What a jolt of vindication! (Or is it vindictive jolt?) Got to thinking about you guys this week after the Richmond Braves announced they were leaving for a new ballpark in Gwinnett County, Ga. You called this. For the last four years, you warned that the mighty Braves would leave us if we didn't build them a new ballpark. First it was Shockoe Bottom, then Fulton Gas Works (Wilder's idea). Somewhere in there was a plan to build a new park at Mayo Island, I recall, where the Virginians used to play.
Didn't happen. Now the Braves are gone. I'm sure there's plenty of "I told you so" gratification going around in your circle of baseball buddies.
But here's the thing: It's kinda your fault.
I know what you're thinking: "Oh, I get it. Sue us for suggesting something other than the status quo in Richmond. Ten lashes for proposing we could do better than Band-Aid fixes for dusty old Parker Field."
Yes, and no. (And for the record, I talked with the editor of Ballparkdigest.com the other day. Teams are already lining up to take a shot at Richmond. And don't give me the we'll-never-replace-high-quality Class AAA Braves garbage. Baseball guys know better. The real talent is coming from AA and A teams these days, with major league teams using their AAA farm teams as holding pens for injured and recovering players.)
No, really, I'm glad you guys were pushing the envelope -- we need more of that in Richmond but you did so blindly, without considering all the consequences. Let's recap: Back in the summer of 2003, when the plan for a Shockoe Bottom ballpark was first floated, you stepped up and asked everyone to wait and hear your proposal. You demanded that we apply the brakes on a reasonable plan that was already in motion an $18.5 million renovation of The Diamond.
The owners of The Diamond, the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, had been working with the Braves for two years on the $18.5 million plan; the bond issue was ready to go. All three jurisdictions Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond had agreed to kick in the funding to make it happen. You remember the plan, right? There was a grassy berm in the outfield where you could bring a picnic blanket and watch a game with the kids, something all the new stadiums have. It was pretty cool improved fan sightlines, a new field and new locker rooms for the players.
But here was the most important part of that plan: The Braves, having worked with the authority for two years on the financing, had agreed in principle to a 10-year contract extension, keeping them in Richmond through 2014. In a region where regional cooperation is still a dirty word, the authority had gotten the support of the entire region and locked in the Braves with a new contract. Winning the votes from the governing bodies of Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond was "about as clear a public policy as you can have," RMA General Manager Mike Berry told me last week. It was quite a feat.
When you pitched your plan for a new park, you didn't carefully consider the political ramifications. Almost as soon as your proposal floated, members of Chesterfield County's Board of Supervisors began wondering aloud why a new park would be built in Shockoe Bottom. Why not Chesterfield, after all? Blame it on the Chesterfielders if you want, but that's the cheap way out. And you miss the broader point.
Reaffirming our original investment in The Diamond on the Boulevard that's the $18.5 million is a much easier sell, particularly to our not-always-so-regionally-minded suburban neighbors. When you intervened, though, suddenly those partners were confronted with an entirely new investment proposal, and the brand-new questions about location why, after all, would those forking over the money allow a group of Richmond baseball buddies decide the location? were legitimate.
I know it was the Braves who held out and declined to sign a contract extension in the end, which ultimately killed the $18.5 million renovation plan. But they wouldn't have done that if you guys hadn't shown up in the 11th hour, asking for time to make your pitch. Big ideas are nice, but in a town with so many complex political realities, sometimes it's better to take the long view. We wound up back on the Boulevard in the end anyhow, didn't we? It's too bad. The renovations would have been completed by now, and we could be looking forward to that grassy berm in left field.
cc: Bruce Baldwin, Braves GM