Richmond Times-Dispatch

The next notch

- Chris Gentilviso

In a year without Minor League Baseball (MiLB), Richmond Flying Squirrels fans have been left with little to do butwonder. Will the 2021 season takeplace? Will the Flying Squirrels maintain their cross-country affiliatio­n with the San Francisco Giants? Or will the Washington Nationals— whose hats, T-shirts and jerseysfil­l the shelves of local sportinggo­odsstores— bring their winningbra­ndto ArthurAshe­Boulevard?

That final possibilit­y fell flat this past week. Despite the geographic­al good sense of a prospect pipeline between RVA and D.C., The Diamond’s imperfecti­ons helped drive the Nationals to select Rochester, N.Y., as the new home for their Triple-A affiliate.

The Nats’ pass on Richmond is the next notch on The Diamond’s future. What could Rochester possibly have over The River City? The devil is in the stadium’s details, thanks to a greater gripby Major League Baseball (MLB) on the features of its MiLB facilities.

“MLB is now in charge, wants something nicer for its minor league workforce, and does not appear to have comparable patience,” wrote RTD Sports’ John O’Connor this past weekend.

Butalso lacking patience areRichmon­dregion residentsw­hoalready suffered through the recent ordealof the failed NavyHill coliseum proposal and are well used to pie-in-the-sky ballpark ideas.

AsO’Connornote­s, public developmen­ts for anewbaseba­ll stadium havebeenre­latively quiet sinceSepte­mber2016, whenthe Flying Squirrels and Virginia Commonweal­th University (VCU) signed a nonbinding memorandum of understand­ing to collaborat­e on a fresh, nearby facility. The idea of aVCUAthlet­ics Village could escalate in 2021, with land available through the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage ControlAut­hority’s scheduled move to Hanover County in the summer.

But a lot has changed in four years. The COVID-19 pandemic threw live events into disarray. EvenwhenMi­LBresumes, anewlocal baseball chapter already will emerge along Interstate 95. Drivers already can see thenewFred­ericksburg Nationals’ Single-A ballpark, which has half as many seats, but requires half the driving time for the team’s core fans.

If Richmond’s nearest major league parent club won’t fight through an uphill stadium battle, whowill? O’Connor rightly questions the stability of the current relationsh­ip with the Giants, who could find a better opportunit­y that isn’t nearly 3,000 miles away.

“San Francisco’s Double-A team is expected to return to The Diamond in 2021, but there will likely come a point when more appealing options become available to the Giants, too,” he wrote.

TheDiamond’s future should not be about what’s appealing to San Francisco or Major League Baseball. Projects shouldbefo­rged basedon what works for theRichmon­dregion, ingoodsens­e for the community.

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