Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Minor League Meanderings (Renegades and Richmond)

I'm heading back to the broadcast booth for the final five games of the Renegades' 2009 season, beginning tonight in Brooklyn, as the Gades and Cyclones hook up. Carlos Beltran is expected to be in the lineup for Brooklyn, so that should be interesting.

Visit the Renegades website to listen

Nosing around Ballpark Digest, I came across a couple of items related to a favorite place of mine - Richmond, VA. R-VA is baseball-less for the first time in a loooong time (the R-Braves played there from 1966-2008), and the movement has been afoot to get the National Pastime back to Virginia's capital city.

What's the problem? A stadium, of course (read: money). The R-Braves played in The Diamond, a typical ballpark of the time, opening in 1985 on the site of Parker Field. The Diamond was OK - and would be suitable for a double-A team - but improvements need to be made to bring the facility up to current standards.

The other idea was to build a stadium downtown, blending it into the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood - one of trendy restaurants, clubs, pubs and so on. As such, it would become part of a destination. Of course, the NIMBY's came out in force on that, and it seems like the deal is dead.

The next question becomes: what team is coming to Richmond? At times, there was talk that a independent league team would be the answer (say, the Bridgeport Bluefish?). For Richmond, a city that deserves solid minor league options, I say - if you can't get triple-A baseball, how about double-A?

How about the Connecticut Defenders?

That's where Ballpark Digest steps in. They also link to many stories in the tale of Richmond baseball.

Additionally, from the Richmond Times-Dispatch comes this from Michael Paul Williams. He poses the question: "Can Richmond renew romance with baseball?"

I say yes, if it's done right. Michael Paul Williams says the following of attendance for the Gwinnett County Braves (the former R-Braves):
The Gwinnett Braves, who play in a new $64 million ballpark, are in first place in their division. But off the field, the move hasn't been a grand slam.

The team is averaging a modest 5,879 per game. The Richmond Braves exceeded that average in all but six seasons at The Diamond, though in its last three seasons, attendance failed to crack 5,000 a game.
So of course, my question becomes: Why? Why didn't the Braves draw well at the end?

I went to several R-Braves games from 1992-2001 (approximately). I saw the interest - maybe not always sell-out interest, but there were plenty of people there anyway. It's all in how a team is presented, marketed, and promoted - ESPECIALLY at the minor league level. It's largely grass-roots.

Richmond is a unique place, and I think we've substantiated that here before. To repeat: it is - to me - the modern Mason-Dixon Line. There is a sense of the "old south" but a lot of northern touches as well. Washington is a mere 90 miles or so to the north, just as a point of reference. So yes, some trek to DC for the Nationals, Redskins, Wizards, and Caps (for the few in Richmond who slightly care about ice hockey). Of course, NASCAR is uber-popular in Richmond, as are college sports with Virginia Tech, U of Virginia (among many others) all within reach. Virginia Commonwealth and the University of Richmond are both in downtown Richmond.

I'm rooting for Richmond to get baseball back - a hometown option without having to go see the Nationals or Orioles. I would want to be a part of it if it happens.

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