bounce back stronger than ever.

In the meantime, please enjoy this column from April 8, 2013 about a visit to my absolute favorite Minor League Baseball Ballpark, Blue Wahoos Stadium in Pensacola, as part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature.

This past weekend I took my first baseball road trip of the 2013 season to book end the opening week of the baseball season.

After starting the week at the home opener for the Houston Astros, the week was rounded out with a trip to Blue Wahoos Stadium in Pensacola, FL for a Southern League game between the home standing Blue Wahoos and the visiting Tennessee Smokies.

Prior to moving to Texas, the bulk of my non-Spring Training in person baseball watching was through Southern League games at Tinker Field in Orlando FL.

Despite moving about 800 miles away from the borders of the Southern League, to this day I still try to catch Southern League games whenever I can.

I am sure this is partially due to history and familiarity with the league and the various teams. However, a lot of it is also based on the fact that there is some good baseball being played on the farm teams of the Southern League.

Such was the case on this colder than normal April night at the stadium on the bay.

Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium is a true gem among Ballparks and boosts a bay side view that can often include spotting the Blue Angels returning home from an Air Show.
Photo R. Anderson

More on the game in a bit. I feel it is important to stop and mention the weather at game time and throughout the festivities.

Anyone who knows me well, most likely knows the following two things about me. First, I check the weather constantly before a trip to make sure that I am properly prepared for the conditions.

Second, it takes in awful lot for me to be cold. I am the type who has a fan going year-round and I have not turned the heater on in my house in over 8 years.

So, after checking the forecast before heading to the game, I was fairly satisfied with my no jacket required assessment. Unfortunately, while the temperature was within a good short sleeve window, in my haste to make it to the game after a nine-hour drive to the ballpark I forgot to account for the wind chill and feels like factor.

To say it was cold with the wind coming in off the bay would be an understatement. How cold did it feel?

It felt cold enough that I was seriously considering buying a $100 jacket in the gift shop, or at the very least a $60 sweatshirt to try to stay warm. How a jacket and sweatshirt can cost that much is certainly another story for another day.

It was clear skies at game time but as the flags indicate there was a stiff wind blowing.
Photo R. Anderson

At least I was not alone in my frigid feelings. Apparently, the guy sitting to my right had also made the same error in judgment as we were the only two people in the ballpark wearing short sleeves.

As the innings wore on, we became very close as we tried to block the wind and stay warm. Not a word was spoken but a knowing nod was all that was required to show that the contest was one to see who could last the longest.

He ended up leaving in the bottom of the sixth inning which meant I just had to make it to the seventh inning stretch to get the victory in the two cold guys challenge. Yes, boys and girls this is what men do, we turn everything into a contest.

So, I made it an extra half inning and then packed up my bobble head, souvenir cup and other assorted stadium items and walked the 10 blocks back to the car.

Although the game was a very lopsided affair and included a Man versus Wild like survival challenge in the stands, there were several items of note that occurred.

Billy Hamilton stole a record number of bases during the 2012 season and became immortalized as a bobble head during the 2013 season.
Photo R. Anderson

It was Billy Hamilton bobble head giveaway night. For those who are unfamiliar with Billy Hamilton he set the single season stolen base record with 146 stolen bases in 2012.

I met Billy last season when he was about four steals away from the record and although he has moved on to the Triple-A affiliate of the Reds it was nice to be there for the bobble head night and close the circle as it were.

I have little doubt that after one more season of seasoning in the Minors Billy Hamilton will make the Reds roster and show his speed in front of the larger audience.

I have always enjoyed the art of the stolen base. Major League Baseball’s all-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson was always a favorite player of mine. When everyone in the stands knows that you are going to try to steal the base and you still manage to do it, that is some serious talent and is something to be respected.

Billy Hamilton has a very good chance to be a Rickey Henderson like player and set the base paths on fire. And when he does, I will be one of the people who gets to say I knew him when.

While Billy Hamilton was not in attendance for his bobble head night there was another player who was certainly worth paying attention to.

Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, or the more sportswriter friendly Loek Van Mil, is the tallest pitcher in Professional Baseball topping out at 7’1”.

At 7’1″, Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil of the Blue Wahoos is the tallest pitcher in baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

During his warm-up pitches it became very clear that he was a very tall man. Van Mil is currently being targeted as a relief pitcher but time will tell whether he can find the right balance between control and velocity to make it to the Big Leagues.

As with my previous visit to the ballpark there was a lot of opportunity to people watch. Being seated directly behind the all you can eat party deck provided ample amounts of entertainment.

One fun game was the how many trips through the hot dog and hamburger line will particular people make game. Of course, the rush of steam when the hot dog tray was opened provided a little bit of warmth for me as well so I was certainly counting on people making as many trips as possible.

But despite a losing effort by the home team, cold temperatures, and certain annoying fans, my first road trip of the 2013 baseball season was certainly enjoyable. I came, I cheered, I left and I have the bobble head to prove it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to plan another road trip.

Copyright 2020 R Anderson

Foot Note: Billy Hamilton made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2014 where he remained for several seasons. In 2018, Hamilton played for the Kansas City Royals. In 2019, Hamilton was a member of the Atlanta Braves. So far in the shortened 2020 season, Hamilton has been a member of the San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, and Chicago Cubs.

Sadly, Loek Van Mil, died on July 28, 2019 after sustaining head injuries during a December 2018 hiking accident in Australia. He was 34-years-old.

In the time since my last visit in 2018, the Blue Wahoos changed their MLB affiliation from the Cincinnati Red to the Minnesota Twins.

 

Baseballs are Pretty Basic but Spark Fantastic Memories

On the surface, and even down to their core, baseballs are pretty basic items.

Start with a cork core, add two thin rubber wrappings, cover with about 370 yards of wool yarn in varied thickness and color, adhere a cover of white cowhide with rubber cement and hand stitch exactly 216 times with 88 inches of red thread and one has a completed baseball.

On the surface there is nothing really special about a baseball's individual parts. Once those parts are assembled though a baseball can have a life of its own and can be highly sought after. Photo R. Anderson
On the surface there is nothing really special about a baseball’s individual parts. Once those parts are assembled though a baseball can have a life of its own and can be highly sought after.
Photo R. Anderson

The cork-cored ball was introduced around 1910 and standardized the way baseballs were made. Very few modifications have been made to the design in the 104 years since.

Of course the simplistic breakdown of a baseball does not really convey the role that they play in the culture of the game.

Pitchers try their best to make a baseball move in ways that trick the batters while the batters are looking for that one perfect pitch to hit out of the park.

The battle over control of the baseball between pitchers and batters lies at the very cork core of the game of baseball itself.

Of course not all interactions with baseballs occur between a pitcher and a batter.

Recently two examples of interaction with baseballs within a Ballpark showed how they can be much more than the sum of their parts in the eyes of the beholder.

Our first example takes us to Pensacola, Florida and Bayfront Stadium home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos of the Southern League.

Last Thursday night before a game against the Jacksonville Suns Pensacola Blue Wahoos catcher Ross Perez was called upon to catch the ceremonial first pitch.

On the surface a catcher being asked to take part in the opening pitch is really nothing out of the ordinary as they are often called upon to partake in opening ceremonies.

What made this particular first pitch different was the person throwing it.

Recently the Pensacola Blue Wahoos hosted a father/son first pitch. Photo R. Anderson
Recently the Pensacola Blue Wahoos hosted a father/son first pitch.
Photo R. Anderson

Perez was surprised to discover that the person throwing the pitch was his father who had come all the way from Venezuela in a surprise visit.

Making the moment more special for the father and son was the fact that the elder Perez had never had seen his son play a professional baseball game.

So a baseball made of basic materials helped a father and son from Venezuela connect on a Florida baseball diamond.

The second example of the power of a baseball came from Arlington, Texas and the Ballpark of the Texas Rangers.

In this particular instance a young male fan received a ball during the game and then proceeded to give it to a woman sitting behind him.

Of course the chivalrous act was caught on camera and the fan had his 15 minutes of fame for giving the ball away.

A closer look at the exchange revealed that a decoy ball caught during batting practice was given to the girl while the young man kept the game ball.

It is fairly common for fans to use decoy balls and this particular fan’s sleight of hand was the sort of thing that would put Penn and Teller to shame.

Ceremonial pitches such as J.J. Watt's during the season opener of the Houston Astros last year have been a part of the baseball landscape for decades but sometimes they can take on a deeper meaning. Photo R. Anderson
Ceremonial pitches such as J.J. Watt’s during the season opener of the Houston Astros last year have been a part of the baseball landscape for decades but sometimes they can take on a deeper meaning.
Photo R. Anderson

So while the ball given to the “cute girl” was not the actual game ball it is still a nice gesture but it also shows the power of a baseball and the desire to keep the real thing.

These are just two examples of baseballs creating lasting memories and opportunities inside Ballparks.

There are countless more that occur every night in Ballparks of every shape and size. In fact during the time it takes to read this article it is likely that several such baseball memories have occurred somewhere in the world.

Individually the pieces of a baseball are nothing special but when something as simple as cork and twine wrapped in cow hide is put together they become almost magical under the right circumstances.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about cow hide has me craving a juicy cheeseburger with some Heinz 57 and perhaps even some french fried potatoes.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

To Fly, or Not to Fly?

The other day there was an announcement on a tarmac in Pensacola, FL that got my attention.

Sadly, it was not the announcement that the Blue Angels would once again resume their schedule of air show performances that had been cancelled for the remainder of the year. This tarmac announcement was east of where the Blue Angels fly but it did involve blue planes albeit ones that are a bit larger.

Southwest Airlines will fly non stop from Houston to Pensacola starting in November. Photo R. Anderson
Southwest Airlines will fly non stop from Houston to Pensacola starting in November.
Photo R. Anderson

The announcement in question was that starting in November Southwest Airlines would offer nonstop service from Houston to Pensacola.

Now I realize that this announcement of better flight options will probably only interest a select few Triple B readers. Primarily the interested parties will be those located in Houston with a desire to fly to Pensacola.

Previously if I wanted to fly to Pensacola from the closet airport to my house it would involve flying over my destination, switching planes in Atlanta and then back tracking until I landed where I was wanting to go.

Depending on the layover between flights in Atlanta this option could actually end up taking as long as it would take to just drive there.

Blue Angels jet at the Florida Welcome Center. Photo R. Anderson
Blue Angels jet at the Florida Welcome Center.
Photo R. Anderson

As mentioned before, Pensacola is one of my favorite go to spots when I need a quick fix of Florida sun and sand.

By car it is around nine hours from my doorstep to the sugar sanded shores of Pensacola Beach.  A plane ride on a Boeing 737 with the words Southwest on the tail would take significantly less time.

But that begs the question when is a plane ride better than a car ride?

While the plane option is certainly the winner when it comes to getting there the fastest it would involve increased costs and the need for a rental car once the final destination is reached.

Planes also involve getting squished up against people that you probably would not want to be that close to in normal situations.

Pensacola Beach is now just a Southwest plane ride away but driving still has its benefits. Photo R. Anderson
Pensacola Beach is now just a Southwest plane ride away but driving still has its benefits.
Photo R. Anderson

In terms of safety of air travel versus car travel, statistics show that one is far more likely to be involved in a car accident than a plane crash so the whole danger of flight argument is pretty much tossed out the window.

With a car ride the driver can control the pace and stop as often as they want without inconveniencing 100 other passengers.

So as much as I have longed for the day to come when I could travel nonstop by air between my house and the beach, it just doesn’t make sense to do.

There are other reasons why it is preferred to drive as opposed to fly for me.

The most glaring of these reason is I really enjoy a good road trip and for the past 13 years or so I have made the drive to Pensacola around twice a year on average.

This frequency of travel has allowed me to see many sights along the way and has led to the desire to to visit a few regular stops along the way.

So join me if you will for a virtual look at some of the things worth stopping at during the nine hour drive from Houston to Pensacola.

Petting Minou is one of the things that makes driving to Florida worth it. Photo R. Anderson
Petting Minou is one of the things that makes driving to Florida worth it.
Photo R. Anderson

The first stop on our journey east is a stop in Louisiana.

For those of you who have never been to Louisiana let me start by saying the lower portions of the state consists of a lot of swamp area and a lot of bridges over those swamps.

One of my favorite places to stop along the way is a Welcome Center in the middle of the Atchafalaya Basin.

The bulk of the basin falls between Lafayette and Baton Rouge and is also known as Cajun Country.

The Welcome Center provides an inside look into the history of the Cajuns and their exile from Canada to the Louisiana swamps.  If you have the time it is definitely worth the stop. Plus, as one of the few rest areas along the 23 mile bridge there are other good reasons to stop there.

Rocket test stand at Stennis Space Center. Photo R. Anderson
Rocket test stand at Stennis Space Center.
Photo R. Anderson

And if you do stop there be sure to say hello to Minou (pronounced me new) the cat.  Minou is a sweet kitty that has welcomed me for many years now and I always take time to pet her on both the eastern and western legs of the journey.

The next state on the eastern journey is Mississippi. On the western border to Louisiana is Stennis Space Center.

At the Mississippi Welcome Center there are many space related items to see as well as a new science center named Infinity to check out.  Again, if you have time to see it the tour of the rocket test stands is definitely worth taking.

After leaving Mississippi behind it is time for Alabama.

To be honest I usually just drive right through Alabama since it only takes about a half hour to cross through. There is a very nice skyline and a tunnel in Mobile to check out while driving by though. Although I have never had the chance to stop there myself there is also a battleship exhibit in Mobile Bay that is worth a stop. During my last drive thru Alabama I was also greeted to the sight of the Carnival Cruise Ship Triumph undergoing repairs.

The sign that shows the journey is nearing its end. Photo R. Anderson
The sign that shows the journey is nearing its end.
Photo R. Anderson

And then with Alabama in the rear view you reach the destination of Florida. A quick stop at the welcome center complete with free orange juice and a look at some former Blue Angels planes and it is just a quick hop skip and a jump to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

So, while Southwest’s announcement of non stop flights from Houston to Pensacola seems appealing at first glance I think I will continue my arrivals by car so I can enjoy all of the sights and sounds along the way. Besides what would Minou think if I flew on by without saying hi?

Of course one of those quick wanna get away weekends a plane ride might be in the cards so I guess it is best to never say never.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think it is time to plan another road trip.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson

 

The First Cut is the Deepest; Blues Get Grounded

Yesterday it was announced that the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team had become the latest casualty of the budget cuts resulting from the sequestration.

Several Blue Angels shows and public practices had already been cancelled, so the decision to cancel the remaining schedule for the 2013 performance year did not come completely out of the blue.  The federal fiscal year ends in September and it was originally thought that the Blue Angels would return to the sky at that time but that seems unlikely with the time needed to prepare for shows.

The Blue Angels perform during the Wings Over Houston Airshow. Photo R. Anderson
The Blue Angels perform during the Wings Over Houston Airshow.
Photo R. Anderson

It should be noted that the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds have also had their season cancelled as part of the sequestration. While the grounding of the Thunderbirds is equally bad, as the grandson of a Pearl Harbor Navy veteran, I do tend to lean a little more towards the Navy’s Blue Angels grounding being more of a loss.

I have been fortunate enough to see the Blue Angels perform on several occasions and have also been to their home base at NAS Pensacola a few times.

As anyone who has stopped at the Interstate 10 Florida Welcome Center knows there is also a Blue Angel jet display to welcome travelers to the birthplace of Naval aviation. So the Blue Angels are kind of a big deal in the Sunshine State as well as throughout the country.

Each time I see them take to the skies it is as impressive as the first time.  There is something to be said for the skill that it takes to harness that much power from a fighter jet and make it do things that it normally would not do. Add to the mix the degree of difficulty of having another plane inches off of your wing tip and it becomes even more impressive.

The Blue Angels perform a Diamond formation during the Wings Over Houston Air Show. Photo R. Anderson
The Blue Angels perform a Diamond formation during the Wings Over Houston Air Show.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, fans of air shows are far from the only people feeling the budget pinch. The National Park Service also has to make due with less funding.

During my recent road trip I spent time at Fort Pickens National Park outside of Pensacola, FL. As the name would suggest there is a fort at Fort Pickens National Park. What the name fails to imply is that the fort and related batteries and bunkers are surrounded by miles of pristine beaches.

Whenever I am in that area of Florida I always try to spend a few hours at the shoreline. While the beach was still sugary white, the water was still deep blue, and the scallops and periwinkles were still plentiful I couldn’t help but notice that there was a little more trash on the beach than usual.

A trip to the restroom also revealed a lack of paper towels.

It turned out that the trash cleanup and maintenance that was previously being done daily was now occurring less frequently due to lack of resources and manpower related to the sequestration.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are grounded due to budget cuts. Photo R. Anderson
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are grounded due to budget cuts.
Photo R. Anderson

While I only saw the effects at a single National Park I am sure that is the case across the country throughout the National Parks System.

I do not want to give the impression that there were mounds of trash or other unsightliness at the beach. It was just noticeable that certain items were not being handled in the same manner that I had grown used to seeing.

The Park Service has a long history of making due with limited resources and I am sure the thousands of Park Rangers and volunteers will continue to do an excellent job of educating visitors and preserving the Nation’s treasures even during these tough economic times.

The Blue Angels will be staying grounded at Pensacola Navel Air Station for the remainder of the year. Photo R. Anderson
The Blue Angels will be staying grounded at Pensacola Navel Air Station for the remainder of the year.
Photo R. Anderson

While I agree that items such as performing at air shows and daily trash pickup at National Parks do not have the same priority as ensuring that there are enough police on the street, it is hard to fathom how they would face such deep cutbacks leading into the busiest times of the year for both.

The Thunderbirds and Blue Angels are each used as promotion tools for their respective branches of the armed forces and the peak of the air show season is the spring and summer months.

While very few people who see a flight demonstration will grow up to fly those planes, they may still have their interest sparked in a way that leads them to other areas of the armed forces in support of their country.

Like the F-18 Hornets, Fat Albert, the Blue Angels' logistics plane is also grounded due to budget cuts. Photo R. Anderson
Like the F-18 Hornets, Fat Albert, the Blue Angels’ logistics plane is also grounded due to budget cuts.
Photo R. Anderson

The same is true for the National Parks. Generations of people have made visiting the National Parks part of family traditions with most of those trips occurring in the summer when school is out.

Now I am not saying that overflowing trash cans will make people less likely to visit the parks this year and in the future, but, I struggle to see how the parks and monuments could be allowed to be in those positions simply because Congress could not agree on overall spending levels.

When the sequestration was first proposed it was meant to be such a poison pill that no rational member of Congress would allow it to pass.

For the rest of the year the rotunda at the National Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL. is the only place to see the Blue Angels. Photo R. Anderson
For the rest of the year the rotunda at the Navy Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL. is the only place to see the Blue Angels.
Photo R. Anderson

Unfortunately it appears that the rational people were off that day allowing the cuts that no one dreamed could ever become reality to take place.

The National Parks and the flight demonstration teams of the Navy and Air Force will certainly rise again allowing future generations to continue to enjoy them and realize what a National Treasure they truly are.

They just have to find a way to muddle through the rest of the fiscal year first.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if Pensacola Wings of Gold has been released on DVD yet.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson