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Punch Drunk: In the Baseball Stadium Debate, Why Is Richmond Poking the Squirrel?



There’s another Richmond baseball stadium controversy? You don’t say?

With his recent activity, our lame-duck Mayor Dwight Jones has decided to go out with a bang and widen the gulf between the city and the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

He’s a fun guy. It’s like my uncle with no filter got elected mayor.

As reported in the Times-Dispatch, Jones’ press secretary said: “Let’s be clear that our starting point of the Boulevard conversation is what is the best use of that property for the citizens of Richmond, not whether it is the best site for baseball.”

A seemingly innocuous comment, but it was not what the Flying Squirrels organization wanted to hear. Chuck Domino, the Squirrels’ chief executive manager, in a 40-minute conference call with team officials and the T-D, said: “What have we done wrong? They begged us to come here. Now they don’t want us? We overdelivered.”

He’s right. Why did the Jones administration even poke the squirrel like that? We need these guys more than they need us.

Does Jones just not care anymore? Is he still stewing over the failure of his baseball in Shockoe Bottom plan?

The T-D’s Michael Paul Williams, someone whose opinion I respect, concluded that the Flying Squirrels should walk. “The guy in this romance has made it clear that the girl is not a priority,” he wrote. Team majority owner “Lou DiBella and company would be wise to move beyond considering their options to actively pursuing a new nest.”

A bit overly contrarian here, Michael. There’s no doubt the city has mucked up the situation. But what purpose does it serve to suggest that the Squirrels leave, which only punishes Richmonders and baseball fans from the surrounding counties?

We need solutions, not wholesale carpet bombing.

That being said, if the Squirrels eventually read the tea leaves and skip town, it’ll be tough to blame them.

Baseball, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t important. It isn’t a children’s hospital. It isn’t fixing dilapidated schools — although the Flying Squirrels’ charitable arm has been fixing inner-city baseball fields. It isn’t poverty. The people who can afford to take in a Tuesday afternoon game and drink $9 beers generally aren’t going hungry.

It’s a prestige thing, I suppose. We want to be a big-boy city, with big-boy things.

And really, if the Squirrels leave, we’ll find another team. It might still be double-A. It might be single-A. It might even be some lesser independent league.

What it won’t be is one-tenth of the organization that the Flying Squirrels have proven to be. It won’t be even remotely in the same class. It won’t be Todd “Parney” Parnell and his team, people who indeed have overdelivered. They do it on a daily basis during the on- and off-season.

The day-to-day consistency that the organization brings to the table has been so good that it’s become monotonous in the best way possible. And who can discount the Squirrels’ constant improvements and betterment of the crumbling cookie that’s The Diamond?

So the city broke promises. The Squirrels aren’t pleased. Yet they still make money, right? It’s a business and the point is to be profitable. Are they not? Is the situation that precarious? I would imagine that the costs involved with leaving Richmond and re-branding a minor-league baseball team elsewhere are extremely high, making any sudden move a seemingly poor idea for the Squirrels’ ownership.

It would be wildly irresponsible, but Jones could be just calling Nutzy’s bluff with these tactics — a kind of drip-drip-drip torture of doing nothing.

What’s next then? Will our next mayor step up to rectify the situation?

My recommendation is that whoever it is — City Councilman Jon Baliles, Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney, An “Mekong” Bui, CBS-6’s Nikki-Dee Ray or freakin’ Dirt Woman — will start the healing or groveling with DiBella and crew now.

Enough with the bureaucratic-manhood swinging and blinking contests. Losing the Flying Squirrels would be a devastating blow to this city. A real kick to Richmond’s figurative nuts.

Yeah, I went there.

Jack Lauterback also is co-host of “Mornings with Melissa and Jack” on 103.7 Play weekdays from 6-9. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at @jackgoesforth.

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