The touch of the warm sun, the smell of hotdogs and popcorn, the finale of fireworks on a perfect summer summer night; these memories have made impacts in the lives of all Richmonders. These memories come from the home of Richmond’s baseball teams, The Richmond Braves and The Flying Squirrels, at The Diamond. The RIchmond Braves played for our community from 1966-2009, and The Flying Squirrels have played there since then. Even during the time when The Braves were playing in The Diamond, there was talk about either regenerating the stadium or moving to a different location. This decision is very challenging due to the traditional comfort that many Richmonders tend to lean towards. Everyone wants to have their opinion heard, but nobody wants to make the first step to change.
The Diamond was built in 1985 as the home of the Richmond Braves, a minor league team of The Atlanta Braves. During this time the Braves shared The Diamond with VCU Athletics. The Richmond Braves brought home five winning titles in the years 1978, 1986, 1989, 1994, and 2007. In 2008, the Braves relocated to Gwinnett County, Georgia, bringing the Flying Squirrels to Richmond, who are the minor league team for the San Francisco Giants. The Diamond has never failed to be a pleasure to those who have attended the games of either team.
When The Braves left, many noticed the disappearance of the known icon, “Connecticut,” an Native American figure that rested on the outside of The Diamond, greeting fellow Braves fans as they walked into the stadium. Connecticut was created in 1983 in Washington D.C., made to honor Native Americans in the United States. Created by local sculptor Paul DiPasquale, Connecticut was donated to the Braves in 1987, where it would be the icon for the team for the next 25 years. After the Braves left, Connecticut was bought by the company “ODELL,” where it now stands on the top of their building overlooking the James River on Libby Hill.
After 31 years as a Richmond institution, the aging Diamond is being considered for renovation, redevelopment, or possible relocation. This dilemma was part of the reason that the Braves moved out of Richmond. When the Flying Squirrels came into the stadium, they spent 1.5 million dollars on renovations towards the stadium. The stadium holds 12,134 seats, but with advertisements covering many seats, the amount of seats slims down to 9,560. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel came into Richmond, destroying the roof on the original Diamond. In 2004, a large piece of concrete fell from the stadium into the stands; luckily, no one was hurt. The stadium has been deteriorating over the years, and many are plotting changes to the future of Richmond Baseball.
The Save The Diamond Committee has made a proposal to allow The Diamond to stay in its current location, changing for the better with an urban design. These plans include new dugouts, 360-degree accessibility within the stadium, two new entrances with pre/post game plazas, twenty new “luxury” suites, elevators for improved accessibility, increased and improved food concessions, enlarged and improved clubhouse spaces and training areas, a children’s play area, and themed bars. Surrounding The Diamond would be 50 acres of retail, offices, and residences. The Flying Squirrels are a major corporate part of The Boulevard area, and these additions to the stadium would increase the urban feel of The Diamond, drawing a diverse crowd of fans.
The Flying Squirrels have considered moving to a more accessible and urban location. Options include: Chesterfield; Shockoe Bottom; and the most popular choice, Henrico, near the Raceway or the VIrginia Center Commons. Henrico was a major choice because many of the ticket buyers live in this county. The Diamond is also in a prime location that has been looked at to become a children’s hospital. The children’s hospital, however, would have a price tag of one billion dollars. Although these plans have been thought out, The Flying Squirrels have a lease on the Diamond until 2017, so no changes will be made until then.
The Diamond for years has given many pleasurable memories to baseball fans, but with the decision about its future still unclear, Richmond may lose a second team due to the uncertainty.