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Baseball returns to Richmond’s Diamond — but for how long?

Opening Night for the Richmond Flying Squirrels is a huge success, with a huge crowd happily queuing up for $2 hot dogs and Yuengling beer. But success may turn out to be a mixed blessing, as many of the locals we meet in the stands acknowledge The Diamond in its current configuration as a temporary solution; they're bracing themselves for the inevitable battles over a new or renovated ballpark.A couple of million dollars doesn’t go as far as it once did, apparently.

The Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) opened their home history at The Diamond, the former home of the Richmond Braves (Class AAA; International League), who relocated to Georgia’s Gwinnett County at the end of the 2008 season. The Diamond sat empty for a year while local officials and Minor League Baseball decided on a lease and the team moving to the city.

Lou DiBella and his Connecticut Defenders won the honor and set up shop in the Virginia capital in the offseason. Along the way, DiBella assembled a pretty impressive front office — Chuck Domino, Todd “Parney” Parnell and Bill Papierniak, all successes at various levels of minor-league ball — who set out to pump some old life into what had become a run-down facility, spending almost $2 million in the process.

If Opening Night is any indication, they succeeded. Richmond has always been a great baseball town, and as recently as July 2007 the Braves brought huge crowds (12,699) through the Diamond turnstiles. The Richmond Flying Squirrels won’t be attracting crowds like that anytime soon: the team made the decision to decrease the capacity of the park to 9,560 by changing the lower-bowl configuration and putting huge banners over the last ten rows of the ballpark — certainly the worst seats in the house, and a tactic not unheard-of in baseball (both the Oakland Athletics and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees did the same thing in recent years).