RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT)- Thursday was supposed to be Opening Night at the Diamond, a day that’s like Christmas to many players who look forward to taking the field and taking in the sound of the first home crowd. While COVID-19 has halted baseball, for the time being, the bags and base-paths still got some good use, and it was all to benefit those who are helping the most.
“If I wasn’t here at sunrise on Opening Day, that really would’ve ripped my soul out,” said Flying Squirrels vice president and chief operating officer Todd “Parney” Parnell.
April sunrises at the Diamond are usually times of celebration, especially before the first home game of the season, but Parney was up before the sun with a purpose. The team executive hit the field for "500 Bases of Love," 125 laps around the bases, to benefit COVID-19 relief efforts in the area. The stadium may have been mostly empty, but the experience left Parney quite fulfilled.
"I feel really really empowered, and I feel really really positive about what this community can do together on short notice."
It was a true team effort. A long list of contributors, ranging from fans and community members to businesses, sponsored bases, laps or more.
"This pandemic time shows you the true mettle of people," Parnell said. "Our fans love us like nothing I can even imagine and we love them back."
Parney’s trek started at 6:35 a.m., 12 hours before Thursday’s home opener was originally set to begin, and wrapped up around 10:15. He was mic’d up the entire time, his 500 Bases of Love streamed live, and he spent most of his laps thanking those who donated to the Flying Squirrels’ cause.
“The talking was the hardest part like constantly talking the whole time,” Parney noted. “But that also made me forget what I was doing. It kinda hurt but it helped at the same time.”
Today held another significance for the Flying Squirrels’ franchise. General manager Ben Rothrock made a return to baseball, after spending five weeks in the hospital due to a health scare and open-heart surgery. Rothrock joined Parney for the late stages of the walk, then took the torch for the last lap on his own.
"To realize the amount of magnitude that means to my family and to my friends, and the support that I have, it was truly emotional," Rothrock said.
"I hated that he was going to miss his triumphant return, but in a way, watching him walk around the bases in the quiet of the Diamond was peaceful," added Parney.
The Squirrels hope the Diamond isn't quiet for long. Sooner or later, baseball will return, and the sun will rise on another season.
“We’re going to be back. This thing is not going to defeat us all,” remarked a confident Parnell. “These stands will be full and the sounds of the ballpark will be back, hopefully sooner rather than later.”
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