R-Braves moving to Georgia
After 42 years as a staple of summertime in Virginia, the Richmond Braves are moving. According to this morning's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Board of Commissioners in Gwinnett County, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb, will vote today on the purchase of a 12-acre plot of land, which sources inside the Braves organization say is intended for a new ballpark for the AAA club. The team could begin playing in its new home as early as the 2009 season.
The news has shocked Richmonders, where the city government had proposed several sites for a stadium to replace The Diamond, the 8,000-seat stadium located on the North Boulevard just off I-95. However, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, talks between the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, which owns The Diamond, the city of Richmond, which owns the 60 acres around The Diamond, and the Atlanta Braves had recently stalled.
News of the move comes at a time when the Richmond economy has just sustained two major hits. On Friday, January 11 Henrico County-based apparel retailer A&N announced it was folding after 139 years in business. That same day, the TCW Group, the main shareholder in Richmond-based Circuit City, announced it was bailing on the company after the electronics giant reported an 11.4 percent drop in same-store sales in December, and analysts downgraded its shares.
Built in 1985, The Diamond stands as the third-oldest stadium in the International League, behind McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, RI (built in 1946, and renovated in 1998) and Cooper Stadium in Columbus, OH (built in 1931, and to be replaced after the 2008 season).
Although 23 years may not seem like a long lifespan for a ballpark, The Diamond's fate could be part of a growing trend of minor league teams abandoning slightly used stadiums in favor of shiny new digs closer to the home of the parent franchise. Just last year, the Philadelphia Phillies moved their AAA squad from Ottawa, Canada and its 14-year-old stadium to Allentown, PA, where the team will play this season in the brand new Coca-Cola Park and be known as the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
This leaves Charlottesville baseball fans who want to see a minor-league game with the choice of driving west to see the A-level Lynchburg Hillcats, further west to see the A-level Salem Avalanche, north to see Woodbridge's A-level Potomac Nationals, or to the coast to see the AAA-level Norfolk Tides. Does this leave the door open for a minor league team in Charlottesville?
"I don't know," says city councilor David Brown, "but it would have to be the result of a groundswell of support, not something from the top down."
In the 1990s, a developer talked of bringing a team to Charlottesville, and Brown says during his time on council, he's heard many citizens push for a minor league team, particularly one that would play home games at UVA's Davenport Field.
"The big stumbling block there is that UVA would not agree to sell alcohol at that stadium, and that's something that minor league fans expect," Brown says.