Pirate Field – Pensacola State College Pirates
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The Pirates of Pensacola
Pensacola State College opened its door in 1948 as Pensacola Junior College, the first college of any kind in Pensacola. PSC is the largest college in west Florida with 36,000 students and 21,000 of those being undergrads. In 2010 the college began operating as a four-year university and began offering bachelor’s degrees. As a result, it changed its name to Pensacola State College to reflect these changes. However, even though PSC is now a four-year university, its athletic programs still compete on the Junior College level.
The Pirates currently compete in the NJCAA Panhandle Conference for all sports – the conference currently has five teams that compete in the panhandle area of Florida; PSC, Northwest Florida State College, Gulf Coast State College, Chipola College, and Tallahassee Community College. The conference has produced a ton of successful ballplayers such as Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Buck Showalter, Adam Duvall, and Don Sutton, with most of them playing at Chipola College, the team the Pirates played on the last night I attended.
Pirate Field opened its doors in 2000 and is a very simple, pleasant ballpark of about 1,000 seats located right across the street from Pensacola International Airport. With its single grandstand, brick façade, and palm trees located out front, the inviting stadium sits nicely tucked away in the corner of campus. Though Pirate Field is a JUCO level stadium, the field does have some professional history as the independent Pensacola Pelicans competed here for one season in 2002. The Pelicans were a charter member of the Southeastern League from 2002 until the league folded in 2003, after which they joined American Association of Independent Baseball. By this point, the Pelicans would be long gone from tiny Pirate Field, as they relocated a few miles north to the campus of the University of West Florida.
The Pelicans were a huge success during the one season they played at PSC, as the Pensacola area previously had not hosted professional baseball since the 1962 season, so fans were hungry for baseball again, and it showed during the lone season the Pelicans played here. The team led the league in attendance, had the best record, and won the league’s inaugural championship. The Pelicans were so popular with the city that they needed a new ballpark ASAP to accommodate the need for baseball in this town. The Pelicans would pack their bags and head north of the city where they would continue to replicate their success for the next 8 years.
Food and Beverage 2
There is one main concession stand in the ballpark and prices are reasonable – prices range from hamburgers and nachos ($4) to hot dogs ($3), popcorn ($2), and candy ($1). Coke is the primary soft drink provider, and 24oz. bottled sodas are available for $2, with bottled water at $1. One thing I did notice was the popcorn was Act II brand popped in a microwave and served in a bag just like you would at your house. But with 36,000 students enrolled at the school, you would think they would be able to afford a popcorn machine or at least serve it a container or bowl like you would get at a regular sporting event or a movie theatre.
Pirate Field has a very simple relaxed atmosphere, typical to the one you would find at a high school baseball game. The stadium consists of a single basic grandstand that faces southeast. There is one main entrance to the right of the grandstand, with concessions on that side and several picnic tables as well. To the left of the grandstand is where the restrooms are located, as well as some more picnic tables. Left field contains a basic scoreboard that has the score and not much more.
The most interesting feature of the ballpark is its location, as it is located directly across the street from the airport. Pensacola International Airport just expanded several years ago to become an International Airport, so that means bigger planes fly in and out at various times during the game. In centerfield, palm trees and the airport’s huge parking garage provide the backdrop for Pirate Field, and from left field you can get a really good glimpse of the runway and the infamous huge UPS jet that sits just beyond the left field wall – the jet has been sitting there providing views at Pirate Field dating back to the Pelicans’ days.
Another interesting feature of Pirate Field is that the infield is clay, but the base paths from home plate to first and third are just grass. There is also music being played between innings, but no PA announcer announcing the lineup or anything – if they are going to go through the trouble of playing music, at least have a public address announcer or something.
As mentioned the campus is located directly across the street from the airport, so there are plenty of restaurants and lodging available in the immediate area. Immediately across the street to the south is Cordova Mall, the largest indoor shopping center in western Florida. Chain stores include Dick’s, Best Buy, Dillard’s, and Belk, and you can also find just about any typical mall store inside. In addition, outside the mall in the parking lot, you can find Panera Bread, Red Robin, Zoe’s Kitchen, Steak ‘n Shake, Chili’s, Red Lobster, Newk’s, Firehouse Subs, and Moe’s. A restaurant I recommend in the Cordova Mall parking lot is BJ’s Brewhouse – BJ’s is a typical bar food set up that brews its own beer inside the restaurant and has over 60 beers on tap.
In addition to the mall, if you go down the main road through the 9th Street area you can find every typical chain restaurant found in most decent sized cities. There is a movie theatre and bowling alley located across the street as well, but if you want to experience Pensacola’s nightlife at its best then take a 15-minute drive south to Seville Quarter. This area, which is modeled after New Orleans’ French Quarter, has many different bars and restaurants and is Pensacola’s main nightlife spot – just go all the way down 9th Street to Main, and Seville Quarter is just west of there.
For this level of JUCO baseball, you are only going to get a couple of hundred fans in attendance, as the ballpark can only hold 1000 fans – at the most recent game, I attended there were only about 200 fans in attendance, with maybe 100 people sitting in the bleachers scattered about in different groups. Fans seemed engaged in the game and it seemed like most of the people were either affiliated with the college or relatives of the players, as most of the players are from Florida.
On this particular afternoon, the Pirates played Chipola College, a storied baseball program from nearby Marianna, and Chipola had a decent amount of supporters who made the short ride over. There is a walkway that separates the bleacher seating from the field, and I saw several scouts as well as several coaches from various local college programs set up in lawn chairs sitting there. All in all, the atmosphere is very relaxed here, and fans are quiet yet knowledgeable of the program and the players.
Depending on which way you are coming to PSC determines whether the access is convenient or not. The campus is located on the northeast side of the city just south of I-10, so if coming from the east or west I-10 will be your best bet. Just take the Davis Highway, which is one of the main highways in Pensacola; the campus is located a couple of blocks east of that roadway.
Things can be a bit more difficult if coming from the downtown area, as traffic can be terrible depending on what time of day it is. Just take I-110 to the Brent Lane exit and the campus is located just off 9th Street; though the campus is only about 8 miles from downtown, with traffic taken into consideration the drive could be a lot longer.
If flying in from out of town, the campus is conveniently located directly across the street from the airport – you could fly into Pensacola and walk across the street and be there in less than 5 minutes. PSC is mostly a commuter school, however, so although there 36,000 students enrolled, it doesn’t mean the campus is so large that it’s difficult to find your way to the stadium. There is a lot of construction currently going on around campus, so certain roads and some parking lots tend to be blocked off, but finding Pirate Field shouldn’t be too difficult; the ballpark is on the northeast side of campus on the corner of Tippin Avenue and Underwood Street.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets are free, parking is free, concessions are cheap, and you get to see some of the top amateur baseball players in the state of Florida before they make it big. If you’re lucky, you can always say you got to see the next Jose Bautista or Don Sutton before they made it to the big leagues.
One extra for the airport being located right across the street and providing the backdrop to Pirate Field; if you go to the top of the grandstand you can get a good view of the runways beyond left field. Games here even have to be stopped for a few minutes occasionally to accommodate the noise when a plane flies into the airport.
Another extra for the success that Pirate Field experienced during the 2002 season when the Pelicans began to n play. Though independent baseball is not exactly the hottest ticket in town, the Pelicans brought in a loyal fanbase and packed the tiny stadium. Though it would take ten additional years, that one season showed that Pensacolians are excited about professional baseball being brought back to the city, which eventually led to affiliated baseball returning during the 2012 season.
Midway through the 2002 seas, on the Pelicans were purchased by businessman Quint Studer – Studer was originally from Illinois, but relocated to Pensacola in the 1990s to work as a health care consultant at a nearby hospital. Studer become a prominent figure in the Pensacola community, as he is known for running numerous non-profit groups and making many charitable efforts over the years, but he was also the one who brought affiliated baseball back to the city. In 2012 he purchased the Carolina Mudcats and relocated them to Pensacola to become the Blue Wahoos (as part of this deal, Studer had to facilitate the Kinston Indians moving to Zebulon, NC to replace the Carolina Mudcats; the Indians ended up taking over the Mudcats name).
The Wahoos have won Minor League Baseball’s Organization of the Year award three times in their seven-year existence, and in addition, Blue Wahoos Stadium, a three-time recipient of the Southern League’s Ballpark of Year, has consistently been ranked as one of the premiere minor league ballparks in the country; all of this simply because the Pelicans lone season here at Pirate Field laid the foundation for the team that would call the city home ten years later. Without that one season here, perhaps the Blue Wahoos wouldn’t even be here today.
Pirate Field is a very pleasant ballpark to watch a baseball game at, serving its purpose quite well. It’s not a bucket list ballpark you must visit by any means, but if you are in the area and want to catch a baseball game for free in a former minor league ballpark, than I recommend a trip to Pirate Field.
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