In celebration of Black History Month, throughout the month of February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club.
While some of these standout performers went on long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great Minor League careers or, in some cases, one incredible season that went down as “a year for the ages.”
Here is a look at five of the best Black baseball players ever to suit up for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
In the same year he made his major league debut, Didi Gregorius was part of the Blue Wahoos inaugural Opening Day lineup at shortstop on April 5, 2012 in the team’s historic first season at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
After signing an international contract at 18-years-old with the Cincinnati Reds, the Amsterdam, Netherlands native had already built acclaim before arriving to Pensacola.
He began that season as the Reds’ No. 6 prospect by Baseball America and was known for being able to speak eight different languages. He played 81 games for the Blue Wahoos in 2012, captivating Pensacola fans with his defensive wizardry, along with speed on the basepaths.
He batted .279 with 31 RBI for the Blue Wahoos, along with eight triples, 11 doubles and a home run. He was named a Southern League All-Star. He quickly became a fan favorite and often engaged with fans during pregame, along with signing autographs.
Gregorius was elevated to Triple-A Louisville in the second half of 2012 and made his MLB debut with the Reds on Sept. 4, 2012 against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Ironically, he was acquired by the Phillies in 2020 and remains under contract with that team.
When Gregorius was promoted in 2012, Billy Hamilton joined the Blue Wahoos from the Cincinnati Reds’ High-A affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif. for the second half of that season.
When he got to Pensacola, Hamilton was already well on his way to breaking the Minor League Baseball stolen base record. Anticipation and fan interest then grew with every game, each successful stolen base.
History happened on August 21 at Blue Wahoos Stadium against the Montgomery Biscuits when Hamilton recorded his 146th stolen base, breaking the mark set in 1983 by former St. Louis Cardinals star Vince Coleman when he played for former affiliate Macon (Ga.) Redbirds.
Hamilton’s chase and record-setting feat provided the Blue Wahoos with national attention. It gave the team notice on ESPN and MLB Network and other national media outlets.
Hamilton, a second-round pick by the Reds in 2009 from Taylorsville, Miss., finished with 155 stolen bases in 2012, including 51 with the Blue Wahoos. He played 50 games for Pensacola, batting .286 with five triples, four doubles and one home run that was an all-time memorable inside-the-park HR during a Sunday home game at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
He then returned to loud ovations in 2015 for three games, while on a injury rehab assignment with the Reds.
After joining the Blue Wahoos in the second half of the 2015 season, Philip Ervin helped the team make its first post-season appearance under first-year manager Pat Kelly.
The following year, Ervin played 123 games as a versatile outfielder and was a big part of why the Blue Wahoos attained their first winning season in franchise history. He was a key part of the team that won both half-season, division titles in the Southern League before losing in the playoffs.
Ervin, who was the Cincinnati Reds’ first round selection in 2013, collected 100 hits with 45 RBI in 2016 with 13 home runs. He also stole 36 bases. The games he played often had a family contingent of fans. He grew up in Leroy, Alabama, a tiny town 55 miles north of Mobile and played three sports – football, basketball and baseball – at his high school.
During his career at Samford, he was named the MVP of the Cape Cod League, following his sophomore year in 2012. He began 2013 as a preseason All-American and MVP of the Southern Conference.
Ervin made his MLB debut in 2017 with the Reds and played four seasons in the big leagues.
As part of the Blue Wahoos talented starting rotation in 2016, Garrett put together one of the best years by a pitcher in team history.
Chosen by the Reds in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft out of St. John’s University, the left-handed hurler from Victorville, Calif. rapidly progressed in 2016 to become the Reds Minor League Pitcher of the year, as well as a Southern League All-Star for the Blue Wahoos.
Garrett, a 6-foot-5, former basketball player at St. John’s, compiled a 5-3 record in 12 starts for the Blue Wahoos, but he allowed just 20 runs in that span with only 15 earned runs. He did not allow a home run in any appearance. His 1.75 earned run average with the Blue Wahoos led all Reds’ minor league pitchers that season.
He played in the Sirius-XM Futures Game after being promoted to Triple-A Louisville on June 17 that season. He threw two hitless innings in the game.
Garrett made his MLB debut in 2017 and figures to again be part of the Reds starting rotation in 2022.
The Blue Wahoos championship season in 2017 included outfielder Shed Long, who then returned in 2018 to have a big year in the team’s final season as a Cincinnati Reds affiliate.
Long, a Birmingham native, was a 12th round selection by the Reds in 2013. He bypassed a potential college football career to play professional baseball. In 2018, Long batted a team-high .261 in 126 games and his 56 RBI were second-best. He was a Southern League All Star selection that year.
He finished the season leading the Blue Wahoos with most at-bats, runs scored (75), hits (118), doubles (22), triples (5) total bases and walks (57). His 19 steals tied for team best.
Following the 2018 season in Pensacola, Long became an Arizona Fall League All-Star. He was then traded by the Reds to the Seattle Mariners in a three-team deal with the New York Yankees.
After spending parts of the past three seasons in the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners, where Long made his MLB Debut in 2019, he is now a free agent.