2020 Freitas Awards: Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Double-A)

When Quint Studer joined affiliated baseball in 2012, he thought about the Freitas Award as a measuring stick for the important work his organization was doing in creating a healthy work environment and helping its community.

Eight years later, that thought has come to fruition. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the Double-A affiliate of the Twins, are the Double-A Freitas Award winner thanks to their commitment to caring for their community and the loyalty they’ve shown to their staff.

Pensacola maintained all 24 full-time workers during the coronavirus pandemic, a time when many businesses have had to furlough employees out of financial necessity.

“We’re very excited about that,” said Studer, whose ownership group Studer Entertainment & Retail owns the Blue Wahoos and Beloit Snappers. “I had an independent team for nine years, so when we got into affiliated baseball, not that you want to search for awards, but you sure want to look at the criteria, because whether you win the award or not, you still want to strive for certain criteria.”

It wasn’t always so clear that the Blue Wahoos would be in this position. When Studer, his wife, Rishy, and team president Jonathan Griffith drove to Wisconsin in a motor home earlier this year, it gave them time to think about the organization’s future, and it provided them clarity on the road ahead.

The three went through all four financial scenarios before making the decision to choose the plan that was most in line with their commitment to the community.

“We said, ‘Our mission is to improve the quality of life for the community. We don’t think laying off 24, 20 or 16 people is going to help us fulfill our mission. In fact, it’s not going to help us fulfill our mission,’ ” Quint Studer said. “So if we decide to keep everyone, what can we do to enhance the mission?”

The ideas they came up with ranged from holding movie nights at Blue Wahoos Stadium to having a Father’s Day event to turning the ballpark into an Airbnb—an operation that was immensely popular and received attention from Baseball America and other outlets.

To come up with those ideas, they changed the structure of their operation, from one centered around baseball operations to an event-service business, putting about one-third of their employees in charge of the Airbnb operation and loaning other workers out to not-for-profit organizations to help around the community. Employees have logged more than 660 hours of community service as of Nov. 17.

Staff members maintained the Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola, Fla., took care of parks in lower-income communities, helped season-ticket holders who had property damage stemming from Hurricane Sally—a Category 2 storm that made landfall in mid- September—and engaged in community cleanups stemming from the storm.

For the Studers, it was about showing their employees the same loyalty that their employees had shown them by ensuring they had a way to make a living doing something they enjoyed during a time of economic crisis in the U.S.

And though the last games of the minor league season typically are played during Labor Day weekend, the community-driven approach did not end in September.

Blue Wahoos employees volunteered at polling places for the general election, hosted 400 Marines at the stadium for the 245th birthday of the Marine Corps in mid-November and turned their focus to the holiday season by helping serve holiday meals for members of the community.

In the process of fulfilling its mission statement, the Pensacola franchise has given back to its community, something it has strove to do every year since opening its doors in April 2012.

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