From the Cheap Seats – Sept. 18, 2015

Posted on September 23, 2015 by Ken Garner

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos had a historic 2015, earning their first-ever division title, playing in their first-ever playoffs and earning the Southern League of Professional Baseball’s Organization of the Year award.
Congratulations! Since beginning play four years ago, the Wahoos have been a staple of Northwest Florida’s summer sports scene. The millionth visitor passed through the gates in May, and earlier this season fans picked Bayfront Stadium’s waterside view the best in Minor League Baseball. The facilities, food services and fan experiences all have won awards.
The Blue Wahoos are an overwhelming success, testament to the vision of Quint and Rishey Studer, who founded the team, and the zeal that Northwest Florida always has shown for the game.
Chasing a playoff spot in August was fun and even being swept in three straight games by Biloxi couldn’t dim the excitement surrounding the team, but let me be the first to warn you, Wahooligans: Don’t get used to it.
Minor League teams aren’t built to win. They exist to develop players to help the Big Club win. Sure, they keep won-loss records, post league standings and even stage playoffs to keep casual fans interested (and earn a few extra dollars), but the truth is, any minor league’s success on the field in any given season is a crapshoot.
Why? Because minor league clubs don’t control their rosters. Each of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball has its own hierarchy of teams divided into skill levels. Players generally start in the Rookie leagues and work their way up through Class A (short-season, regular and advanced), Double A and Triple A before making it to The Show, the top tier, the Major League team. And that’s the only level at which the won-loss record has any real meaning. Professional sports, at the highest levels, are a multi-billion-dollar industry. So excuse the Cincinnati Reds if they’re not worried whether their affiliates in Louisville or Billings or Dayton or Daytona – or Pensacola – have a winning record. Reds coaches and managers are looking for successful players, and they’ll move those players between teams in a heartbeat if they think it will help them develop into better ball players who will help the Reds – not the Bats or Dragons or Blue Wahoos.
Pensacola finished last in the Southern League’s South Division in the first half of the split season with a 25-43 record. It was largely a different team that rallied to the second-half crown. Thirteen players that finished the season in Pensacola weren’t on the Wahoos’ opening-day 25-man roster.
So what’s it about if it’s not about winning?
It’s about the players and the fans and the love of baseball. It’s about center fielder Beau Amaral’s all-out running, diving catches, it’s about an infield that turned more double plays than any other team in Minor League baseball, it’s about Ray Chang playing all nine positions in the season’s final game. It’s about Billy Hamilton and Didi Gregorious and Tucker Barnhart and the handful of other Wahoos who are playing in The Show, players we met at Bayfront Stadium.
It’s about the Roach Run, Kazoo high-fiving kids in the stands, catching a foul ball … it’s about popcorn and Cracker Jack.
The Wahoos aren’t going to build a dynasty. They likely won’t even be consistent winners or losers. But that isn’t really what matters.
Baseball is about tradition, the seventh-inning stretch, turning two, the high hard one, rain delays, “Everybody Clap Your Hands….”
Let’s enjoy it, win or lose. Congratulations, Blue Wahoos. Can’t wait ‘til next year!