Todd "Parney" Parnell runs the Richmond Flying Squirrels on a day-to-day basis, and the Double-A organization’s community touch is felt from renovated youth athletic fields to coat collections, from reading programs to golf tournaments, from art contests to canned food drives.
The platform, of course, provides the delivery mechanism.
As the vice president/COO/general manager of the local professional baseball franchise, Parnell has the ability to raise thousands of dollars for childhood cancer research through a winter banquet, organize a 5K race whose proceeds benefit a needy cause, auction Squirrels jerseys to make a buck for a nonprofit group, or call for fans to bring school supplies during an upcoming homestand.
Those things don’t have to be done, but Parnell views these and other social responsibility initiatives as part of his job, and part of his DNA.
“It’s never been a consideration to be anything other than impactful for me,” he said.
How did “Parney” get to be the face of a franchise, this outgoing promoter who delivers about 150 speeches a year and rarely denies the Squirrels' assistance to those who request it?
Chuck Domino was the general manager of the Reading, Pa., franchise in 1990 and needed a marketing director. Parnell, a year out of Messiah College, was working in promotions for a Harrisburg, Pa., indoor soccer team. He wanted a baseball job.
“I liked him, but there was another guy somebody recommended to me for the position,” said Domino, who hired that individual, who was coming from Indiana.
He didn’t show up for his first day of work in Reading. Domino found the phone number of the man’s girlfriend, called and learned that his newly hired marketing director decided to stay with his Midwest mate.
“I hung up. I called Todd Parnell - he wasn’t "Parney" yet, just Todd Parnell - and I said 'Mr. Parnell, the job is yours if you want it,' ” Domino said. “Well, I could hear the panting like a dog on the other end of the line. He couldn’t say yes fast enough.”
Domino developed into one of the most respected executives in the minor leagues and is the Squirrels' CEO. He again brought in Parnell, this time to oversee the Richmond organization when it launched in September 2009. Parnell had been general manager of other franchises and was also nationally renowned as an operator.
The chance to again work with Domino drew Parnell. Said Parnell, a native of the Charlotte, N.C., area: "I don’t know if I realized I would love Richmond as much as I do.”
Be fun. Be different. Be impactful. Those are Parnell’s three commandments. He has no problem wearing a pig’s nose, throwing toilet seats as if horseshoes between innings or wearing multicolored slacks on top of black-and-orange wingtips with the San Francisco Giants logo.
“He’s bigger than life,” said Tom Kayser, president of the Double-A Texas League since 1992 and a baseball industry employee since 1975. “There’s almost no containing his personality."
With Parnell in charge, the Squirrels’ tentacles affect the Richmond region 12 months a year.
Parnell doesn't only assist “individuals who can help the Squirrels and help him build his franchise,” said Bill Forrester, executive director of the Metropolitan Junior Baseball League, which has benefited from field renovations, clinics, equipment and tournament coordination provided by the Squirrels.
“You’ll see an organization say, ‘Well, if we give to the Boys & Girls Club or to the YMCA, that’s enough.’ He tries to unite individuals, organizations, municipalities," Forrester said. "It’s uncommon to find an individual like that. He has taken strides well beyond anything that had taken place when we had the Braves here."
The Squirrels have 24 full-time employees, plus seasonal interns. In that respect, Richmond’s franchise is typical among modern minor-league operations. That allows for a much greater degree of community involvement than was possible in the days of two- or three-person front offices.
“Being a good neighbor is good business. That’s part of this. All of our operators realize this,” Kayser said. “The better ones do more, or are more adept at it.”
The Squirrels’ average home attendance has annually ranked at or near the top in the Eastern League and among the top 20 among all 160 minor-league franchises.
Tyler La Torre was a minor-league catcher from 2006 to 2015, a career that included a couple of seasons with the Squirrels. La Torre, now an assistant coach at San Francisco State, recognizes Parnell as “the best general manager I ever played for or have ever seen. His community involvement is absolutely huge. I remember going to events as a player, and he was always there making sure everything was done properly.
“There’s a lot of stuff he does behind closed doors that influences a lot of people.”
IN HIS WORDS
"Bull Durham," because I pretty much live that life every day but from the front-office side.
Something that might surprise others
I cry a lot. I have cried every time I watch a rerun of "Full House." I cry when they have that “poignant moment" at the end of the show. Also, people think I am a jock, but I actually love the arts, especially theater.
Something you'd like to do
I really want to learn to play the guitar, and I really, really, really want to play in a band.
My mom and dad, spiritually and as people. Aaron Brooks (former U.Va. and NFL quarterback) has taught me a great deal about my inner circle. Today, Lindsay, Samantha and Tonia (my partner) show me how to be a better person every day. Chuck Domino taught me the business that I am in. And there are actually many, many others.
Alternate profession or course of study
I'd love to be a coach but that's kind of the same, so I ll say stand-up comic or entertainer of some sort. But that's kind of the same, so I'll say pilot.
Being a dad who my kids can always count on, and being a professional who helps other people succeed in their jobs and lives.
A small moment in life with a big impact
Two things: My parents moving us from Locust, N.C., to Philadelphia when I was 13, and Chuck Domino hiring me to work for the Reading Phillies.
Favorite thing about Richmond region
There is no one thing I love about the Richmond region - it's everything, and it starts with the people. I think it is a beautiful place that is as diverse in geography and architecture as it is in people. I also enjoy the wide-ranging food, music and arts scene. And of course, I love the sports scene here that is hot 12 months out of the year. And I love Nutzy.
TODD "PARNEY" PARNELL
Position: general manager, Richmond Flying Squirrels
Born/hometown: June 16, 1966; Locust, N.C.
College: Messiah College
Family: daughters Lindsay and Samantha