By Will Isern
Fresh off last year’s championship season, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos will return to play this month, with a new coaching staff and new amenities for the fans.
The Wahoos will start the season on April 5 in Mobile. The team’s first homestand will begin on April 11 against Chattanooga.
The Wahoos clenched the South League Championship last year, for the first time in franchise history.
Team president Jonathan Griffith said winning the season was great, but that his focus always remains with providing the best fan experience.
“Our whole feeling is if we’re providing that fan satisfaction, we’re going to keep the fans coming back,” Griffith said. “Winning is great but we don’t control that. We do control the customer service, so that’s always our focus.”
To that end, Griffith said, the team is planning to roll out several new amenities at Blue Wahoos Stadium this year, including new snack and beverage vendors, new uniforms and branding, new mascots in addition to the popular Kazoo, and virtual reality location that will give fans the experience of going up against a pro pitcher.
The team will also welcome chef Jason Perry, a veteran of Jackson’s Steakhouse as their new head chef. Perry will be responsible for re-imaging the menu served at the stadium.
“For a minor league team to have a chef on staff is not a normal thing, but its something we believe in to have the best food we can here,” Griffith said.
That focus on fan satisfaction has paid off. Roughly 300,000 fans have attended Wahoos games each year for that last six years and the team maintains a 90 percent “net promoter score,” meaning that fans are extremely likely to recommend the games to others.
On the field, the Wahoos will be led by new manager Jody Davis, bench coach Lenny Harris and hitting coach Mike Devereaux. Pitching coach Danny Darwin is the only member of the coaching staff to return from last season.
Following his All-Star professional career, Davis has spent 10 years coaching at the minor league level and the last two seasons as the hitting coach with the Triple-A Louisville Bats. Harris and Devereaux each won World Series championships as major league players and have spent years coaching in the Marlins’ and Rockies’ organizations, respectively.
“They’re all pretty veteran guys in the game of baseball, so that’s exciting,” Griffith said.
The Wahoos’ roster is controlled by the team’s parent organization, the Cincinatti Reds, so the player lineup won’t be unveiled until just before the start of the season.
There will be changes in the game itself, as well. Major League Baseball announced in March that it would implement changes at the minor league level intended to speed up the game. Pitchers will now have just 15 seconds to begin their pitching motion when there are no runners on base. In games that go to extra innings, a runner will start the inning on second base.
“We believe these changes to extra innings will enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the game and will become something that the fans will look forward to on nights where the game is tied late in the contest,” Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner said in a statement.
Weekend game times will see a change this season, as well. Saturday games will begin at 6:30 p.m., and Sunday games will begin at 1 p.m. until after May, when they will move to 5 p.m. to relieve the summer heat.