Friday, April 24, 2009

At the ol' ballgame

The view from the press box

Last Saturday I took in a college baseball game at The Diamond. A few old friends helped me watch George Mason beat VCU by a score of 8-2. The weather was perfect and Mason looked pretty good. I think they are ranked 25th in the country.

The crowd was small, maybe 400 people. The facility itself had a strange look to it. Yes, it felt haunted. Up in the press box, cords and other stuff had been hurriedly pulled out of the wall. There was no spread laid out for the media and R-Braves staff to gobble up. No sign of the departed Braves was in evidence ... it had a bombed-out look.

Throughout the stadium, there were a few old R-Braves signs leftover. After 43 years of games on the Boulevard, now they are the G-Braves, who play their home games in a new baseball stadium in the suburbs of Atlanta.

The concession stands and the scoreboard still display R-Braves logos. The other advertising signs on the outfield wall, the paid-for spaces, seem to all be from last season, when Richmond's AAA team was still playing there. For now, why bother to take them down?

The playing field looked fine; VCU is taking care of it. The Rams have been playing their home games there since 1985, when the place opened. Now they practice there, too. VCU's media guide says The Diamond is a "state-of-the-art facility."
Another base hit with men on for the Patriots

For a college team maybe that's true. Over the last 10 years the Rams have won three-fourths of their games played on the Boulevard.

It struck me, again, if somebody wanted to do it, that 55-year-old location -- counting its Parker Field days -- could be converted into a perfectly adequate place to play minor league baseball again. Maybe you'd need to knock down the cement superstructure and make the seating much less than it was. Perhaps no overhead covering, like the fields the Big Leagues play their preseason games on in Florida.

Much of what seems on the surface wrong with The Diamond looks like it stems from neglect. For years it seemed Bruce Baldwin, the sourpuss former R-Braves general manager, had a policy of spending as little money as he could.

If a team of eager young architects had the assignment of making that place acceptable again for $15 to $20 million, I bet they could come up with a design. In these hard times for the construction business that kind of money might buy more renovation than it would have a year ago.

But just using leftovers, a baseball game was played on a beautiful April afternoon.
Still watching for signs ... but signs of what?

Meanwhile, Paul DiPasquale's familiar sculpture, "Connecticut," still peers out at the Boulevard, watching for something. Perhaps it's the spirit of regional cooperation that built what has been his home since 1985.

-- Words and photos by F.T. Rea


pClark said...

Just what Richmond needs, another perfectly adequate facility. That should be our city slogan, Richmond, Perfectly Adequate.

Anonymous said...

I wish Richmond schools were adequate.

But this does bring up an interesting question- what is VCU's role in this stadium proposal nonsense? Is the Boulevard the new location for VCU's satellite campus?

Anonymous said...

Terry, before you resort to name calling other people a sourpuss (which you surely would know something about), check the facts.

The RMA was responsible for the upkeep of the Diamond and not Baldwin or the R-Braves or even the A-Braves. The team rented the facility from the RMA, which did a good a job keeping it up as they do the potholed Expressway and parking decks (though the new express lanes are a well deserved thank you).

The RMA never did a thing to improve the field from the time Parker Field was built (It was left out of the equation when the Diamond was constructed and RMA took over). That was evidenced by the fact that in 2004 when we had a great team (that no one went to see b/c of a crummy facility) and they made it to the IL Finals v. Buffalo after missing about 8 or 10 games in late summer due to all the (unusual) summer rains that flooded the outfield.

The Braves ended up having to play the IL FInals HOME games scheduled for the Diamond in Buffalo. Not surprisingly, the Bisons won the IL title and the RMA FINALLY spent $500,000 to fix the field.

Right on time.