I had been putting off a trip to see the The Diamond, home of the Flying Squirrels in Richmond, for a few reasons. It was too close to home (the same reason I haven’t done a real post of the Potomac Nationals); I have seen the stadium enough times while driving through Richmond; and until last season when I started my blog on (mostly) minor league games, I thought they were still the Richmond Braves. I can tell you now, though, none of those reasons were valid! I should have gone earlier, and in fact, I may go back again this season!
I will be honest, the stadium isn’t anything to look at from the road. With all the concrete, someone wrote it looks like an homage to the old Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta. And it has been well documented that the former tenant, the Richmond Braves, and now the Flying Squirrels, have wanted a new stadium and/or major upgrades. Flying Squirrels CEO Chuck Domino was even quoted saying, “This stadium was built upside down,” when referring to the fact that a majority of the seats are in the upper deck. But the team and the Richmond Metropolitan Authority poured $1.6 million into upgrades, and not only are the Squirrels happy in their new den, so is their parent team, the San Francisco Giants. The Flying Squirrels have lead the AA Eastern League in attendance two of the last three years, and the Giants recently renewed their player development contact (PDC) with Richmond that now extends through the 2020 season. How’s that for a commitment from the parent organization?!?
One really nice touch the Flying Squirrels have added are all size posters from each of their opening days signed by fans in attendance.
I wish more stadiums did this.
Misters at the gates were welcomed on this warm summer Saturday evening.
Quality product and quality staff!
The front office and staff of the Flying Squirrels were a pleasure to work with, starting with their announcers, Gregg Caserta and Jay Burnham. I traded a couple of emails with them earlier in the week, and without even asking, Gregg gave me a press pass for the game. I made my way up to the press box prior to the start of the game to thank Gregg and Jay, and they are the nicest guys! I even ran into Trenton Thunder’s announcer Adam Giardino, who I met on the road a few weeks back in Trenton. It was great seeing him again as well.
My pass for the day
Jay Burnham studying the Bible, aka the 2016 rule book, prior to the game.
Gregg Caserta. Thanks for the pass!
Adam from the Thunder.
Everyone else I ran into in the press box (and throughout the stadium, for that matter) was equally as friendly. Here’s Chas, getting ready for the game. Chas handles all the social media during the game. The man behind the game Twitter feeds! Use @GoSquirrels!
And the rest of the crew running the scoring, video boards, and announcing.
I’ll get to the level of baseball talent on the field in a bit, but the in game promotional team ran a class show, starting with on field announcer Murph. Murph was a busy guy this night, starting with all the pre-game festivities, and continuing on until the human cannonball, fireworks, the tennis ball toss, and ending with kids running the bases.
Murph and the Funn Bunch team put on some great entertainment. And thankfully, not one dizzy bat race! Games included the fruit and veggie race, a lemonade toss, kids brush off the bases with a giant toothbrush, the running of the bulls, a whacky hot dog vendor, air guitars, mixed nuts races, and more! That’s a lot of fan volunteers to secure before the game, and takes a lot of coordination between Murph & the team and the announcing staff. They did a great job, and the fans loved every minute of it!
Leading “Go” and “Nuts” during the game.
Whacky hot dog vendor riding a…. pink flamingo??
Running of the bulls. (Note: my son is in Spain and actually ran with the bulls today in Pamplona. He fared better than they did I think!)
Air guitar quickly turned into more of a riverdance.
Molly Maids getting their groove on.
I think you have to be nuts not to like this!
There was even pre-game entertainment on the concourse.
The highlight of the evening, though, had to be an appearance by the Human Cannonball, David “The Bullet” Smith, Jr. This was totally worth the price of admission!
Fans and the community
The Richmond area has certainly embraced the Flying Squirrels with open arms. As mentioned before, they are consistently at the top of the attendance charts. In 2015, they lead the Eastern League in attendance, averaging just over 6,000 fans per game, and and were the third best draw of all 22 AA teams in the US. Last night was no exception, as the paid attendance was 7,567! All the fans I ran into were great and seemed to really enjoy themselves. In the first inning, I ran into Nick. Nick was there with his son, Samuel, and Samuel’s friend Theo. Nick said they attend about a dozen games a year.
Keegan and his family were sitting just behind me on the first base side. Keegan got a ball before the game started, then got to be on the dugout before the game to help get the crowd fired up!
It was also Hispanic Heritage Night at the ballpark. The Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was there, and had some great information on the Latin community and how they help support building bridges between new Americans and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The real reason I go to games: the food!
Someone at work told me my blog is really about food wrapped around going to ball games. I couldn’t really disagree with them. And the food choices at The Diamond were awesome. Just one more reason I need to go back. You can only eat so much in one sitting! In addition to the standard fare, they offered a great burger selection, there’s a pizza express, chilli cheese fries, BBQ pork nachos, buffalo bleu burger, oreo churro, and a deep fried PB&J! And a wine bar!
In the end, I went with a pimento cheese burger with bacon, and fried pickles. And of course, to cut on calories, a Diet Coke! 🙂
A view of the burger stand.
In case you were wondering, yes, there actually was a game going on! On Friday, I rented a great zoom lens, a Canon 70-200 f 2.8 IS USM. I thought this would be a great addition to the other lenses I have, and an upgrade in performance to my stock 70-250 f 4-5.6 lens that I use for action shots. Maybe I am just too much of a newbie to fully appreciate it. I did capture some good action shots, but I should have practiced on a non MiLB game prior to taking it for a field test drive. The game was a pitcher’s duel, with the Thunder’s Chance Adams going six innings without surrendering a run, and Dan Slania of the Flying Squirrels going 6.1 innings without giving up an earned run. Sadly, the Flying Squirrel defense was not quite on their game, with a couple of errors which lead to 5 unearned runs, all charged to Slania. Final score was Trenton 5, Richmond 0. Both teams are well stocked with talent. Richmond has six of the top 15 Giants prospects on its roster, while Trenton has 4 of the top 20 Yankees prospects in their lineup. Certainly keep an eye out for these guys in the future!
Pre game warmup.
Slania goes 6+ for Richmond
Chance throws 6 innings of no hit ball.
Hunter Cole with a great catch in the first.
Maybe a violation of the Utley rule here?
Reflections in a helmet.
Sometimes new isn’t always better. I didn’t see a vast improvement in my photos with my new lens compared to my old lens. Maybe a new lens isn’t needed. Someone complimented me earlier saying I take great photos already. Sure, The Diamond is a bit old. But the Flying Squirrels are a fantastic organization, and they put out a gem of a product! Some things just work great the way they are!