The third and final stop on my whirlwind one-way drive from Orlando was Richmond, the capital of Virginia and home to the Flying Squirrels, San Francisco's AA affiliate. Richmond lies a mere 90 miles west of Norfolk, so I expected an easy morning drive but didn't realize that most of Washington was on the Virginia Shore for Memorial Day weekend and the traffic slowed me somewhat. By the time I pulled into the parking lot next to The Diamond ($3), there was only about half an hour until the 12:05 start.
The Diamond, which has happily avoided any corporate naming, is one of the minor's biggest stadiums, with seating capacity of 12,134, the most of any park below AAA. However, as you can see below, advertising tarps cover up the top rows of the upper deck, reducing capacity to 9,560 for minor league games. The Diamond is also used by VCU baseball, who must remove those tarps to comply with NCAA rules, although their actual attendance rarely exceeds 1,000.
The ballpark was the home of the Richmond Braves, who finally moved to Gwinnett in 2008 as the park is really not up to AAA standards. The Flying Squirrels moved from Connecticut in 2010 and renovated the stadium twice since then, including installing seats in the upper deck to replace the lower benches, but the stadium definitely looks its age in other spots as it is now 30 years old.
The gold benches in the upper deck are general admission and tickets on game day are $9, though you might find some freebies if you wait close to the ticket window.
Inside, the concourses are surprisingly tight for such a large ballpark, particularly on the second level. However, at the top of the stairs, the team honours many past players who are now World Champions with the Giants, including their Richmond debut and their MLB debut, a nice touch.
I sat along the top row behind the plate, a unique view for minor league ball, and one that few fans preferred to see. Great foul ball territory here, a nearby father snagged one barehanded to loud applause. As well, you are generally shaded here and a light breeze will keep you cool on hot days.
Late in the game I made my way downstairs for some pictures and was not accosted by an usher, though I believe they do check tickets for the really good seats throughout the game.
The Flying Squirrels do put on a good show during the game, with their free program (The Nutshell) and promotions during the inning breaks, as well as a collection of very strange mascots, including a pig that is paraded around the diamond during the middle of the 5th inning and who made SportsCenter a couple of years ago.
In the end, I have to say I really enjoyed my time here, but that is because I am an old curmudgeon. I want my space and a cheap ticket and The Diamond gives me both. For most fans however, there is no doubt that The Diamond needs to be replaced. A smaller, more cozy and central stadium is doubtless to arrive in Richmond in the next couple of years and I'll be there to take in a game.
With a 6-hour drive home afterwards, I was hoping for a quick one and was a bit worried when the pitching matchup was announced. Starting for the Squirrels was Kyle Crick (49th overall pick in 2011 and the Giants #1 prospect, above) who struggles with his control, while visiting Bowie (Baltimore's AA squad) sent Jarett Miller (21st round, 2011 by Atlanta) to the hill. Miller had just been called up from High A Frederick and was making his first AA start, so I expected a beatdown. It wasn't that bad, but the game was really never in doubt.
Crick retired the Baysox in order in the first and his offense scored a run on a walk, a ground-rule double by Mac Williamson (3rd round, 2012, #12 prospect) and an RBI single from Devin Harris (48th round, 2010). Crick continued to be sharp, facing the minimum through 3, and in the bottom half of that frame. Miller loaded the bases to face Ricky Oropesa (3rd round, 2011). A wild pitch plated a run, and then Oropesa unloaded with a deep homer to right, scoring Williamson and Harris to make it 5-0.
Crick lost his no-hltter and shutout when Glyn Davis (looking foolish above) homered in the fourth, but that was the only damage Crick suffered, going 6.1 innings, yielding just 3 hits (and 3 walks). Richmond added a run in the eighth to win 6-1.
The game took 2:38 with a PPM of 1.73. All three games on my trip had a PPM over 1.7; clearly the pace of play rule changes are really having a positive effect on the minor leagues at least and the games are much more enjoyable when played at such a pace.
Player to Watch
Richmond reliever Edwin Quirarte only pitched 1.2 innings, but struck out 2 without yielding a baserunner. Hey, it's tough to pick a player that is not in a top 30 prospect list somewhere, but I reckon that Quiarte will make the majors as a mop-up man in the next year or two.
I had visited The Diamond in 2001 during my season-long baseball trip, but once the Braves left, I needed to revisit it to complete my Eastern League parks, which I have now done. Out of the 14 minor leagues, I now have complete 3 (Florida State, California, and Eastern), which means I still have lots of roadtripping to do in the next few summers.
The grandson of Carl Yastrzemski, Mike, (14th round, 2013, Baltimore's #10 prospect, above) was the most notable name in the boxscore. He went 1/3 with a walk and I think you'll see him in the majors by 2017 at the latest.
A Bowie batter lost his bat and it got stuck in the netting. I expected that it would be removed, but the batboy was unable to do so and the game continued. Something you don't see every day.