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MiLB squirrelly about new Richmond ballpark

Richmond Flying SquirrelsJoe McEacharn, Pat O’Conner and Chuck Domino all expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of perceived progress toward a new Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) ballpark.

The physical status of The Diamond has been an issue for years now — it was built quickly and cheaply on the old Parker Field site — and it’s come an issue for MLB parents, as San Francisco Giants braintrust apparently expressed displeasure with the player facilities. When MiLB returned to the city after the departure of the Richmond Braves (Class AAA; International League), there was an explicit pledge from city officials to work on a new-ballpark plan.

That was years ago.

On the one hand, the Eastern League and the Flying Squirrels crew — Lou DiBello, Chuck Domino and Todd Parnell — have been incredibly patient on the subject of a new ballpark; despite the occasional flare-up, the team has gone about its business in a professional manner. Richmond politicians, on the other hand, have not exactly approached the topic with any sort of urgency whatsoever; it seems at times like former Mayor Doug Wilder and current mayor Dwight C. Jones would prefer the issue just go away.

But it won’t. In a way, the success of the Flying Squirrels is a little bit of a hindrance: why should city officials bust their butts on a ballpark project when the team is drawing well (some 6,257 fans a game, good for second in the Eastern League in 2012)? Sadly, the team would have more leverage if the franchise was struggling.

The many conundrums in the Richmond ballpark situation clearly frustrates McEacharn and O’Conner, as evidenced by statements both made to John O’Connor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

“It’s not the understanding and agreement that we had,” McEacharn said. “We went down there and we made that leap of faith with the assurances that it would be reciprocal. I certainly have a grave concern now, with all the information that continues to come out, that this is going to be the Richmond Braves sequel. And it’s slowly becoming that.

“All someone has to do is go back and look at history. We learn a lot from history. There’s this phrase that scares the hell out of me when I’m thinking about Richmond, and that is ‘history repeats itself.’ ”…

“I’m willing to be patient if I’m seeing some movement,” O’Conner said. “We need to do something there because that park is literally falling apart. It’s a situation where the Flying Squirrels are a victim of their own success. They’re making chicken salad out of chicken droppings. . . . We’ve got to figure out a way to get to ‘Yes,’ and we’ve got to get around all the reasons we can’t.”

It may not as dire as indicated: word at the Winter Meetings was that the city was preparing to move forward with a site recommendation before the end of the year. If that happens, progress could be made on a funding plan — unless the city decides to recommend a Shockoe Bottom location, which would ignite serious opposition in the local African-American community. Shockoe Bottom, while at the edge of a trendy and up-and-coming part of Richmond, was also the center of the slave trade in the colonial United States, and some locals envision the site as not being appropriate for a ballpark site.

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