- Matt Colville
Jim Spooner Field – West Florida Argonauts
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.43
Jim Spooner Field 910 Campus Dr Pensacola, FL 32514
West Florida Argonauts website
Year Opened: 1981
Cozy Baseball in the Wetlands
Nestled amongst the Florida wetlands in Pensacola, FL sits the campus of University of West Florida. The medium-sized, public university of a little shy of 13,000 students is fairly new. Ground was broken in 1965 and in 1968, 58 students received degrees during the first commencement ceremony. Today the college has an enrollment of 12,800 students and is one of five four-year colleges in the panhandle area of Florida.
The team’s nickname, the Argonauts, reflects Pensacola’s Naval history as the city is home to one of the largest naval bases in the country. UWF has competed at the D2 level in the Gulf South Conference since 1994. The school is most famous for having its football program make it to the D2 National Championship Game in just its second year of existence, and the baseball team has had similar success, as they won the 2011 D2 National Title and have had 18 players drafted into MLB during the program’s history.
On the east side of campus sits Jim Spooner Field which has a seating capacity of 3,000 and opened in 1981. Named after longtime Argo skipper Jim Spooner, who coached the Argonauts from 1983 to 2005, the stadium underwent a $500,000 renovation in 2003 when the independent league Pensacola Pelicans relocated here from Pensacola State College just down the road. The Pelicans would call Jim Spooner Field home and would bring great success and packed houses for the next eight seasons. Because of the success and fortunes the Pelicans brought the city, it eventually led affiliated baseball to return in 2012.
Food & Beverage 3
The concessions at Jim Spooner Field are plentiful and prices are reasonable. The expansive menu consists of the ballpark basics, with prices as follows: Hamburgers ($5), Chili Cheese dogs ($4.50), Hot Dogs ($3), Nachos ($3), Pretzels ($2.50), Popcorn ($2), Candy bars ($2), and Chips ($1.50).
Coke is the soft drink provider, with bottled soft drinks and Powerade going for $3, bottled water for $2.50, and coffee for $2. Surprisingly, ice cream is also served here with giant cones and ice cream sandwiches sold for $3.50. Prices here will not break the bank but if you have the time to drive you can eat at one of Pensacola’s many restaurants downtown.
Once you walk through the main entrance there is a series of walkways that lead around the area. The restrooms, concessions, and UWF locker room are located in a series of four outhouse style buildings, typical to the ones you would find in a city or state park.
When the stadium opened in 1981 it had just a basic grandstand, but the stadium was upgraded to suit pro baseball standards with the relocation of the Pelicans. The original grandstand is in the middle of two other grandstands, thus the stadium isn’t one cohesive ballpark, but a collection of three sets of bleacher-style seating that are connected by a walkway. There is also blue, foldable chair back seating on ground level behind home plate extending down the first and third baselines, but these seats are reserved for special ticket holders.
As it was a rainy dreary afternoon on my most recent visit, many fans were sitting in the reserved seating section, as these are also the only covered seats in the stadium. Besides the seats, there are also several rather large picnic areas along both baselines, as well as another one out behind left field.
The UWF baseball program is a pretty storied one, as they are constantly ranked in the D2 polls and even won a D2 National Championship in 2011. There is no shortage of banners on display showcasing these feats, with a huge National Title banner in left field as well as multiple Regional Appearances signs on the light poles.
UWF’s campus is located in kind of a secluded area in the northern part of the city – the campus was built on wetlands in former Indian territory, but is now part of a nature preserve and is located on a bluff above the Escambia River. Nature lovers will love the campus, as it has several nature trails and boardwalks where you can walk back into the woods through the swamps; if you’re lucky you may even catch a glimpse of an alligator.
Nature lovers can also take a trip across the river over to the small town of Milton – this picturesque town lines the Blackwater River, where many people can be found kayaking and canoeing, and swimming along the sand bars during the summer.
The area where Jim Spooner Field is located is part of a sports complex that includes the UWF softball and soccer fields, and to the north of the sports complex is a wildlife sanctuary that lines the Escambia River. As such there’s not much in the area in terms of things to do, but just south of campus is 9 Mile Road where there are a few restaurants, including Chick-fil-A, as well as a Target store.
A couple of restaurants in the area worth checking out are Grover’s Chicken Fingers and Wings, a hole-in-the-wall type joint famous for its fried chicken, and Taqueria El Asador Mexican Restaurant, a stand set up on the side of a gas station on Davis Avenue, about three miles south of campus. This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type of establishment has rave reviews, being voted one of the top 10 Mexican restaurants in the whole country, and Trip Advisor rates it as the number 1 restaurant (if you want to call it that) in Pensacola. Davis Highway has all the typical chain restaurants and strip malls, so you can find anything else you are looking for as well.
About 15 miles south of UWF’s campus is Seville Quarter and downtown Pensacola, and you can find tons of bars and restaurants lined up and down Palafox Street. Downtown can be a decent drive from Jim Spooner Field depending on the time of day, so plan accordingly. For attractions I definitely recommend checking out the Naval Air Museum at Pensacola Naval Air Station – this state of the art museum, which is free by the way, has over 150 vintage aircraft on display including the first plane to cross the Atlantic Ocean, former President Bush’s private plane, and some from the Blue Angels. The museum is located on the naval base and is a bit of a detour, being in an out-of-the-way location, but I highly recommend it. The beaches of Pensacola and Gulf Shores are nearby as well, for those in town wanting to hit the beach.
It’s hard to judge the fans on the particular afternoon I attended, as it was a cold and rainy day, so there were not a lot of fans in attendance. The Argos are averaging just a couple hundred fans per game this 2019 season, but on this particular Sunday afternoon the announced crowd was 118, though it seemed far fewer. The conditions were terrible, as there was a constant drizzle during the game, and the staff even eventually opened up the reserved seating section to all general admission fans, as the grandstands were completely empty and the few people there were all lined up behind home plate – it was a far cry from the Pelican days when this place would get packed out.
One drawback to getting to UWF’s campus is the location itself, as well as Pensacola’s horrendous traffic. The campus is located in the northern part of the city, far away from the beach and downtown, so if coming from the east and west I-10 will be your best bet – just take the Davis Highway exit and follow the signs until you reach the University Parkway split, and you can take that road right into campus. Or, if coming from the beach or downtown you can take I-110 to Davis Highway and follow that, or you can take beautiful Scenic Highway, a winding road that travels north and south and has spectacular views of Escambia Bay. All along this highway you can pull off into the different areas and lookouts over the water; this highway is noted for its lavish mansions as well.
Part of the University Sportsplex, Jim Spooner Field itself is located on the southeast side of campus, and resembles being in a city park. The sportsplex includes the softball stadium, which is located next door to and is a mirror image of Jim Spooner Field, except with only one grandstand instead of three. Then, out past center field is a soccer field, a practice field used for baseball, and softball and batting cages.
Return on Investment 3
For normal games UWF does charge $5 for all general admission and grandstand tickets, and $7 for the chair back seating behind home plate; students get in free with their student ID. For this level of baseball I thought these ticket prices were pretty high, but then again this is Florida and a tourist area so everything is expensive here. But on this particular afternoon, with the rain and cold weather in the forecast, the ticket office was closed so fans were free to come in and sit where they wanted.
‘The Spoon’ is a former minor league ballpark. In 2002 the Pensacola Pelicans were born when the upstart independent Southeastern Baseball League placed a team in the city. The team would play just south of here at tiny Pirate Field on the campus of Pensacola State College, and would be the city’s first professional baseball team since 1962, so needless to say Pensacolians were hungry for baseball again, and it showed during the one season the Pelicans played at Pirate Field. Fans packed the stadium and the team led the league in attendance, as well as won the league’s inaugural championship.
Midway through the 2002 season the Pelicans were purchased by Quint Studer and his wife Rishy. Studer, who is originally from Illinois, is a health care consultant who relocated to the city in the 1990s to work with an area hospital. Studer’s many charitable efforts would prove to be influential for the city, and he would be the man responsible for bringing affiliated baseball back to Pensacola.
After the 2002 season the Pelicans needed to find a bigger home ASAP, so they relocated to Jim Spooner Field. In order to accommodate professional baseball, however, The Spoon needed to be upgraded, so the two additional grandstands were added raising the capacity to 3,000. In addition, a party deck was established in left field, and box seats were installed behind home plate.
The Pelicans would play eight years at The Spoon in three separate leagues – Southeastern League (2003), Central Baseball League (2004), and American Association of Independent Baseball (2005-2010). The team would prove to be highly successful for the community of Pensacola, and fans packed The Spoon on a nightly basis. Because of the success of the Pelicans, affiliated baseball would return to Pensacola in 2012, when Studer purchased the Carolina Mudcats and relocated them to Pensacola to become the Blue Wahoos. As part of this deal, however, Studer had to facilitate the Kinston Indians moving to Zebulon, NC to replace the Mudcats; the Indians ended up taking over the Mudcats name.
The Wahoos have won Minor League Baseball’s Organization of the Year award three times in their seven year existence, and in addition, Blue Wahoos Stadium, a three-time recipient of the Southern League’s Ballpark of the Year, has consistently been ranked as one of the premiere minor league ballparks in the country – and all of this because the Pensacola Pelicans laid the foundation for the team that would call the city home ten years later. Without the Pelicans success at The Spoon perhaps the Blue Wahoos wouldn’t even be in Pensacola today.
Jim Spooner Field is a decent place to catch a baseball game – the days of packed houses and professional baseball are long gone, but what’s left is a cozy little ballpark that suits the team quite well. For a D2 baseball facility Jim Spooner Field is a pretty decently-sized stadium, so if you are in the area and want to catch a game at a former minor league ballpark, then come on down to The Spoon.