Richmond, Va.–It is fitting that Pat O'Conner addressed the future concerns of one team's stadium problems here at the Diamond in Richmond, a ballpark that has hosted its fair share of controversy over the years.
The Minor League Baseball president checked out the Eastern League's newest affiliate, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, after serving as the keynote speaker at a luncheon at nearby Virginia State University. His take on the 30-year-old Diamond was as expected: impressed at the product produced by team operators Chuck Domino and Todd Parnell, but still certain that a new facility will be needed in the future. How long that will take, and where exactly it will be located, is far from certain.
"We've got two of our better operators working on one project. One of our better minor league operations is in Richmond," O'Conner said. "They've gotten about as much out of (the Diamond) as you can. In its day, it was state of the art, cutting edge. It's day was 30 years ago."
O'Conner's assessment of the Diamond seemed about right: the lower bowl was full with a high-energy crowd enjoying plenty of off-field attractions expected from a Domino/Parnell production. But the ballpark's infrastructure is certainly lacking–fans need to climb about 30 steps just to get through the front gates, lines were long at the undersized ticket booth as game time approached, the concourse is narrow and there aren't enough lower-deck seats but way too many in the upper-deck.
"The problems that led to the (Atlanta) Braves leaving are still here," O'Conner said of Atlanta's departure from Richmond after 42 years following the 2008 season.
But while the Flying Squirrels have seemed to overcome its ballpark troubles, the Triple-A Portland Beavers are only beginning to face their own problems.
The Beavers face the reality of having to find some place new to play next season after three proposals by team owner Merritt Paulson for a new ballpark fell through and its current home at PGE Ballpark will soon be renovated into a soccer-only facility Paulson's Major League Soccer squad.
"I am concerned," O'Conner said.
While it is certain they will be leaving town, at least temporarily, after this season, where Portland will end up remains unclear.
O'Conner says there are plenty of possible locations for the Portland team next season, and that "it will play in 2011." The bigger concern is where it ends up after that.
"There are several temporaries. I am less concerned about the temporary. But what is the end game? That is what really concerns me . . . Anytime you go temporary beyond one year, it is not temporary any longer. It is a troubling situation."
Tucson, which last year saw its Triple-A team leave for Reno, is rumored to be the leading candidate as a temporary destination–the city's ready-made ballparks make it attractive. O'Conner declined to comment on possible destinations for Paulson's team. But the same situation that has made building a ballpark a problem in Portland–a lack of public funds and an unwillingness from taxpayers to ante up for a new facility–exist in many cities around the around the country.
"It's not a real good time for (relocating)," O'Conner said.
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