Get To Know: Pensacola Blue Wahoos (and PR Director Daniel Venn)
Image courtesy of Pensacola Blue WahoosGet to know more about the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Which golf great and which former NFL star are minority owners in the team? And, how can you purchase some Blue Wahoos merchandise (at Black Friday prices)? Keep on reading.
Twins Daily (TD): Dan, you're from Minnesota. What is your background in baseball and PR, and what was the process that brought you to Pensacola.
Daniel Venn (DV): Hey Seth! Yes sir, born and raised in the Metrodome. I’ve got endless fond memories of those mid-2000s Twins teams somehow winning division title after division title and the Dome getting so loud you thought the roof would fly off.
But, besides watching a lot of good baseball growing up and being one of the worst college middle relievers in history, I don’t have a professional background in the game. I got a degree in secondary education and taught both in the U.S. and internationally after college. Before my first job in sports, I had been teaching baseball and softball prospects in Nicaragua with the non-profit Helping Kids Round First and knew I would be coming back home to the States before the upcoming baseball season. Being young and dumb and having nothing tying me down, I thought I’d give my little kid dream of working in baseball a shot.
I sent a resume and cover letter to EVERY minor, independent, and college summer league team in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Mexico. After 200+ emails, I got a grand total of four responses. Three said “Thanks, but we’re not hiring”. Thankfully the fourth, the Dunedin Blue Jays, had just posted a media relations job online (I had never seen the posting), thought I was applying for that, and thought my resume was strange enough that I’d be an entertaining interview. I didn’t actually know what job I’d gotten until I received the contract and read “Media Relations Coordinator” at the top!
I spent two really great years with the Blue Jays in Dunedin working MLB spring training and with their Advanced A affiliate and getting a crash course in all things professional baseball. I decided this off-season that I wanted to try to move up in the minors and applied for an opening in Pensacola. When I applied, they were the Reds' Double A team. During the interview process, they declared themselves free agents and the day before my final interview they officially became the Twins Double A team. Sometimes it just works out.
TD: The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are a fairly new addition to the Southern League. What is the organization's brief history? (all with the Reds, etc.)
DV: Pensacola has a really deep history with the game of baseball, going all the way back to the late 1800s with the Pensacola Dudes (now there’s a minor league team name!). Unfortunately, Pensacola lost its affiliated team in the early 60s during the civil rights era as Major League Baseball moved many minor league teams north so players of all races would have a better experience.
Fast-forward many years. Independent baseball became popular in the south. Affiliated baseball returned. In 2002, Quint and Rishy Studer, a baseball-loving family which has helped revolutionize healthcare nationwide, attended an indy league game held at a local junior college between the Pensacola Pelicans and the Selma Cloverleafs. Within days, they noticed an article in the newspaper saying the Pelicans team was for sale and they acted.
Independent league baseball is volatile. Teams fold without notice, but the Studers kept the Pelicans alive, sometimes paying other team’s salaries so they’d have competition or traveling as far as St. Paul to play the Saints! In 2009, they looked to move the Pelicans downtown into their own stadium and began building on some heavily-polluted but really beautiful waterfront property in Pensacola.
While they were building the new stadium for the Pelicans, the Carolina Mudcats went up for sale, then the Double A team for the Reds. The Studers purchased the Mudcats and brought them to Pensacola, opening the new stadium with the return of affiliated baseball in Pensacola in 2012.
TD: The stadium has been touted as one of the best in minor league baseball. Tell us a little more about the stadium and its brief history. What are the key features around the stadium that fans should be sure to check out (or eat!)?
DV: I say this as a baseball fan and not a team employee: this stadium is AWESOME. My office is in the press box, so I spend all day trying to focus on my work when I’ve got the field and the water and sailboats going by right outside my window. There’s a reason Ben Hill just named Blue Wahoos Stadium “Best View” in Double A.
Besides the fact that this stadium is so close to the ocean that you can hit home runs into the bay, it’s got everything you want in a minor league park. A grass berm in the outfield, three party decks, a great big screen….It’s also the smallest ballpark in the Southern League, so you can’t get any closer to the action than here.
Most importantly, though, the team has a really special staff whose #1 focus is on customer service and putting on a great show every night. And I’m not just saying that. The Wahoos have been a team for just seven seasons and have already won the Southern League Organization of the Year four times and the league’s Community Service Award four times because of their dedication to the community, to customer service, and to great gameday experiences.
In regard to food, I haven’t gotten to taste test anything yet…but, the team has their own Executive Chef who just competed in the World Food Championships. Besides your typical ballpark favorites, he cooks up a special themed dish every homestand based on the team we’re playing. I’m looking forward to that!
TD: What was the process for the naming of the team, the Blue Wahoos? I imagine that there were a lot of potential options.
DV: Speaking of minor league team names…it’s been quite the off-season already, hasn’t it? Amarillo Sod Poodles. Rocket City Trash Pandas. Fayetteville Woodpeckers. And, just announced this week, my favorite: the Rocky Mountain Vibes. Never thought I’d see a team with a s’more for a logo!
On topic. Back in 2011, Pensacola held a name submission contest for their to-be new ballclub and received over 1,700 submissions from fans! It was narrowed down to six finalists: Aviators, Blue Wahoos, Loggerheads, Mullets, Redbones, and Salty Dogs. Blue Wahoos took home the fan vote, and the rest is history.
Well, almost. The Wahoos did do a pretty fun “What Could Have Been Night?” a couple of years back where they played as the Mullets for a night. Check out that logo!
TD: Bubba Watson became one of the team's minority owners a couple of years ago. What is his involvement level with the organization, and what is the rest of the ownership team?
DV: Bubba threw out the first pitch at a Wahoos game after winning the Masters. The next time he won, he came back to throw out another first pitch. After that, his team inquired if he could become a part owner of the Wahoos! He’s local and shows up at games frequently when his schedule allows. He even throws on the roach costume from time-to-time and surprises fans during the team’s traditional fifth inning “Roach Run” contest. He’s also got a shop downtown called Bubba’s Sweet Spot that you’ve got to stop at if you’re ever in town and looking for a snack.
Last season, Buccaneers great Derrick Brooks also joined the team as a minority owner.
The original owners, Quint and Rishy Studer are still majority owners of the team. They’re incredible. They’ve done substantial work nationwide in healthcare, early brain development, and city revitalization. Today, the Studer Family of Companies includes the Blue Wahoos, real estate projects, numerous downtown shops, the Studer Family Institute, the Studer Foundation, and more.
TD: How did the city as well as the stadium survive and handle the recent hurricane?
DV: I was back home in Minnesota in the interview process when the hurricane hit. Pensacola was extremely fortunate as a city to sustain almost no damage.
TD: Twins fans will want to know, are Blue Wahoo games available online, TV and/or radio?
DV: All Blue Wahoos home games and nearly every road game (I believe only one team in the league doesn’t broadcast) will be on MiLB.TV! Games are also shown on Cox Sports for fans with the Cox Sports Package and can be found on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on BlabTV.com
Every game is also on the radio with all broadcasts
TD: What is the excitement level of the front office, but also of the fan base in Pensacola?
DV: It’s a big change to move from the only organization the team and the city have ever known to a new affiliate! But, we’re lucky to be moving from one great organization to another. As a front office, I know we’re excited by the Twins commitment to being involved with the Blue Wahoos as a baseball team and as a business.
From a baseball perspective, I think it’s definitely difficult to take a look at the Twins top prospect list and not get excited. There’s a good chance, in my opinion, we see the Twins #1, 2, and 3 prospects on the field in Pensacola at some point during the 2019. Having watched Fort Myers win the Florida State League Championship last year, it’s pretty exciting knowing a championship-level team is on its way up to you.
TD: The Blue Wahoos could be the home of some of the organization's biggest prospects at points throughout the 2019 season. There must be some excitement in that thought.
DV: Speaking as a Twins fan, absolutely. Working in the FSL last year, I drove to Bradenton and Lakeland and even as far as Fort Myers itself to catch Miracle games when I had nights off with the Blue Jays. It’s not often anyone will drive four hours to watch a minor league ball game, but with the talent they had there at the end of last season, it was well worth it. Lewis, Kirilloff, Graterol, Alcala, Arraez, Diaz, Blankenhorn, Rortvedt, Jax, Wells, Grzelakowski…so many good players have a good shot at being in Pensacola during the 2019 season. And I know I’m leaving off names and not even considering that loaded class at Cedar Rapids that has a chance to excel and move up through Fort Myers. Twins fans should definitely keep an eye firmly on Pensacola this season.
TD Merchandise. Where can Twins fans go to add to their collections or Twins minor league affiliate merchandise by ordering some Blue Wahoo hats, t-shirts and more?
DV: Hit up our online store! The timing couldn’t be better because we’re doing 30% off EVERYTHING this weekend, Black Friday through Cyber Monday, with the promo code KAZOO30. My personal favorite is the P-Hook Cap. I’m thinking I’ll probably just buy a stack of them and anyone who would have received a real Christmas present from me this year will get one.
A huge Thank You to Daniel Venn for helping us Get to Know him and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Please feel free to leave comments and ask questions below.
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