Following last month’s news that regional talks on a new minor-league baseball stadium are underway, with a site to be determined by year’s end, the Richmond Flying Squirrels just may enter 2016 having achieved a seemingly impossible goal — a clear plan for a new ballpark. After decades spent covering the quixotic quest for a new stadium in Richmond, we’re a little exhausted by the dickering, to be honest. A glance at the AAA Richmond Braves’ relocation to Georgia — their new stadium cost $19 million more than expected and still isn’t paying for itself, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — reinforces the wisdom that such projects often fail to produce a decent return on public dollars.
That said, it would be a shame if we ever lost the Squirrels.
Many Richmonders respond to that possibility by pointing out the Squirrels arrived soon after the Braves left in 2009 and we can get another team again. But that ignores the fact that despite playing at AA level, the Squirrels have been a major upgrade: Game-day promotions have been turned up to 11; the fireworks are more frequent (and with news the Boulevard is off the table for a new stadium, North Side dogs win, too); the team’s community outreach is significant; and, while we appreciated Diamond Duck’s slow-footed charm, now we have five mascots — including a superhero squirrel who has made us regret our snarky dismissal before we saw him leaping around the Diamond and captivating fans of all ages.
Squirrels’ owner Lou DiBella expressed his frustration in June via an open letter to the community. Referencing the millions used to lure the Redskins, the UCI Road World Championships and Stone Brewing, DiBella wrote, “It seems that the vigor of attracting something new to Richmond takes precedence over a genuine, good faith commitment to keep what is already working here.”
Regional talks are a great first step toward renewing that commitment, but we’d be fools to predict the future of baseball in Richmond. One thing is undeniable: The Flying Squirrels are already working. In appreciation, we’re picking our boys of summer as August’s Richmonders of the Month.