Nutzy couldn't make it, but no matter. The Richmond Squirrels ownership group could barely contain the giddiness during last week's State of the Squirrels address to a small gathering of local media and fans.
After $2 million in improvements to The Diamond and an intense marketing blitz (Nutzy couldn't make the conference because he was visiting schools), the Squirrels' opening-day game April 15 is sold out. What's more, old Parker Field is now “a diamond again,” boasts team owner, Lou DiBella.
Don't get the wrong impression. The team isn't that content with the old stadium.
“The first time I walked in here, I was almost sick to my stomach,” acknowledges DiBella, who says The Diamond is still a “giant, bizarre chasm of a place.”
After he and his partners dumped seven figures into the chasm to fix up the concession stands, reduce the number of seats, put in a new scoreboard and generally spruce up the place, DiBella says things are better now. “This place is going to rock on the 15th,” he says, referring to the 9,500 tickets sold for next week's opening game, a sellout.
Meanwhile, discussions have already begun with city and county officials about building a new stadium, DiBella says, and he's even hired consultants.
So how can the team get so excited about baseball at The Diamond while pushing for a new stadium? Call it positive reinforcement, a marked shift from the recent tactics of the now-departed Richmond Braves and proponents of bringing baseball to Shockoe Bottom. The Braves left because the city wouldn't commit to building a new stadium, and the most recent backers of a new Bottom ballpark panned the Boulevard as an economic sinkhole. (DiBella likes the location: “A brand-new, shiny stadium next door to here would be wonderful.”)
So bent on getting the city to build a new ballpark, the Braves and others actively marketed against themselves, argues Chuck Domino, chief executive manager of the Squirrels. Who wants to go see a game at The Diamond when every news story reinforces its dumpiness?
“Once you start going down the path that we need a new stadium,” Domino says, “it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The opposite may also be true: How do you make the case for a new stadium if you're selling out the old one? “We're walking a fine line,” Domino says. “The other argument is we gain leverage. If the fans come out and support us, they deserve a better stadium.”