Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Parent Braves leak plan to build new park in Richmond; readers left vaguely disappointed by dissonance between headline and content of this post

Consider this a follow-up post to the "A-Braves on Richmond radio" post from Monday. I care about this subject as a Richmonder, but I think this development has some Nationals ramifications, too.

This morning's Richmond Times-Disgrace trickles some details about the parent club's plans to build a new park in a dowtown section known as Shockoe Bottom, which was flood-ravaged by the effects of a nasty tropical storm and is certainly in need of a little pick-me-up. The R-Braves' general manager, Bruce Baldwin, who through Atlanta's unusual minor league arrangement is actually an A-Braves' employee (as a director of minor league operations, or some sort), quotes step-by-step from the Universal Ballpark Playbook:

"This is not just a ballpark. It's a community development project. The ballpark is just the driver."

[ . . . ]

"When you walk down 18th Street, you're not going to know there's a ballpark there," he said. "The idea is for all of this to settle in and be part of the fabric of the community. It is not a hulking facility. It addresses all the concerns we heard."

However, if you believe the details of the article, this might not be a bad deal:

In an unusual twist, the Braves, along with a partner, Global Development, would serve as developers for the project, which would be one of the largest in Richmond's history and would be paid for mainly through private

[ . . . ]

Separate components of the plan include a "sportsplex" at The Diamond, the Braves' current home on North Boulevard, plus a private foundation
the Braves would create. The foundation would seek to help en- hance the
Slave Trail along the James River, set up a college scholarship fund for
inner-city children and build a community center and youth-league baseball field behind George Mason Elementary School on North 28th Street.

Consider me skeptical that a minor league ballpark project could actually drum up such private money, but then, I'm a skeptical guy.

Well, as to concerns more germane to this blog, I'm of two minds:

1. I don't particularly care for the Atlanta Braves. I never really followed them as a kid, when many of their players actually did spend significant time in Richmond, and I find them thoroughly boring now, right down to their announcing teams. And I generally distrust the organization. The local media here believe that the Braves' organization is generally magnanimous with us; after all, unlike some of their local minors affiliates, "at least they haven't moved our team, despite the ballpark."

Well, I wrote four years ago that The Diamond's not all that bad, and I stand by that assessment. I stand by it despite an irrigation problem last season that turned the outfield into an Olympic swimming pool. I stand by it despite the fact that its location (Boulevard & Broad) isn't night-life-central. I stand by despite the fact that the seats aren't particularly comfortable, the sound system stinks, the dimensions aren't quirky, and there's no berm beyond the outfield fence.

2. On the other hand, look . . I'm a fan. I try to foist up an objective veneer sometimes---an image made easier by my natural distrust for political parties---but I am a fan. And I'm a fan of the Washington Nationals. So if the Atlanta Braves take a stance of "Build us (or, if the article is accurate, Let us build) a ballpark, or we're out"---well, I say, "Fine."

I'm a cautious guy, but I still think it likely that the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (the coalition of the city and surrounding counties that administers many large area public works, including The Diamond) would realize that some renovations need to be done at The Diamond, make it happen, maybe encourage a little newer development in the area, and stand by and watch as the Nationals put their Triple-A club right here. It takes too much sense for the Nationals to put a club here, as it makes sense for the A's to use Sacramento, or the Giants to use Fresno, or the Astros to use Austin/Round Rock, or the Rangers to use Oklahoma City, or the Orioles maybe someday using Harrisburg or Bowie.

But I also know Richmond; I know it's a salt-of-the-earth town that values constancy and loyalty. And we've been loyal to the Atlanta Braves' organization. We've been loyal to the organization, as I argued in the link above, even when the organization gave us second-and-third-tier minor league veterans and mainly bypassed its more recent hot prospects around---not through---Richmond. Maybe now Atlanta is paying us back to some extent. This does seem like a pretty good stadium deal.

Even more personally, I realize that while I'm a Nats fan, I can't expect a lot of people here to be so inclined, at least not yet. I'm not certain that there's great avidity for the A-Braves here; in fact, while this might not be solid evidence, judging by shelf placement, Braves' gear doesn't seem to sell at local sporting goods stores here with more frequency than that of the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Orioles, or Cubs, among other baseball teams. And, as I said earlier, local radio and TV outlets have traditionally been affiliates of the Orioles, not the A-Braves. (I will add, though, that late local sports highlights do tend to focus on Atlanta more than other teams.)

So, as a fan, I'm left sour. But as a realist, I am willing to admit that Atlanta possesses some claim to the area. If the organization is ready to cash in, and in a manner that helps area residents and a struggling downtown community (if, indeed, a minor league park can do such a thing---a point I'll just leave for now), then good for the organization and good for the city, I guess.

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