Forget for a moment that the Richmond Flying Squirrels minor league baseball team is in last place in the Eastern League with 23 victories and 44 losses.
As the first half of the season ends, the Squirrels, Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, are leading the league in both total attendance (199,684) and average attendance (6,051) despite having the worst record.
That would seem to indicate we've got real fans, not the fair-weather variety.
And those fans are getting a nice thank you this week in the form of a jam-packed all-star week, the first in Richmond since 1992. Organizers have a full slate of events including free concerts, pep rallies and a popular home-run derby with points for hitting the team's vice president, Todd "Parney" Parnell in the outfield. And finally the all-star game at the Diamond.
"Yes, I will personally be a target in the home-run derby," Parnell says. "And the early reports from talking to the celebs is that I will be a 'much sought after' target."
The Flying Squirrels lead the league with six all-star selections, including right-handed pitcher Melvin Adon, left-handed pitcher Caleb Baragar, third baseman Jonah Arenado, first baseman Zach Houchins, second baseman Jalen Miller and outfielder Jacob Heyward.
All-Star Week kicks off Sunday, July 7, with a free Brown's Island concert featuring local reggae group Mighty Joshua and the Zion No. 5 with the Trongone Band and concludes with the 2019 Eastern League all-star game on Wednesday, July 10, at the Diamond [for a complete schedule, see below].
As of press time, the all-star game had about 2,000 upper reserved (gold) seats available, according to Anthony Opperman, executive director of marketing and promotions.
Hannah DeFrank, special events and Flying Squirrels charities manager, was involved in planning the festivities. "We've been planning this for three years, even before I started on the project," she says. "We've turned what is usually a two-day event into a four-day event to highlight Richmond."
Parnell noted to Style that country duo Big & Rich was "unprecedented act" for a minor league baseball all-star game and he's excited about working with Richmond Raceway, plus the whole game-day experience.
"My kids always tell me 'Dad, you are extra.' We have been planning an all-star event that hopefully will go down in history as 'ultra-extra' and also be remembered as one of the best spotlights on the Richmond region ever," Parnell says. "And special secret to be let out of the bag, I have four new pair of pants on the way for all-star week, one of each day. So get ready for that."
There are still conversations behind the scenes regarding the future of the Diamond, no news to report there. But Opperman says that the Squirrels recently welcomed an important milestone: The team's four millionth fan since its inception in 2010. It also recently held its first Pride Night, working with Virginia Pride, the nonprofit serving the LGBTQ community.
But even if you didn't get tickets for the all-star game, there are a lot of free events for Richmonders to enjoy:
Mayor Levar Stoney's All-Star Week Kickoff on Brown's Island — Sunday, July 7
Mighty Joshua performs from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and Trongone Band performs from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Free event featuring food trucks and family area.
All-Star Country Music Jam at Virginia Credit Union Live featuring Big & Rich — Monday, July 8
Gates open at 6 p.m. Red carpet entrance with Eastern League All-Stars. At 7 p.m., there's an all-star country music jam with DJ Sinister, Mickie James and the Heaters and Big & Rich.
Downtown Pep Rally at the James Center — Tuesday, July 9
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a performance by DJ Ron Manila. The event will also feature player appearances and food trucks.
Celebrity Home Run Derby and Funnville Fan Fest — Tuesday, July 9
The home run derby featuring celebrities and All Stars and runs from 6 to 8 p.m. After the event, there's a performance by yacht rockers Three Sheets to the Wind and fireworks.
Squirrels Way All-Star Block Party at the Diamond — Wednesday, July 10
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a live performance by DJ Ron Manila. Event will also feature player appearances and food trucks.
2019 Eastern League All-Star Game presented by Genworth — Wednesday, July 10
Gates open at 4 p.m. Autograph sessions until 6 p.m. Live pregame performance by Spiderkelly from 5 to 7 p.m. First pitch of game goes out at 7:05 p.m.
And of course, postgame fireworks.