RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT)- It was supposed to be a day of celebration, as the Flying Squirrels were initially scheduled to open their season at Bowie on Thursday night, but with Opening Day on hold, the Squirrels and their fans are operating in limbo.
"The night before Opening Day is a lot like Christmas Eve," said Squirrels' vice president and chief operating officer Todd "Parney" Parnell. "There's so much excitement, so much anticipation, you're still undefeated."
"It's an adrenaline rush from the time go," added team general manager Ben Rothrock. "When your feet hit the floor in the morning, it's an adrenaline rush."
"Usually they're probably not able to sleep," said Daryl Maday, former Squirrels' pitcher.
Maday started the first-ever Flying Squirrels game back in 2010 and pitched in Richmond through 2013. Whether it’s a historic moment like that or kicking off a season on the road, there’s nothing like Opening Day.
"In the moment, you realize that it's pretty special because the Diamond's packed, everybody's loud when things happen because they're excited that baseball's back in Richmond," recalled Maday.
"The team probably would've left early this morning and the bus leaving would've been excitement, people would've had a lot of pep in their step," Parney said.
But this year, excited fans, players and personnel have been replaced by silence, isolation and uncertainty. That's a tough pill to swallow for Richmond front office members, who often spend most of their day at the ballpark, especially during the season. It's been a different, emotional month for Parney and the Squirrels.
"It's hard not to be with people that you love," the team COO said. "It's hard to have things not happen the way you planned for."
“Our biggest joy is going to the ballpark every day,” said Rothrock. “For most of us, especially on staff, it’s a second home.”
But Parney and his staff are moving forward with positive, optimistic attitudes. The front office has been communicating with each other and ticket holders, the team has remained active in the community, and not worrying about things it can't control.
"One of the things that we've tried to do internally is not think about what could have been, or even what should have been. That's even more dangerous," noted Parney. "Think about 'what is.' 'What is' is that we're working from home, 'what is' is we gotta stay healthy. If we're not healthy ourselves, we're not going to be any good to anybody when we get to the other side."
When the dust settles, the Flying Squirrels will once again open the gates and welcome back one of the best fan bases in Minor League Baseball.
"They've become our family," said Rothrock. "We've seen these people coming through the gates time and time again and really they've become friends and family to most of us."
"We've just got to wait and be as positive as we can for as long as we can until we get the answers that we need," added Parney. "Once that happens, everything is going to be awesome on the other side."
Richmond’s home opener was set for next Thursday, April 16, but despite the season’s postponement, Parney will still be at the ballpark. He’ll be walking “500 Bases of Love” to benefit COVID-19 relief. The team’s executive will do 125 laps around the base-paths at the Diamond, encouraging fans to donate to the cause, as Flying Squirrels Charities will give the proceeds to organizations helping with coronavirus relief efforts. Donations can be submitted by texting BasesOfLove to 76278 or online.
125 laps around the bases are more than 8.5 miles. Parney will begin the trek at 6:35 a.m.
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