19th of Apr | Story

Building from rubble


PENSACOLA, Florida | Bruce Baldwin doesn’t know how to make concrete, but he knows where it goes and how it’s supposed to function, especially in ballparks.

Baldwin is a baseball man. He grew up playing the sport in recreational leagues. He’s been a part of ballpark front offices in Eugene, Oregon; Richmond, Virginia; and Greenville, South Carolina, just to name a few. He’s considered an industry veteran.

He’s also the first president of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, which became the newest team in Minor League Baseball after Quint and Rishy Studer bought the Carolina Mudcats and moved them during the offseason from North Carolina to Florida.

"I’ve been to AT&T Park in San Francisco, and I think it’s spectacular, it’s just awesome. I think mine’s better." - Bruce Baldwin

For nearly two years, Baldwin’s work has been dedicated to building and opening Community Maritime Park. He was there to see its foundation laid, and to hire a staff to run the stadium, and to market the team and ballpark to the community.

But when Baldwin talks, there’s one word he uses more than baseball.


He says things like: “The purpose of this facility is really not about baseball, it’s about community advancement, community economic advancement, as well as quality of life.”

And things like: “Everybody talks about giving back to the community, but we’re in the community all the time.”

With $18 million, Baldwin took 33 acres of dirt and rubble that dotted waterfront property in downtown Pensacola and turned it into a 5,038-seat stadium with a view that people are talking about all over the baseball world. The stadium uses Pensacola Bay as its backdrop and sitting in the stands, fans imagine home runs to left field plopping in the water.

“I think we have the best-looking ballpark,” Baldwin says. “I’ve been to AT&T Park in San Francisco, and I think it’s spectacular, it’s just awesome. I think mine’s better.

“Part of the purpose of the stadium was trying to create an intimacy that no one else has. You take some risks by doing that, you do some things that, traditionally, I don’t like to do, but if you hold true to the idea of community, expansion, growth through economics, you want to bring as many people close to the action as you possibly can.”

Close to the action means visible bullpens along the base lines, berm seating, general admission areas. On days when there are no games, it means a stadium that is open to the public during the mornings and afternoons, public areas around the ballpark for walking and biking, and a facility that establishes downtown cohesiveness.

“I think that we’ve captured the essence of trying to make it uniquely different, yet capturing the essence of intimacy, trying to make it uniquely different and yet accessible and functional,” Baldwin says. “The thing that I always try to tell people is that facilities, they are a living, breathing organism of something. You just have to figure them out, and put them in a place, and then understand how to operate them successfully.”


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On occasion, Baldwin has been accused of running ballparks like they’re Fortune 500 companies. And his answer to them is: Absolutely.

Fans will never find Baldwin in shorts, a polo shirt or sneakers. Nor will they find his staff in the typical minor league attire. “Not on my watch. It will never happen,” Baldwin says. “This is a business, after all. There is an image we need to project.”

Baldwin wears a suit and tie. The receptionist wears a suit. Other staff members wear loose, short-sleeved shirts with khakis or black dress pants.

Baldwin has also implemented core values, a mission statement, thorough interviewing processes and means for professional development. And those don’t just extend to Baldwin and his front office.

The Blue Wahoos had a job fair to hire about 300 game day staff – concessions workers, ushers, janitors – and somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people showed up. The procedure wasn’t as simple as filling out a job application.

One of the rounds included five questions, mainly dealing with customer service. From there, the pool was sliced to about 500 people. Then there was a three-question situational interview where candidates were asked questions by their working peers. Questions like: Tell me a time where you broke the rules and why you did it.

“It helped us a lot with the people we have, because all of the people, after going through that process, one, you knew they really wanted to be there, and two, we had filtered them enough to say these are the best that we can get as far as customer service at this time,” says Jonathan Griffith, executive vice president, who is on his third job under Baldwin’s leadership.

They use surveys every game, asking sections of fans general questions about how their experience was from the box office to the greeters and ushers to the food. Staff can be rewarded based on some of the surveys. The rewards are a lapel pin to wear during games, gift certificates and public recognition.

Of the largest 100 companies in the country, 90 percent have a human component, Baldwin says, and that’s customer service. He teaches his staff to always take care of the customer.

“My goal is to make sure that three, five, 10 years from now, the same enthusiasm is perpetuated throughout the community as it is today,” he says. “Hence, the way we look, the way we act, the way we project ourselves. Everything that we do, there are strict codes of professionalism about them.”


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Purple is Baldwin’s favorite color. It also describes his mentality.

“I like flair, and I like to not necessarily be different. I like to be very respectful, but I like to push the envelope and be very creative,” he says. “I found out through this business I could create and just do stuff that’s different, or a little avante garde, from the sublime to the ridiculous, as long as it had a purpose and it was healthy fun.”

He has dropped a 500-pound block of ice in front of a stadium with a sign that said “Guess When It Melts.” The winner received a vacation to Myrtle Beach. He celebrated Left-Handers Day with a slew of promotions from a lefty pencil to Southpaw beer. And he found a town named Left Hand, West Virginia. Its population was less than 500. He sent buses up and drove the residents to the game. He even let the only town official, the postmaster -- who was actually right handed but was married to a left-hander -- throw out the first pitch.

"Facilities, they are a living, breathing organism of something. You just have to figure them out, and put them in a place, and then understand how to operate them successfully." - Bruce Baldwin

There’s a balance to getting a community to embrace a team and a ballpark. There’s a testing period to understand a community’s receptiveness.

“One of the things I teach is that it is our responsibility to understand our marketplace,” Baldwin says. “Not just to gaze over the top and say, ‘Here I am.’

“It will take a year or two to figure it out, but in the interim, we go everywhere, do everything. Part of it is to be visible, certainly. But part of it is to understand what the town is about.”

Pensacola has clearly embraced the Blue Wahoos.

The team unveiled its new logo on November 18, 2011. They did it downtown, in the middle of the street. Mayor Ashton Hayward introduced the logo as it hung from a store front. That night, about 7,000 people packed downtown for a glimpse of the tenacious-looking fish.

When the team plane landed in town from spring training, almost 400 people showed up to greet them. “That was just fans hearing, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re coming in, they’re on the 3 o’clock bus,’” Griffith says. “When they landed, airport security had to come out and adjust the crowd and make a runway to get the players out of there.”

Seven of the first 10 games were sellouts. On game day, electricity jumps throughout the stadium.

Baldwin originally explored the idea of a new stadium and a new team seven years ago. Hurricane Ivan had just ripped through the city, leaving its infrastructure and its people devastated. After less than a month, Baldwin gave up on the idea.

“I think that, since that period, there needed to be something else to not necessarily bring life, because life was already here, but maybe to highlight the life again to show everybody that this is what the future could look like,” he says. “Embrace it what you will, and then enhance it.”

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason


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