Pensacola Set To Make Splash With New Facility

PENSACOLA, Fla.—Bruce Baldwin’s daily lineup card is affixed on a magnetic board behind his office desk.

On it, a neatly written to-do list with consideration for any curveball thrown his way.

Baldwin, president of the Pensacola Professional Baseball ownership group that is scheduled to unveil a new franchise in the Double-A Southern League in 2012, has maintained this approach for each of the six teams he has overseen.

“It’s my road map on what we need to do,” said Baldwin, who spent more than 30 years in the Braves organization, working as a general manager or adviser at six different affiliates. “It’s a deep checklist. There are 33 items and close to 700 things that have to happen.

“But to me, this is exciting. This is fun.”

Lured from semi-retirement after serving 23 years as GM of the Richmond Braves and overseeing the club’s move to the Atlanta suburbs in Gwinnett County in 2009, Baldwin was hired a year ago by team owner Quint Studer. His role is being the point man in a transition that will bring the Carolina Mudcats into Pensacola’s new Community Maritime Park. (The Carolina League’s Kinston Indians will move to Zebulon, N.C., to replace the Southern League Mudcats, who will keep the same name but drop down a level.)

“Bruce has been doing this for so long and he has so many connections. We’re just so lucky to have him,” said Studer, the Pensacola business owner who operated the independent league Pensacola Pelicans from 2002 through last season. “He absolutely knows how to do this and it lets me step back and have him run the day-to-day operations of the team.”

There’s a lot to handle, of course.

On top of supervising the transfer and renaming of the team, local marketing, ticket selling and sponsorship for the team, Baldwin also is the team’s liaison for construction of the new downtown, waterfront stadium.

And the clock is ticking.

Opening Day for the 2012 season is now less than a year away. The stadium portion of the $52 million project is supposed to be completed by Dec. 31. That is the contractual agreement with the two construction companies handling the project. Everyone involved assures it will be finished in time for the start of next season.

Plans Change

The stadium project, however, changed its original design of 3,500 capacity into a 5,000- or 5,500-seat facility in order to meet Minor League Baseball requirements for Double-A teams. There have been numerous other alterations to the blueprints that have challenged both construction firms.

“In our business, the one constant in construction is change,” Magi vice president Matt White said. “But this is not unlike anything else.”

Pensacola’s ballpark, part of a redevelopment project first approved by voters in 2006, has taken several twists and turns through the planning stages until now.

“Everything is on schedule,” said Baldwin, who began working in minor league baseball in 1982 with the Pulaski Braves in the Appalachian League. “There will be glitches. There will be bumps. That will happen. It’s almost like raising your children. The ballpark is an evolutionary process.”

Studer took over ownership of the Mudcats after purchasing the team last December from Steve Bryant, who holds a management agreement to operate the team as usual this season. Part of that agreement stipulates that if Pensacola’s ballpark is not ready for use next season, the Mudcats would remain in Carolina for 2012. In turn, Kinston (which Bryant currently owns but has a similar operating agreement with previous owner Cam McRae) would stay put as well.

“No one wants that to happen,” Studer said.

When completed, Pensacola will have the only waterfront ballpark in Florida. None of the Florida State League affiliates, nor any of the state’s spring training complexes were located on the water.

“This will be spectacular,” he said. “Name one ballpark like this one? San Francisco, maybe. But there isn’t another one that compares to this one.”

“People will be amazed,” Baldwin said. “Six years ago, I first saw that property. Fast-forward to today. It’s awesome.”

It makes that checklist in his office seem easier to handle.

Bill Vilona is a sports columnist for the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal