Richmond came into possession of their Flying Squirrels due to some franchise musical chairs that began in the first decade of the new century. Since its opening in 1985, The Diamond was the home to the AAA Richmond Braves. However, in the late aughts, the ownership and local government squabbled over a proposed new ballpark to replace The Diamond, ending with the Braves moving to Gwinnett in 2009 after no new construction agreement was reached.
Meanwhile in Connecticut, the AA Norwich Navigators changed hands in 2003 to the San Francisco Giants when their former affiliate, the New York Yankees, introduced their Trenton franchise. The rechristened Connecticut Defenders stayed in Connecticut until 2009, when declining attendance figures made ownership look for greener pastures. This ended with the club (renamed again as the "Flying Squirrels") finding a home in Richmond in 2010, bringing baseball back to the city after a year's absence. And back in Connecticut, the newly minted Connecticut Tigers took over in Norwich as a New York-Penn A+ affiliate of the Tigers.
The Diamond remains the home of baseball in Richmond, but promises were made to the Squirrels for a new park before they arrived. Though The Diamond has 12,134 seats when used for Virginia Commonwealth University athletics events, for Flying Squirrels games it is cut down to a more intimate 9,560, with ads placed over unused seating blocks.
Since the Squirrels came to roost, there have been a number of much-needed renovations to the aging park, the most recent in 2011, which installed new party decks and improved the old main scoreboard.
But all is not well in Richmond baseball. In an episode of unwanted deja vu for local ball fans, the Flying Squirrels ownership is grumbling about the unfulfilled promises of a new stadium to replace The (Old) Diamond, and the absolute silence on the part of the city government as to its previous assurances has the Richmond baseball faithful nervous--and perhaps with very good reason. Time will tell, as the next lease renewal approaches rather quickly.
The Diamond may not be a classic park or a state-of-the-art retro park, but they don't do anything wrong and are exceptional in some areas, serving a dedicated fan base in the busy capital of Virginia.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
While there aren't that many concession stands, they still pack a lot of variety in at The Diamond.
The two main concessions stands flank the entrance plaza in the lower level, one serves the upper deck, and a couple of smaller "express" stands have an abbreviated selection. The Sweet Spot serves up just treats.
The main concessions hit all the major ballpark food groups, with burgers ($6/$6.25 cheeseburgers), chicken sandwiches and tenders of various stripes ($4-$6), BBQ ($6), and three kinds of hot dogs/corn dogs ($2-$3). Everything is also available as an economical combo that includes a large soda and regular fries.
Speaking of fries, they serve up four kinds that range from the basic ($3.50) to meals in themselves (Chili Cheese [$6.50] and BBQ Pork Cheese [$7.00]). There are also four options for kid's meals ranging from $4-$5 (PB&J, Lunchables, Hot Dog Meal, and Corn Dog Meal).
Pizza is available from a specialty cart for $6.50 for a personal pie. The Nutsy's Midway Grills express stands, in addition to a smaller menu, also deliver two kinds of Italian sausage, the Boss Hog (pork roll, egg, pepperoni, and cheese on a pretzel bun), and brats (all $6).
If that's not enough, try specialty dogs and burgers from the "Stadium Favorites" menu at the main concessions ($5-$11), that includes a Diamond Dog or Burger (burger or hot dog topped with pulled pork and BBQ sauce) and the Giant Burger (1 lb burger topped with onions, cheese, and BBQ sauce).
You can get your suds all over the place at The Diamond. The main concession by home plate plaza has Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Yuengling, Miller, Shock Top, Coors, and Leinenkugels. Sixteen ounce pours are a reasonable $6, while $9.50 will get you a 32 oz brew. "Beer Express" carts dots the lower and upper promenades, serving up a smaller selection at the same prices. One main craft beer stand and few smaller craft stands also dot the entrance plaza, serving up about a dozen rotating local brews for $6.50 for 16 oz and $10 for 32 ounces. A rita stand will serve up traditional and not-so-traditional margaritas for $6-$6.50. And in a particularly uncommon facility, there is even a Wine Bar serving up a dozen or so grape-based drinks for $7.
You might as well get a local beer from the craft beer stands ($6.50 16 oz, $10 32 oz -- the Legend Brown Ale is a fine choice if they feature it the day of your visit), and you might as well grab something from the Favorites menu. If the Giant Burger ($11) is a bit too much, try the Diamond Dog ($5).
The Diamond doesn't look too inviting at first glance. The towering concrete exterior is more evocative of a football stadium or 1970's multi-purpose monstrosity than either a classic or modern ballpark. But the park does a lot to make the hard edges softer and more inviting, not the least of which begins with the giant inflatable mascot at the entrance to the park. It can't quite overcome the cold concrete, but it does make you partially forget about it.
For such a large stadium, there are essentially two seating areas; the lower deck and the upper deck, both of which run from just past third base to just past first base. The lower deck descends down from the lower promenade, and the upper deck ascends up from the upper promenade. The lower deck seats run up right in front of the luxury boxes that ring the top of the lower deck.
The left field promenade ends in the Performance Picnic Zone, and in right field it ends at the Squirrel's Nest team store and Peanut Gallery seating area. The Little Caesar's Party Pavilion is in right field. The upper deck press box is flanked by the Jani King Party Decks, and ends in left field with the Virginia Credit Unit Party Porch. The main scoreboard sits in left-center, and a pitch speed board is a short distance away. The home dugout is on the first base side for autograph seekers.
The Flying Squirrels definitely don't subscribe to the "Less is More" theory for entertainment as much as "dinner and a show." There are five mascots on the payroll, led by Nutsy, the Flying Squirrel. Also appearing (but often not at the same game) are Parker the Rally Pig, Zinger the Acorn, Captain ARRR Va the pirate, and Victor the Viking. Games and giveaways start before the game to get the crowd into the fun, and while some teams take breaks between some half-innings, there is something going on at every break in the action at a Flying Squirrels game, and even the grounds crew gets into the act by "Dragging" the field at the top of the seventh in drag. And it doesn't end with the last out, either, as there is always a postgame activity or concert.
The price difference from the GA upper deck to the field level box seats is only $4, and there aren't major obstruction issues, so it's all about if you're going with a large group or want to splurge. The upper deck isn't that far from the field, and the upper rows are the only places where you can grab some relief from the rain or sun, so general admission is not necessarily a bad way to go, especially on particularly hot days (which can be common in the northern Virginia summer) or days when rain is threatening.
The state capital of Virginia is a cosmopolitan and bustling city with a lot of choices for activities and eats.
Most of the fine dining is to be found downtown, but there are a great deal of options near the ballpark, either on or just off 161. Kitchen 64 (upscale American diner), Nacho Mama's (bar and grill), Fat Dragon (Chinese), and Buzz and Ned's Real Barbecue are all within walking distance of the ballpark. Local opinion seems to be that a short drive up state 250 northwest of the stadium is probably in order to get some local BBQ at the HogsHead Cafe.
As you might expect, the Virginia state capital has a great deal to hold your attention outside of the ballpark, but what is surprising is how much is right by the ballpark. Families with kids will appreciate the hands-on Science Museum of Virginia and Children's Museum of Richmond to the south off 161, as well as Barefoot Puppets on side roads off 161 to the north.
Further down 161 are some of Richmond's top attractions, including Monument Avenue, the Historical Society, the Fine Arts Museum, and the Victorian Maymont Estate. History buffs will want to travel downtown by the junction of 95 and 195, where you can find the State Capitol Building; the Museum of the Confederacy; and The Valentine, a restored 1812 home.
Richmond has many hotels, but there are three within walking distance of the park, with the Economy Inn and Clarion Hotel Central to the north, and the Comfort Inn Conference Center midtown to the south. Slightly further to the east on state road 1/301 are the Enys Hotel, Richmond Motel, Belmont Motel, and the Budget Inn. Over a dozen hotels are available downtown to the southeast of the park, and over a dozen more are further southeast by the airport.
While you may never get a sellout at the cavernous Diamond, the Flying Squirrels are usually at or near the top of the Eastern League attendance figures, which makes it all the more sad that disputes between the team and the city government may take another team away from the baseball faithful in Richmond.
While it can look like the park is half-filled, that is because it often is, even with certain upper deck sections closed off. But a half-filled Diamond is still a bigger crowd than nearly all Eastern League teams have at a park packed to capacity. The Flying Squirrels are a big draw in Richmond, and despite the optical illusion of a huge park, the team still brings them through the turnstiles.
Minor league ball will always draw more families than baseball die-hards, but the families in Richmond like their baseball, too. The cast of dozens on the field keep the energy up between innings, and if the hometown boys are doing well on the field, the crowd will definitely let you know it.
The Diamond is located right off of I-64/95 in downtown Richmond, a minute or two down 161.
The Greater Richmond Transit Authority's extensive bus network can get you to the park from nearly anywhere in the city. The red and grey bus lines stop at the Diamond ($1.50). An Amtrak station is downtown, about two miles from the park, and the Greyhound station is nearly across the street from the field. Richmond International Airport is southeast of downtown, about twenty minutes from the park by car.
Six lots (plus one for season ticket holders) nearly surround the park, and all are a reasonable $3.
Most of the entrances to the park are at the front of the park by the ticket booths. "The Squirrely Gates" let in the general admission crowd at the front of the gates, while season ticket holder gates are on the sides. The Little Caesar's Party Pavilion in right has its own entrance, as does the "Squirrel's Nest" team store (which closes before game time). The games usually see a healthy crowd, and lines form before the gates open. But they move briskly once the time comes an hour before the game, so get in line and relax.
The lower and upper deck promenades make getting around easy, and if there is some congestion, you can use the narrower outer walkways to get where you're going. Less so in the seating areas. There is one section of seats in the lower deck, and one in the upper deck, and there are no walkways or even paths among the seats, meaning you have to walk down a stairway from the promenade and then excuse your way to your seat. In the upper deck, its the same thing, but walking up a stairway instead of down. This creates backlogs getting in, and especially at the end of the game to get out.
The Flying Squirrels live up to the minor league's goal of delivering affordable family entertainment while putting the stars of the future on the field along with a fun night out.
Ticket prices are quite reasonable, with most running from $8-$12. The upper deck General Admission seats go for $8, the middle Terrace Level seats are $10, and field level "United Healthcare Field Level Seating" are $12. All tickets are $1 more on game day. The "Peanut Gallery," with romantic wicker chair seating on the first base side by the team store, run $28 for two seats (with unlimited peanuts thrown in).
Food and drink prices are extremely reasonable, especially with combos for everything that throws in a drink and a side of fries. And kids combo meals for $4-$5 help feed a family on a budget. $3 for parking isn't bad at all in the Eastern League, and the program is free. $6/$10 for 16/32 oz beers is also well within the realm of reasonable.
There are exhaustive options for groups at The Diamond. Generous group ticket prices start at groups of 20 or more, with discounts up to $2.50 off of face value. Another group option is The Little Caesars Tailgate Party, $22 per person for groups of 20 or more (not surprisingly located in the Little Caesars Party Pavilion) with an all-you-can eat buffet. Further, groups of 38 can rent the Virginia Credit Union Party Porch for $600, and smaller groups of 24 can rent the Jani King Party deck for $380.
Even smaller groups aren't left out. Groups of 8 or more can enjoy the PFG Picnic Zone (with an all-you-can-eat buffet) for $28 per person. Birthday parties starting at eight people are available for $176 on the Little Caesar Party Pavilion.
There are also special discount nights for faith groups, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts. Suite rentals begin at $675. Mini-Plan Ticket packages for 24 games offer a 20% discount off face value, Great 8 vouchers for eight games are $90 for field level and $55 for GA, and Silver Squirrels clubs for seniors are $75 for Field Level and $35 for General Admission for tickets to 10 games.
While The Diamond may be getting long in the tooth, it has plenty of extras to keep you entertained besides the game between the foul lines.
Even before you enter the park, out on the right field side of the park is the "Have Funn Go Putt" 9-hole mini-golf course ($1 a game). Lining the outside of the park are signs with "Squirrels Funn Facts" about the team. Once you get in, right by the entrance is a band stage where most games days will have some sort of performance going on before the game. A kids area ("Nutsyville") is on the first base side of the lower deck (with games, speed pitch, and an autograph hut for players and mascots), and a team store anchors the right field end of the promenade. The Amtrak Fan Depot on the ground floor handles sign-ups and prize giveaways for the on-field and between inning games.
There's also an exhaustive amount of monuments and dedications throughout the park. A POW/MIA seat overlooks the main plaza, and player and mascot banners hang from the upper deck promenade. The Road the Show, with large posters of the Squirrels that made it to the majors, lines the upper promenade over the entrance plaza. Opening Day Lineups cover a stairway up to the upper deck. Signatures from the opening day players and staff over the years are on big posters and cover the lower and upper deck walkways. Fellow tenants VCU Baseball have their championship banners on the left field wall. A Wall of Fame plaque is on the lower promenade, and Jackie Robinson's 42 is retired on the right field wall.
Between innings and before and after the game, there is always multiple things going on. Some might find it a bit much, but it is certainly delivering on an evening's entertainment.
The Flying Squirrels deliver on the promise of affordable, fun baseball entertainment for die-hard fans in the state capitol. Although the current environs are more than adequate, we can only hope that the local government's promise of a new stadium won't be shown false twice and drive another Richmond team to greener pastures.
The Diamond is home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the AA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. The Squirrels play in the Western Division of the Eastern League and have called Richmond home since the 2010 season. Before relocating, they were known as the Connecticut Defenders. The stadium is shared with the Virginia Commonwealth University baseball team, whose campus is located in downtown Richmond.
The stadium was opened in 1985 and has capacity for over 12,000, however for Squirrels games they cover the top rows of the upper deck with advertising, reducing capacity to 9,500.
Prior to 2009, The Diamond was home to the Richmond Braves, the AAA club for the Atlanta Braves. The age and condition of the stadium and field and the inability to reach an agreement on a new stadium resulted in the R-Braves relocating to Gwinnett, GA to a new ballpark. This was a disappointment for the loyal fan base, as Richmond was the last stop before the big leagues for many of the Atlanta Braves stars of the last few decades including Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, John Smoltz and David Justice.
This place is too big for AA ball. The GA seats are in the upper deck! And not even in the first few rows! Ushers are active until the end of the game, which is crazy for AA games. Food is pretty cheap, and some vendors make things interesting, and frankly, the top row of the upper deck is great when the breeze is blowing through, but the Flying Squirrels need to adjust their game plan. Checking tickets in AA ball is really not necessary!
It's big, it's old, it's in desperate need of renovating, but it is what it is and what it is is a cheap fun evening. I've been going to the Diamond for years...probably 20 at least. Back when it was nicer and housed the great Braves teams back in the day to now, where it is home to a great Flying Squirrels franchise that desperately needs a new home. The stadium is big and it serves it's purpose, but at this point, Richmond should have something much nicer and much better to give it's only real sports franchise in town (sorry arena football...but who cares?). The food is good and the beer is awesome (thanks to RVA's insane craft beer revolution) and your return on investment (tickets are dirt cheap) make it a fun night out. Honestly, the stadium sits in a pretty ok spot as far as views go and its a breeze getting in and out of the place. It's not even that the Diamond shows its age so poorly, it's that RVA has the potential to do a much better job in helping this team out...not to mention that they said they would, and still haven't done anything.
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