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Official Review by Jason Bullock, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Diamond has been home to the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams baseball team since 1985. The Rams share the stadium with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the AA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.
VCU joined the Atlantic 10 Conference for the 2013 season after being a member of the CAA since 1995. During their time in the CAA, the Rams won five conference championships and qualified for eight NCAA Regional tournaments. One of the most successful alumni of VCU is Brandon Inge, who spent 12 seasons with the Detroit Tigers and now is a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The concession stand is located on the first base side and offers a decent selection for a college baseball game, which is one of the advantages of sharing a park with a minor league team. $2 hot dogs appear to be popular, and burgers ($6) and chicken tenders ($4.25) are also available. Nachos, fries and pretzels are available as snacks, but if you have a sweet tooth, you will not find anything on the menu for you. Coke products are available as fountain drinks, as well as bottled water and tea.
One thing that was noticeably different at this game than other college games I have attended is that they serve beer. For $6, you can get a regular 14 ounce draft, and $3 more will get you a 32 ounce 'SuperSize'. I didn't notice many fans partaking in a cold one, but it's nice to know it's available as a thirst quenching option.
There are other concession stands and stand-alone vendors located in the concourse, but they are not open for VCU games. However, the one stand is sufficient, and you should never have a long wait for your food. Credit cards are accepted as a form of payment, but if you find yourself needing cash, there is an ATM located at the top of the steps of the main entrance.
Seating is general admission, so you have your choice of 6,200 lower-level seats to choose from (the upper bowl is closed for VCU games), so whatever vantage point you prefer for baseball will be easily accessible. Seat width is good and every seat comes with its own cup holder. If you want to sit with other Ram fans, find a seat behind the third base side, which is also where the home team dugout is located. There is a scoreboard in center field that also displays photos and names of the current VCU batter, and the PA system is clearly audible.
OK, so why only two stars? Mainly, the place is too big! With only 3-5% of the lower bowl typically filled with spectators, it feels like you are sitting with a few friends at home watching the game on TV. When the home team makes a great play, there are not that many people in close proximity with whom to share your joy. For me, that's part of the reason to go to games in person - to share my passion for the home team with others like me. For VCU home games, that intimate setting is missing and takes away some of the excitement of seeing the game live as a fan.
In addition, since they share this park with the Squirrels, the majority of the signage, ads and banners do not represent VCU. You will find a banner in the corner of left field recognizing the past NCAA tournament teams, a flag in center field and a small 'VCU Baseball' sign at the bottom of the scoreboard to signify that the Rams play at The Diamond. I know they are not the main tenant of the stadium, but it would be nice to see more signs of VCU, if only during college baseball season.
Lastly, and this is minor but worth mentioning, the team requests that all foul balls are returned to the home team dugout. As a child or an adult, part of the excitement of going to baseball games is always having the anticipation of catching a foul ball. I'm not sure what would happen if someone didn't return one, but I am disappointed to know that there is an expectation that I would have to return what I would typically consider a memento of a game I attended.
The area around the stadium is mostly industrial. There are a couple of small restaurants within walking distance, but nothing that would stand out as a 'must-see'. If you are looking for food or drink before the game, I would recommend driving the two miles to Carytown (directly south from the stadium) and visiting the Galaxy Diner or Carytown Burgers and Fries. After the game, you can head down Main Street to Home Team Grill, which was rated "One of the Best 101 Sports Bars in the U.S." by CNN - and a personal favorite of mine. There is also a movie theater a block away from the stadium, Bowtie Cinemas, that is located in an old locomotive and machine manufacturing site (and has retained that 'industrial' feel) and is worth a visit if your game is rained out or you are wanting to catch the latest blockbuster.
A typical home game for the Rams draws about 200-300 fans. As with many college baseball games, many of the fans in attendance appear to be friends or family of the players. VCU students get in free for the games, and I did notice pockets of them at games I attended this year (2013), but there was not a huge level of support from them. The fans all cheer at the right times and appreciate the effort of the players, but with the size of the stadium and the lack of an intimate setting mentioned above, at times it seems like the players are playing in front of an empty park.
The Diamond is located right off of I-95, just north of downtown Richmond. The park is easily accessible from any direction which you may be traveling, and there is ample free parking on site.
Restrooms are plentiful for the crowd size. They are located behind first and third base and are what would be expected from an older stadium. There are no family bathrooms or changing stations for the little ones.
Ticket prices are $7 for adults and $4 for youth. Free parking and fair food prices make this a pretty decent value, but the lack of an atmosphere in this park drops the score for me a little.
If you're looking for a Division I baseball game, that is what you will find - nothing extra.
Bigger stadiums are great for professional teams and college powerhouses, but this one just doesn't make a good fit for the VCU Rams.
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