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It Happened Here 3/29/12

Minor League Baseball and Waterfront Ballparks, Welcome Back!
By Jessica Forbes

The Blue Wahoos are not the city’s first minor league team. The new team and its stadium are merely the latest chapter in an extensive local baseball history that includes dozens of locally sponsored teams, four minor league clubs, Negro League teams and even an earlier waterfront ballpark.

Baseball fever reached Pensacola in the 1860s and never really left.  Throughout the late 1880s, locals formed teams that were sponsored by its members and local businesses. Games were typically held at local parks, and one in particular, Maxent Park at on the corner of Gregory and G streets, became the site of Pensacola’s first permanent stadium.

In 1928, Maxent Park was reopened as Legion Field after it was renovated to accommodate fans of the Pensacola Fliers, later a club in the Class B Southeastern League. Newspaper reports stated that 5,000 people were expected to attend opening day. The Pensacola Fliers famously played the New York Yankees, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, at Legion Field in 1929, losing 12-2.

Though initially segregated, Legion Field opened to African-American teams in the 1940s. Pensacola’s Pepsi-Cola Stars played against teams in both the Negro National League and the Negro American League. The Pepsi-Colas were one of several African-American teams that formed in Pensacola beginning in the late 1800s.

In 1890, stands were constructed in Kupfrian’s Park for the Onwards, who, along with the Pensacola Giants, were one of the city’s premier teams. Several of the city’s former Negro League teams eventually desegregated and continued playing into the 1970s.

Attendance at Fliers’ games steadily dropped in the late 1940s, despite the team’s winning record.  The team’s last season was 1950, when changing economic realities caused the team to fold. Legion Field is still a city park with a playground and facilities for several sports, including baseball.

In the 1940s, Little League in Pensacola was almost as popular as the adult minor leagues. In 1949, the Pensacola Little League All Star Team played in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. That year, a Little League Park was constructed at Main and Baylen streets. The park was built on a two-thirds scale of a regulation big-league diamond, and amenities included stands, a press box, flagstaff, and concession stand.

In 1957, minor league baseball returned to Pensacola. The city built its first waterfront baseball park, Admiral Mason Park, at the foot of Ninth Avenue. Over the next five years, it hosted three different teams in the Class D Alabama-Florida League: Pensacola Dons, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, 1957-59; Pensacola Angels, a Chicago White Sox franchise, 1960-61; and, Pensacola Senators, a Washington Senators affiliate, 1961-62.

When the major leagues reorganized in 1961, three teams in the Alabama-Southern League refused to desegregate, and the league folded. The Class D designation was dropped from professional baseball the same year.

With no home team, Admiral Mason Park languished and was demolished in the 1970s. The city has developed the 4.2-acre site into the Veterans Memorial Park, and the new Admiral Mason Park. Just down Main Street, the opening of Maritime Park will mark the first time in 50 years that a major league affiliate, the Blue Wahoos, has called Pensacola its home.

Jessica is a Pensacola resident with a Master’s degree in Public History. When she’s not digging up history facts, you can find her at Music Box Pensacola.