No person may be better suited for a team than Todd Parnell and the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Either way, Parnell and Richmond’s dream team of a front office have built a winning franchise that manages to match the boss’ passion for a good time.
In just their second year in town, the Flying Squirrels have taken Richmond by storm. The team has turned the dilapidated Diamond ballpark into a destination, overcoming the facility’s many flaws with an overdose of rollicking promotions. They attracted 6,679 fans a game in 2011—good for second place in the Eastern League, and 1,500 more than the city’s International League franchise drew in its final season in Richmond.
And the purveyor of the good time is a man known around the ballpark—and the minors—simply as Parney. The minor league veteran, who already helped build winning operations at Kannapolis (South Atlantic), Altoona (Eastern) and State College (New York-Penn), came on board when owner Lou Dibella moved the team from Norwich, Conn., to Richmond after the 2009 season.
DiBella hired Chuck Domino (BA’s 2003 Minor League Executive of the Year) to oversee the club, and Domino brought on his longtime associate Parney as Richmond’s vice president/chief operating officer. The main task behind Parney’s fancy title is to make the team part of the community, be sure everyone in town realizes how much fun Flying Squirrels games can be, and help build an unforgettable ballpark experience.
All three are in Parney’s wheelhouse.
“Every speech that I give, I always say that we are not in the baseball business and we are not in the entertainment business. We are in the memory-making business,” he said.
Visit The Diamond and you’re certain to witness Parney’s do-anything-for-a-good-time-philosophy in action, as he regularly is on the field taking part in promotions. He’s tough to beat at Hillbilly Horseshoes, when participants toss oversized toilet-bowl lids onto plungers. In Altoona, he was known to climb into an oversized gerbil wheel and race around the field. And when a local charity reached a fund-raising goal, Parney fulfilled his end of a wager by singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in nothing but a giant diaper. If that’s not enough, he’s often found walking the concourse sporting the Loudmouth Golf pants made famous by John Daly.
“It gives people something to talk about and something to laugh about,” Parnell said. “I don’t care if people think I’m goofy. I’ve never been afraid of making fun of myself. It makes people have a good time and relaxes people and helps break down barriers.
“At the end of the day, I am still running the team and I have to be a respected member of the community, but I think what people respect about me is that I am willing to do anything to have a good time and do anything for the team. And I think I do have a ‘what will I do next’ aura.”
If Parney is not at the ballpark, chances are he is out and about in Richmond, speaking at a school or a civic club, taking part in a community service event, or charming locals at a pub. He was the grand marshal of the city’s Christmas parade, prompting the team to post a picture of him in an elf costume on its Website. “If I’m at my house at night, I’m not doing my job,” he said.
And he has certainly been hard at work. As Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner noted, “If you live in Richmond, chances are you know Parney.”
“I don’t know any other situation where a management team has come in and accomplished what they have,” Eastern League president Joe McEacharn said. “Chuck and Todd and (GM) Bill (Papierniak) are the leaders. Parney, though is nothing short of a cult hero.
“He is like Prince and Madonna. He is known as Parney. He walks into the mayor’s office and the mayor smiles and hugs him and calls him Parney. No one knows who Todd is. He is a one-name wonder.”
And in two seasons, the Flying Squirrels have become active in the community. The team hosts at least one charitable event each month at the ballpark. The team is promoting its annual coat drive and announced that it will be hosting the national championship of the Metropolitan Youth League.
“The ballpark has become almost a melting pot for bringing people together,” McEacharn said. “It’s all that’s good with minor league baseball.”