A Master Class in Location: Fetterman Field ranks among MiLB bests


In their 10th season of existence, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos call Admiral Fetterman Field at Community Maritime Park their waterfront home. On the water in downtown Pensacola, Fetterman Field is among the most picturesque venues in all of Minor League Baseball, much less Double-A. 

With eclectic branding, a vibrant fanbase, and excellent food options, Fetterman Field is a superb outing for a Floridian night.

History

The organization formerly known as the Carolina Mudcats relocated to Pensacola in 2012. The “wahoo” name was chosen after a contest run in conjunction with the Pensacola News Journal, referring to a species of tropical sport fish that is better known in Hawaii as “Ono.”

The University of Virginia athletic teams also take the name Wahoo as their unofficial moniker, and their students claim that the Wahoo is a type of bass fish that is capable of drinking twice its body weight. A cursory internet search reveals there is simply no evidence for this beyond oral tradition in Charlottesville. But if Cavalier students feel validated in their alcoholism by a mythical, well-hydrated fish, I suppose no one will tell them otherwise. They’re not exactly accustomed to being told they’re wrong.

Previously affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins, the Wahoos entered 2021 as the Miami Marlins’ Double-A affiliate.

Vice Admiral John H. Fetterman, known as the Father of Navy Ethics, retired from service in 1992 and became a prominent civic leader in Pensacola. He died in 2006.

The Neighborhood

Location is half the battle in the making of a good ballpark, and the Wahoos nailed it here.

The cornerstone of a waterside park, Fetterman Field sits on a small, peninsular plot in the Pensacola Bay. It cost just under $24 million in construction and opened in 2012. Behind the field is the Hunter Amphitheater, the stage of which is visible from home plate beyond the right field fence.

The park borders Main Street and sits just blocks away from downtown Pensacola.

Where to Sit

Seldom are there ever bad seats in a minor league stadium, as small as they generally are. But that’s truer than ever at Fetterman Field. If you sit on the left side of the infield, you’ll have the Pensacola Bay in your view. On the right side of the infield, you’ll see parts of downtown Pensacola and whatever yachts are docked in the adjacent harbor.

Pensacola uses the same naming convention you’ll find at many minor league parks–their main seats are labeled either “Box” or “Reserved,” which neither mean you’ll be sitting in a box nor are they reserved for anyone in particular; they’re simply titles to differentiate pricing based on proximity to the field.

I attended a Thursday night game in May and sat in the back of section 100, directly behind home plate. It was quite well-attended, especially for a weeknight. Although I do suppose Thursday counts as a weekend evening on the Florida coast. 

Behind each section is a standing-room bar for anyone to post up with food or beverages on the concourse. That density of people, both in the section and behind, created a noisy vibe, the likes of which I’ve seldom experiened in the minor leagues.

It was exciting, for sure, but if you prefer a more serene experience, sitting farther down the lines might be your speed. There’s also a grass berm in right field, called the Hill-Kelly Hill, which is accessible with a cheap, standing-room only ticket. 

Down the right field line, just beyond the foul pole might be the best spot in the park. High top dining tables are set up on what is effectively a home run porch, free for anyone to use. It’s one of the only vantage points with a field view unobscured by the protective netting, which extends all the way to each foul pole. With the gulf breeze from behind you and just the outfield in front, it’s as peaceful a vista as there is in baseball.

As of 2021, pricing fluctuates between Sunday through Thursday games and Friday and Saturday Games. During the week, the standing room only tickets run between $8-10 and the Box Seats run around $15 with the Reserve Seats somewhere in the middle. Prices increase by about $2 for the weekend games.

There are several party decks and clubs available for a group outing. 

The Coors Light Cold Zone is down the right field line in fair, home run territory. 

The Winn Dixie Party Deck is adjacent, but on the right field foul line on the infield side of the pole.

The Hancock Whitney Club is a second deck above the third-base side seats. It provides the best sightlines into the water. 

And along the left field line, behind section 117, is the Dignity Deck. It is sponsored by a funeral home, which is, I suppose, why it’s not called a party deck.


What to Eat

Any variety of food in the minor leagues beyond normal ballpark fare is a win in my book. It helps make places like Prince George’s Stadium bad, Frawley Stadium fairly good, and Fetterman Field excellent.

I had tacos from Casa de Kazoo, which I can only imagine is Spanish for “house of duck-like noisemakers.” They were nothing compared to my Mexican taste developed in Texas, but certainly a welcome option beyond charred grill meat. Next to Kazoo on the first base side is the Wheelhouse Diner, which offers chili atop burgers and dogs. They also boast “old fashioned” milkshakes. But unless they’re giving you the silver cup on the side, I don’t think they’re worthy of the name.

What’s nice though, and indicative that the team understands its audience, is that there are concession stands on both sides of the field that offer ice cream. Nothing is less convenient than having to walk around the entire stadium just to find a scoop of vanilla.

On the third base side are Fish and Hits–an English pub-style stand with, you guessed it, fish and chips in addition to more traditional options–and Hook, Line & Sinker, offering more Floridian seafood fare.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the Taste of the East cart on the third base side if you have a hankering for fried rice and pot stickers.

Sense of Place

Over the last decade, minor league teams increasingly rebranded themselves with obscure, localized nicknames. The age of the Jumbo Shrimp, Rocket Pandas, and Cannon Ballers was born. It was, in my estimation, the crowning moment at which the teams themselves professed what they, and their fans, had known for generations: people don’t take Minor League Baseball seriously.

Nor should they. For everyone but the players and coaches, the entire experience is a release and a relaxing celebration of American culture–in its array of colors and manifold of expressions. 

The Blue Wahoos understand that assignment.

Excellence in ballparks begins with the urban fabric of the park’s grounds and the natural surroundings that reflect the ecosystem of the greater region. That Fetterman Field is built on the Pensacola Bay, with a harbor in sight, surrounded by a concrete boardwalk, is an absolute mastery of placement that immediately highlights the park as one of the best in MiLB.

Combine that with an iconic team name, bright colors that also reflect the parent club (it helps that the Marlins already have bright colors), and delicious, locally-inspired food options, and you’re sure to attract a passionate fanbase that leaves the park with a memorable gameday experience.

From the looks of the single game I attended: that is indeed the case.

Further, on Thursdays in 2021, the Wahoos embrace their alternate identity (several MiLB teams partake in alternate branding): The Mullets.

A mullet is another fish–a fact that I learned embarrassingly close to gametime after I had assumed the team was named for the stereotypically-bad Florida Man haircut. The team’s logo does in fact showcase a mullet (fish) topped with a mullet (haircut). I suppose the obvious double meaning could not reasonably have been lost on the team.

As the Mullets, Pensacola wears a hot pink hat with a navy blue bill–a color combination that, on paper, is sure to furrow some eyebrows, but in practice looks as good as any Floridian fashion statement there is. So good, in fact, are the hats, that the team store was sold clean out of my size. (Yes, I did intend to buy one).

It helped that the Mullets walked off with a three-run ninth inning comeback at the game I attended, but afterwards I can honestly say it was the most electric minor league atmosphere I’ve experienced. Fetterman Field is certainly a 10/10 recommendation for anyone with a night to spare in Pensacola.

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