Tuesday night, the Richmond Times-Dispatch held a forum about the future of baseball in Richmond. Basically the quandary is this - people like having a baseball team here, if the team doesn't get a new ballpark they're going to leave, but no one wants to pay for a new ballpark.
Therein lies the need for having a forum. Is baseball a luxury that this city can't afford?
In a letter to the RTD, Henrico County's Virgil Hazelett basically said that he loves baseball, but Henrico County can't give 6-10 million dollars to a new baseball stadium when they can't afford their own budget. He also insults fans' intelligence by using lame baseball analogies throughout.
On the entire opposite side of the spectrum, Richmond major Dwight Jones says the city and surrounding areas need to embrace the team, and embrace the sport, or they will lose it.
Certainly parts of what Hazelett says is correct - it's easy for a baseball to sit in their armchair and say, "Don't be a cheapskate, pay for the stadium!" But that person doesn't see Henrico's budget, and doesn't see what gets cut if the county has to pay for this park.
That being said, Hazelett has face so deep into the budget numbers, he can't see how important having a baseball team is to this town.
We all understand this is a tough economic time, but I believe that it's time Richmond finds a way to build a brand new facility. Three of the city's four major sporting venues - The Diamond, City Stadium & The Coliseum (RIR excluded) - desperately need to be replaced. And with The Diamond, we have an ultimatum. While it doesn't seem business savvy for the Squirrels to leave (they've had some of the best attendance across the minors and sold more merchandise than any other league team over the past two years) they will if they can find a place to build a new park. And that is not as farfetched as it may seem. You may remember they moved here because they were promised a new park.
One thing I hope, is that Hazelett, and the other Chesterfield and Henrico leaders, are not trying to call the Squirrels bluff. Because if they don't come up with the money, they will leave. And Todd Parnell and the rest of the team's management have brought a product/event here that this city can be proud of. They'll do the right things with a new ballpark that will make it something that Richmond can be known for throughout the country.
Is this a baseball town? When that rickety, dingy park can get packed with people, willing to watch a AA affiliate of a team based 3,000 miles away, you can bet your behind this is a baseball town.
It would be a shame if it lost its baseball team. Again.