Richmond ready to go nuts over new baseball team
Melanie Beck has been a baseball lover since she was eight years old; her favorite professional team is the Baltimore Orioles. Although Beck, a sophomore, was excited when she heard the San Francisco Giant’s affiliate and Double-A team, The Richmond Flying Squirrels, would be debuting at The Diamond on Boulevard this spring, originally the name left her confused.
“I was a little thrown off by it,” Beck said. “I have no idea how that came about so it’s just like, random and I don’t know what squirrels have to do with Richmond.”
While the Flying Squirrels’ first home game won’t take place until April 15, the organization’s promotional team has been striving to thrust the team in to the community limelight.
In late September, the franchise held a contest with the Richmond Times-Dispatch to name the team. The competition helped generate some buzz for the forming team, and was actually how Beck first heard about them.
She said some of her friends have already bought merchandise supporting the team, but that not everyone might be as eager to meet the Squirrels.
“Some people are bitter about the (Richmond) Braves leaving,” Beck said. “So that might be something where they don’t want to support them because they aren’t the Braves. People will have mixed feelings, but I think people will support them.”
The Richmond Braves played at The Diamond for 42 years, until their departure in 2008. The Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, announced they would be moving to Gwinnett County, Ga., which immediately created response from its Richmond fans base eager to hang onto the home team. An online petition and Facebook group were created and over 4,000 fans agreed to help, however it was too late. Construction for the team’s new stadium in Gwinnett County had already begun.
VCU sophomore and Richmond native Neil Raetz attended some Braves games when he was younger and said he thinks the Squirrels will be an innovative way to bring family fun downtown.
“I think bringing back a team to Richmond will be great,” Raetz said. “It gives the community a new beginning in how poorly the Braves program ended. I think attendance will be fairly high at the start and after that, the success of the team will determine how things flow.”
Raetz said he was excited to hear that Richmond would still be the home of a minor league program. However, he thinks the team’s new mascot “Nutzy” could do with a little work.
“I feel a more intimidating mascot could have been picked,” Raetz said.
“Nutzy” was unveiled at a press conference at the Bryd Theatre Feb. 11. The organization held a “Name the Mascot” conference and selected the winner out of 3,500 potential candidates. They also unveiled their four different uniform styles for the season.
Christina Shisler, Director of Community Relations/Promotions for the Squirrels, said “Nutzy” was a suggestion that came up more than once.
“Lots of people entered Nutzy or some form of Nutzy, so we went with something fun that the public liked,” Shisler said. “As for the actual mascot, we wanted something kid-friendly yet strong, so naturally a superhero was a great fit.”
Currently Nutzy is visiting different area elementary schools, but this is not the only way the team has become involved with its new hometown.
HCA Health Systems is one of the team’s founding partners, Holiday Inn is the sponsor of the picnic area, and Coca-Cola and Brown Distributing Company are also working with the Squirrels, Shisler said.
During the Christmas season, the Squirrels were active with “Toys for Tots” and had a coat drive for kids. They worked with 20 different local charities and raised almost $15,000, according to the team’s Web site.
Shisler said helping others is something the Squirrels want to be affiliated with for a long time.
“Well, as a team, we are very community minded,” Shisler said. “We will continue to be involved very closely with the non-profits, schools and little leagues in the area.”
The team hopes to cater to families in the area and Shisler said someone coming to a Squirrels game should anticipate a little more than just an oddly named baseball team.
“We are all about memory making and if we can provide an atmosphere for children and families to make memories and have fun. It makes our jobs even better,” Shisler said.
All of the players in the Giants’ farm system are in Arizona for training camp. The completed Squirrels team will be in Richmond and ready to play ball in early April.
The Squirrels opening night will take place at The Diamond on April 15 at 7:05 p.m. Individual game tickets can be purchased starting March 15, and the merchandise store will open then as well. For more information visit the Richmond Flying Squirrels Web site or visit its Twitter at “tweetparney” and “gosquirrels” or on Facebook under “Nutzy the Flying Squirrel” and “Flying Squirrels Baseball.”