The Diamond will have a new feature this spring when the Flying Squirrels open the 2017 season, their eighth in Richmond.
The Bistro at the Bullpen, a new structure down the right-field line just short of the bullpen where Parker the Pig used to reside, will open. It will cater to groups and is called “the ultimate hospitality experience” for fans, which includes a personal bartender and a three-course all-you-can-eat buffet. (Yes, please.)
It’s one of dozens of upgrades the Squirrels have made to the 32-year-old concrete stadium that sits on the Boulevard.
All have cost money. All have gone into an antiquated stadium that should be condemned. All for what?
Why? Why spend money on an old stadium? Why dump money into a dump? Why pay for and build something new in a stadium that might not be here in a few years, especially with the potential new stadium deal that’s in the works?
Simple, says the Flying Squirrels brass.
“We want to show our fans that we’re not being complacent,” Chuck Domino, the Squirrels CEO, said Thursday. “We’re not sitting on our hands waiting for something that’s going to happen sometime in the future.”
The Squirrels, and Richmond baseball fans, know all about waiting. How many promises? How many ideas? How many attempts?
Maybe this new one with the city, VCU and the Squirrels will take. Hopefully, it will.
But until then, the Squirrels’ front office will do what it always does.
“Our fans deserve the best we can bring to the table, every day, every year,” said Todd “Parney” Parnell, the Squirrels vice president and COO. “When we got here eight years ago, we knew every year we were going to try to do something that would make people feel stimulated about the season, feel excited about it. We never want to get old to this community. And doing things like this is one of the things.”
So, until a new stadium is built, the Squirrels’ mission is simple: to give the fans the best ballpark experience possible, while engaging and giving back to the community in which they live.
“I think it’s really the heart and soul of what we do — it’s customer service and community service,” Domino said, referencing the Flying Squirrels’ charity efforts that help renovate and build youth baseball fields throughout the city.
“People look, everywhere I’ve been, they look for the professional team in their particular town to be a leader in the community. And that’s what we sought out to do when got here and that’s what we’ve achieved since we’ve been here.”
You can’t go much of anywhere in Richmond and not see Nutzy, the team’s mascot, helping out at or supporting an event.
The Flying Squirrels are committed to the community. And the community is committed to the Squirrels. Fans and Richmonders recognize the efforts by the organization and give back by making Squirrels’ games some of the most attended in all of minor league baseball.
And that’s why they want to make every game the best it can be for every fan who buys a ticket, eats a hotdog and cheers on the home team.
“This is important for everybody. I think our fans know us by now that every season’s been different in some way, shape or form,” Parnell said. “But it’s important for everybody. It’s important for the staff. ... It’s important for the Giants and the players to see that we’re doing different stuff for our fans to try to get people in here to cheer for them.”
And in true Parney-like fashion, it’s also funn.
“Honestly, it’s also one of the joys of still being in this place (The Diamond),” he said. “Every year, trying to come up with something that people can get excited about. I think it’s awesome.”
That’s what the Squirrels do.