The Richmond Flying Squirrels don't appear to be any closer to getting a new ballpark, but they're getting nuttier nonetheless. A week after team owners and officials met with Mayor Dwight Jones and the top officials in Chesterfield and Henrico counties, the team has launched a new ballpark advocacy group: Ballpark Nutz.
Try to forget that the play on words might work against the concept if you insert a comma — Ballpark, nutz? The Flying Squirrels, and the team's brash managing owner, Lou DiBella, are trying to play nice.
Last week's meeting was "productive," says DiBella, who participated by teleconference. He was bedridden after slipping in the shower and hitting his head, suffering a "very serious concussion," he says. "It was a very positive dialogue," DiBella says of the meeting, although acknowledging he was a bit scrambled from the fall. "I figure it was a very productive day."
Was there an agreement — perhaps a timeline for when a $50 million ballpark would be built, with financial commitments from the participating jurisdictions? Sources who attended the meeting say there was "better understanding" between the groups about the steps needed to begin real discussions about building a new ballpark. In other words — no.
Ballpark Nutz will attempt gentle pressure by drumming up regional support for a new stadium with a marketing campaign, complete with a Facebook page. "Ballpark Nutz will give fans a chance to let their voices be heard," says Todd "Parney" Parnell, the team's vice president and chief operating officer, in an official statement. "We're encouraging Richmonders to do what comes naturally to so many of them — just go nutz."
It's difficult to know whether there ever will be a financial commitment to build a new ballpark, especially from Chesterfield and Henrico. Both counties face enormous budget shortfalls. The city has financial issues as well, but is sitting on a $62.3 million check from the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, payback for old toll-road loans.
Everyone agreed to talk some more, DiBella says, and that's enough — for now. "It was a productive, positive exchange of thoughts," he says. "I am very confident that the Flying Squirrels will be in Richmond for many years to come."