Can the City of Richmond Keep Baseball?

Nic SkirpanContributor ISeptember 24, 2009

So the City of Richmond, Virginia has announced that the Connecticut Defenders of the AA Eastern League will move down south to the Diamond on the Boulevard. 

While Richmond baseball fans rejoice, many are taking the news with a grain of salt.  Before the 2008 season the Richmond Braves, AAA affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, moved south to Gwinnett Co., Georgia, marking the first summer in over 50 years that Richmond did not have professional baseball. 

The reason for the move still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many Richmonders.  As the Diamond deteriorated, with chunks of concrete falling from the structure at times, the Richmond City Council and the Braves, who were quickly climbing in the standings of the AAA International League, could not agree on the new home that the team needed. 

Meanwhile Gwinnett Co. offered the team a new, $64 million stadium in the suburbs of the team's major league affiliate. 

Now, with a new team coming into town, the problem that drove the other team away still looms: what will be done with the Diamond? 

As a quick, temporary fix to the problem, the ownership of the yet-to-be-named Richmond ball team has allocated $1.5 million to improve the massive concrete structure.  These improvements will include new box seats with cup holders, new windows in the corporate suites, and a new video board, but will this be enough?

Attendance slowed down at the Diamond over the years, not because of the team's performance, but moreso because of the lack of a quality experience at the ballfield in all aspects.  Other than seatbacks, the Diamond offered absolutely no comforts whatsoever.  The entire stadium, the walls, the floors, the steps, the supports, and even the roof are made of concrete, offering little to nothing in the way of aesthetics.

Another disappointing aspect of an experience at the Diamond is the concessions, or in this case, the lack thereof.  With Kitchen 64 and Buzz and Ned's Barbecue located two blocks away, fans are better off getting food before the game, as the overpriced stadium food has no character, taste, or originality (other than the ice cream in plastic helmets, which should be mandatory in every baseball stadium). 

Lastly, the surrounding area leaves much to be desired for fans before and after the game.  Sure, there are two great restaurants within a few blocks of the stadium, but neither would be able to accommodate half of a stadium's worth of people.  

On top of that the view of the industrial park beyond the outfield fence does nothing to help the situation.  With all that the City of Richmond has to offer, the Diamond only provides reasons to stay away from a great game of baseball.

So now this new AA Eastern League team has come to the city, applied a quick fix to a stadium that, by the way, still has a giant concrete Native American overlooking the main entrances, but they have no plans for what they would call a "permanent home" here in Richmond.  This shows that the team agrees that the Diamond is not the solution.

So, what is the solution?  Earlier in the year, Highwoods Properties proposed a new $60 million stadium as part of a $363 million Shockoe Center in a part of Richmond known as Shockoe Bottom.  Currently, most of the area in the proposal, which borders the popular downtown area, remains undeveloped.  That proposal was recently rejected by the City, due mostly to the fact that some of the cost of the stadium comes from sales taxes. 

The rejection leaves Richmond baseball without a permanent home, but it gives the City and its new team an idea of what a new home should include.  Shockoe Bottom would provide a picturesque background for baseball, with views of historic Church Hill to the east and the downtown skyline towering over a would-be stadium to the west.  The proposed area is right beside a train station, close to the airport, and right beside Interstate 95.  As long as a parking deck comes with the stadium, driving would not be a problem, yet the proposed site is within walking distance of many large condos, apartment complexes and neighborhoods. 

Before or after the games, fans will have a chance to drop by one of the many great restaurants in the surrounding area, as big as Havana 59 or as small as Cafe Guttenberg or the Patrick Henry Pub.  With baseball leaving Boulevard, the popular Buzz and Ned's barbecue restaurant could open a booth in the stadium—those are places where I would overpay to eat.

The proposed Shockoe Bottom location would bode well for this yet-to-be-named Richmond baseball team, but for now it remains an unattainable dream.  It is up to the Richmond City Council to realize that dream, lest we Richmond baseball fans lose another team, and possibly baseball for good.