Editor’s Note: The Press Gazette is counting down the top sports stories of 2012. Here is No. 10, the Blue Wahoos’ return to Pensacola.
Baseball has returned to Pensacola after a one-year absence and the excitement was evident with the run of Blue Wahoos on Sunday afternoon.
Pensacola International Airport was full of excited fans who were awaiting the arrival of the Blue Wahoos, the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, from spring training in Arizona.
Now the fans are awaiting the first pitch on Thursday when the Blue Wahoos start their season against the Montgomery Biscuits at 7 p.m. at the Blue Wahoos Park
It was hard to tell who was more excited Sunday the fans or owner Quint Studer.
“Last season would have been hard on me if I didn’t know what to expect this year,” said Studer, who sold the Pensacola Pelicans in order to buy the Carolina Mudcats of the Southern League. “It has been a real good year for us to get a staff in place as well as a strong foundation for what is to come.”
The welcome party at the airport Sunday afternoon had a host of individuals and business people.
“This is great for Pensacola,” said Jim Hill, who owns Alternative Health and Foods in Milton. “No one realizes the economic boost this will have to Pensacola and the surrounding area.”
Hill bought season tickets as soon as he heard the news of the Blue Wahoos coming to the area and participated in picking his own seats at Blue Wahoos Park.
The biggest surprise on Sunday was to Blue Wahoos skipper Jim Riggleman.
“This is neat for the players to see,” said Riggleman who has managed the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals during his career. “This speaks to the interest Pensacola has in baseball and how much they love the game.
“This is just an example of what I think we will see at the park with great crowds with a lot of emotions the players can connect with.”
Being a first-year franchise the Blue Wahoos might come in with a lot of expectations, but Riggleman is very realistic with his goals for 2012.
“I think in the end all minor league players want to make progress and work together to develop as a team,” Riggleman said. “They all have a goal to play hard and look to advance to the next level.