Apr 13, 2023 - Sports

Flying Squirrels threaten to leave Richmond

Illustration of a squirrel wearing a baseball cap.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Flying Squirrels say slow progress toward a new ballpark might force them to leave the city after all.

What they're saying: "Sadly, with imminent deadlines looming, we cannot be confident that the future of the Squirrels in Richmond is secure," said Squirrels president and managing partner Lou DiBella in a statement.

Why it matters: It’s a 180-degree turn from last fall, when smiling officials lined up to announce the Diamond District deal, seemingly ending the city's decades-long stadium saga for good.

  • The massive redevelopment of city land on Arthur Ashe Boulevard includes an 8,000-seat stadium that city officials promised would be ready in time for a 2025 deadline set by Major League Baseball for stadium upgrades.

Driving the news: There's been almost no progress on a stadium in the seven months since the city announced the deal, per DiBella, whose statement was first reported by the Times-Dispatch.

  • "The next three or four weeks will be critical with respect to moving forward in the hometown that we love," he said.

The other side: A city spokesperson did not address the pace of work, but said in a statement that the city has been "working tirelessly" and is "committed to completing this important, intentional project."

Between the lines: This is hardly the first time the Squirrels have turned to public pressure as a negotiating tactic.

  • When the team came to Richmond in 2010, they were under the impression that the city would have a new stadium ready for them in time for the 2014 season.
  • By 2011, they were already voicing frustration with the slow pace of progress and publicly shopping around for a new home base.

Flashback: The erstwhile Richmond Braves abandoned the city back in 2008 after giving up on their own effort to get the city to replace the Diamond.

Reality check: Would the Squirrels really leave a city that last year delivered the highest attendance in all of Double-A baseball?

  • DiBella insists that Major League Baseball's new stadium standards would leave him with no options.
  • "If there isn't a stadium built that meets prescribed MLB guidelines, is suitable for professional baseball, and is worthy of the great city of Richmond, there will be no Opening Day 2026 in RVA," he said.
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