The next notch
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.