Just a few weeks before the Richmond Flying Squirrels' 2011 home opener, this poll appeared on the team's website:
What aspect of Opening Day are you looking forward to the most?
A. James Farrior
B. Nutzy Sky Diving
C. Stilt Walkers and Face Painters
I don't think there can be any question that B is the right answer, but it can't be entirely overlooked that there is no option E: Baseball.
What this little poll shows us is that Richmond fans and its baseball organization finally are on the same page: We don't care about the baseball.
I'm sure the Squirrels organization would officially protest, and so might you as fans, but I give all the credit in the world to this new team for really getting it right.
For Richmonders, when it comes to team devotion, it is all about college teams. That's where the diehards' hearts truly are. Sure, people love their pro football teams as well, but baseball for us is more about having a good time, which is something the Richmond Braves never really seemed to figure out. We had no idea if they were winning, losing, first place, last place because they bored us out of our skulls.
Then Nutzy flew into town (and boy, were his patagia tired). A ripped, caped, tailless super-hero squirrel who injected new life into the Diamond through true random weirdness. There was Tattoo Night. Awful Night. Alligator Wrestling Night. And of course, Will It Fly Night, during which bizarre items including frozen turkeys (reminiscent of WKRP in Cincinnati's infamous turkey drop) were dropped out of a helicopter. Suddenly, going to the Diamond was fun. Or in this case, funn, as it is spelled by the Squirrels. I guess one N just can't contain it.
This year, the Squirrels seem to be raising the ante on oddball promotions: One night will attempt to break a world record for high-fiving. This month, there will be a (in my opinion, long-overdue) Tribute to Bacon night.
But what really has me excited about this season is the unabashed pandering of the team to people of a certain age. People like me. Making celebrity appearances will be Erik "Ponch" Estrada, George "The Animal" Steele and Saved by the Bell's Mr. Belding, who I am sure possesses a real-life name — but who cares what it is? Even Happy Days' Potsie, Anson Williams himself, was at the Diamond on April 26.
That's huge for me. I had Fonzie socks.
More, bigger, weirder, zanier is the new normal at the Diamond. Last year, there were 16 fireworks games. This year there are 21. Last year, we just had Nutzy. This year we have his new acorn sidekick, Zinger.
And there's also the too-cute-for-words rally pig, Parker. I have no idea who or what he is rallying, but does it really matter?
Not in the least. This wacky approach to baseball in Richmond seems like just the ticket. Last year, in its inaugural season, the Squirrels made the top 20 in minor-league baseball attendance, averaging 6,626 per game. Our old Braves team, now in Gwinnett County, Ga., was not even close, averaging just 4,817.
I can just see the old Braves, still worrying about ground balls and pop flies and ERAs and such. But here in Richmond, our attention will be squarely where it belongs: on muscle-bound Nutzy and the people on the first-base line dressed as buns, pickles, meat and cheese attempting to make a human hamburger.
Now that's baseball.