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  • Writer's pictureLloyd Brown

Baseball in the Western Gate to the Sunshine State



The city of Pensacola has had a long love affair with the game of baseball. It has hosted teams at the youth, college, recreational, military, and minor league levels over the years. It also has served as a spring training site for teams at the major league level. Baseball in Pensacola: America’s Pastime & the City of Five Flags by Scott Brown provides an in-depth look at the baseball teams and baseball stadiums that have called the city home.

Pensacola is one of the oldest cities in Florida, as it was founded in 1559. It would be another three hundred years before the sport arrived in the city.


The military has played an especially key role in bringing baseball to the area. Pensacola has always had a large military population due to its strategic location as a port city on the Gulf of Mexico. Baseball games were first reported in the area during the Civil War, as a means of building morale and good physical conditioning for the troops stationed in the arena.


The Pensacola Naval Yard had an entire baseball league, with each ship berthed at the facility sponsoring a team. During World War I Ty Cobb was one of the first professional ballplayers to visit the base as a part of a morale-boosting tour. World War II saw several major league ballplayers train for active duty at the Naval Air Station. Among these players was Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who was an aerial gunnery ace during the war. He also served as a flight instructor at the airfield.


One of the airfields in the area was called Bronson Field. It served as the home of several major leaguers during the war and had a team nicknamed the Bronson Bombers. Pensacola’s first minor league baseball team was known as the Fliers as a nod to the base’s major contribution to the game. Following the wars, Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers utilized the decommissioned air base as a home for an annual rookie training camp.


Pensacola also had civic league teams sponsored by area neighborhoods or local businesses. They typically played their games at either Palmetto Beach Park, Maxent Park, or Magnolia Bluff Park.


Even though Pensacola is in the Deep South, several black baseball teams shared the same ballparks with white teams in Pensacola. They would play on opposite nights or have segregated seating in the stands, both of which were considered highly unusual in those segregated times. Pete Caldwell Field was the home of the Pensacola Arthur Giants, while the Pensacola Seagulls were a barnstorming Negro League team that played their home schedule at Legion Field.


Pittsburgh was the first major league city to see the potential of Pensacola as a spring training site. The team was known as the Allegheny’s at that time. They erected a simple diamond with a 500-seat grandstand. They were followed by the Cleveland Naps in 1913. The Boston Red Sox held their spring training camp in Pensacola in 1930-1931, while the NY Giants arrived in town in 1936. While they did not hold spring training in the city, the Yankees played a series of exhibition games in Pensacola on their way back to New York City after their preseason camp. Both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played in these games.


Minor League-affiliated baseball has been in Pensacola since 1927, with some interruptions along the way due to wars and league failures. The Pensacola Fliers/Pilots operated from 1927-1950. They were affiliated with several teams, including the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Washington Senators. They played their home games at Maxent Park, a 5,000-seat venue that eventually was renamed Legion Park. The Fliers team folded after the Southeastern League went out of business in 1951. The Fliers then merged with the Miami Flamingos and moved to South Florida.


In 1956 the Alabama-Florida League added the Pensacola Dons as a new member. Dons named honored the Spanish Conquistadors who once ruled over this portion of Florida. The Dons played their home games at Admiral Mason Park along the Pensacola Bay waterfront. The stadium offered several modern features for the times, including concrete and steel construction and lights for night games.


At first, the Dons were not affiliated with any major league team. In later years, the Dons were affiliated with the Kansas City Athletics, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago White Sox, and the Baltimore Orioles. During the last season of their existence, the Dons became the Pensacola Senators as a result of becoming affiliated with the Washington Senators. The team met its end when the Alabama-Florida League went out of business.


The Pensacola Pelicans were Pensacola’s representatives in the minor leagues from 2002-2011. They played in three different leagues over the years, including the Southeastern League, the Central Baseball League, and the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. They played their home schedule at Jim Spooner Field on the University of West Florida campus. They were extremely successful both on and off the field, setting the plate for the next team to move into AA-affiliated baseball.


The current Pensacola minor league representatives are the Pensacola Blue Wahoos of the AA Southern League. They began playing in 2012. The home of the Wahoos is the 5,000-seat Admiral Fetterman Field at Community Maritime Park. The ballpark is located along the shoreline of Pensacola Bay. Due to its proximity to the waterfront, the stadium had to be designed to withstand 150 MPH winds during hurricanes. Over the years the Blue Wahoos have been affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds, the Minnesota Twins, and the Miami Marlins.


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Scott Brown’s Baseball in Pensacola provides a great read for anyone interested in the history of baseball in the Deep South.

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