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The History of Pensacola Baseball

The History of Pensacola Baseball

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Pensacola baseball has a rich history dating back to the early 1800s. From spring training camps to the establishment of minor league teams, baseball continues to unite the Pensacola community.

“It’s a baseball town… was, is, and will be.”

There is a lot of history in the communal love of sport. In its purest form, this shared interest is love – a mutual thing from which to build a community. With many new generations coming up in baseball along the Florida panhandle – sharing formative moments watching the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in their new park in downtown Pensacola or playing in local leagues – now is the perfect time to look a little deeper into the professional and cultural roots that established the sport so determinedly throughout northwest Florida.

“The whole area has always been dedicated to baseball,” said Scott Brown, local sportswriter and author of the book Baseball in Pensacola: America’s Pastime & the City of Five Flags, when asked about the nature of Pensacola’s relationship with the sport and famed national pastime. According to Brown, even when the sport first emerged in the country during the late 1800s, the Pensacola area was on the cusp of national interest. Spring training sites sprung up in the area during the latter part of the century and continued to flourish through the 1900s, with nationally ranked teams coming south for warm weather, friendly faces, and good city play. Northern teams could face off against military and industrial clubs along the Gulf Coast – unrestricted by inclement weather during the winter months. While in Pensacola droves of excited fans, and a city hungry for more, and better, competition greeted players.

The Pensacola Snappers

The Pensacola Snappers, considered the first real taste of what would become the Minor League presence in the region, formed in the early 1910s. Officially part of the Cotton State League, the team played many games near Star Lake in southern Pensacola. The 20s, 30s & 40s saw many large clubs set up shop bringing legends such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gerig to the area for solid spring training and spirited play. The Flyers – later reformed as the Pilots – continued to play through the end of World War II before finally settling in as the Pensacola Fliers. As the Fliers, the team went on to win three league championships and faced off against Major League hitters such as the Brooklyn Robins and the New York Giants during training games.

The Pensacola Senators

In the early 60s, the sport underwent a few odd years with the establishment of the Senators (an affiliate of the Washington Senators) with players wearing hand-me-down Washington uniforms and the near-miss of losing a Minor League connection. “In 1963, there wasn’t a team, and a lot of people were afraid there wouldn’t be another,” said Brown of an uncertain time in Pensacola baseball history. Later that same year, the A’s set up in the area for spring training with their minor league affiliates often playing at Admiral Mason Park. It was like no one had even missed a beat.

The Seagulls

“During much of this time, none of the leagues were integrated,” Brown said of the sport during the days of segregation, “but there was just as much of a turnout for negro league games — especially for teams like the Seagulls.” The Seagulls, perhaps the most illustrious African American team in the area, played nationally amongst the negro leagues of their day, same as their white contemporaries. The team is even known to have played against Jackie Robinson during one of their many games at Legion Field.

In research for his book, Brown recalled interviewing the wife of former Seagulls player, William “Pit” Bell. Bell talked of long, cross-country bus trips to places like San Francisco, and being “treated like royalty” in a time when the national norm was that of segregation and division. While a good deal is known about teams like the Seagulls, Brown admitted that exploring the history of negro leagues and black involvement in Pensacola baseball was difficult due to lack of official documentation and a lack of family records from the era.

Baseball Unites the Pensacola Community

Off the field, much of Pensacola’s baseball history can be summarized much more personally:

“So many interviews would start about a game at Legion Field or Admiral Mason Park – teams, scores, and everything – to end in talk of family, the meeting of husbands, wives, life-long friendships made in the stands — a real feeling of shared time,” Brown said of the experience of documenting the history of Pensacola baseball.

“Baseball brings people together… and the town turns out.”

Well over a hundred years since the first industrial and military clubs started up play in the area, Pensacola remains hungry for more games, more competition, and more time in the stands.

“It’s a baseball town… was, is, and will be.”

Coastal Lifestyle Magazine.
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