GOLDMAN: Does Mayor Jones’ curve ball spell trouble for the Squirrels?

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

RICHMOND, Va. – Have the Richmond Flying Squirrels been leveling with their own fans and the people of the Richmond over whether they want baseball on the Boulevard or in the Bottom?

They have claimed no role in the process, saying it was up to the people through their representatives.

But have they actually been trying to influence the decision behind the scenes, directly or indirectly?

The terrific baseball movie “Trouble With The Curve,” featuring terrific chemistry between legend Clint Eastwood and rising star Amy Adams, may have presaged what has been happening in Richmond.

In today’s Richmond Times Dispatch, all the smoke and mirrors about what Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones and Henrico/Chesterfield County officials did/didn’t say to each other got the headline. But buried in the story is a potential baseball bomb shell.

The reporters write the following:

“Jones’ office said the construction of a new, regional ballpark was discussed with leaders in the counties as recently as last year. The leaders of the two surrounding counties have said that they are not able to support the replacement of The Diamond in the foreseeable future,” Tammy D. Hawley, Jones’ press secretary, said in an email. “Their reluctance is understandable given the recent recession. However, the absence of regional partners is what led to the city moving the ballpark project forward on its own, in partnership with the business community and the Squirrels.”

Wow!

For months now, Flying Squirrels’ management has said they were agnostic on the location for whatever the city and/or counties had in mind for the future of baseball. The Squirrels told their fans and the people of Richmond – overwhelmingly in favor of keeping baseball at the Boulevard – that management stayed in a Kevin Costner-type mode, that wherever the city and/or county built their field of dreams, the Squirrels would come.

The team had no choice and would not try to influence the decision.

But is that true?

Moreover, did the Mayor and the Squirrels have some private understanding all along?

The real news in today’s Baseball Stadium story is clear:

Have the Squirrels been leveling with their fans, with the people of Richmond and the surrounding counties on their role in deciding to move the baseball stadium from the Boulevard to the Bottom?

Let’s be honest, the Mayor promised to give the people a choice between two plans, one which kept baseball on the Boulevard, the other which moved the national pastime to the Bottom.

INSTEAD, he only presented a plan for a Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium. There is only one plan that has the artist’s sketch of a proposed stadium. According to the Mayor’s top guy, the Shockoe Baseball Stadium plan is part of an “all or nothing” proposal — the Richmond County Council takes it or leaves it.

This might be posturing for sure, But if the Mayor truly ever intended to present two alternate plans and give the public a real say, then why aren’t their two fully developed plans with alternate artist renderings and the like on a Baseball stadium along with the other attendant development?

Is it really necessary for me to state the obvious?

There is only one plan, and for months, despite public claims to the contrary, never any intention of presenting two plans for an apples to apples comparison.

Mayor Jones wants a new stadium as his legacy in the Bottom.

He might better serve his goal by being upfront, since his plan has a lot of support on Council even if it might not with the general public — at this stage at least.

But that’s his call and his politics. He won the job fair and square. So if he throws a curve ball to the people, then that’s one kind of discussion.

BUT AS FOR THE SQUIRRELS, they are not supposedly politicians, and have promised their fans and the public not to play backroom mayoral politics with the baseball stadium.

ACCORDINGLY, what are the people of Richmond, and the fans throughout the metro area to make of today’s claim by the Mayor’s office, namely that the Squirrels have been BACKROOM “partners” all this time with the decision to move ahead with the stadium plans revealed earlier this month by the Mayor?

How should we/they read the pitch from the Mayor’s office?

It reads again:

“However, the absence of regional partners is what led to the city moving the ballpark project forward on its own, in partnership with the business community and the Squirrels.”

What exactly is the “ballpark project” referred to? There is, at least right now, only one such project being pushed by the Mayor – the Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium.

Moreover, the business community has ALWAYS been pushing for baseball in the Bottom. So what does it mean when the Mayor’s office says the city in partnership with the business community and the Squirrels were acting together to move the baseball project?

My take, as just your normal sensible analyst of such plain language from a politician’s office, is the Mayor’s office issued this statement in response to county officials saying they were not consulted or asked to sign-off on “moving the ballpark project forward” as it is described by the Jones Administration.

The Mayor’s office wanted to knock down the RTD story’s implication that Jones had snubbed, accidentally or intentionally, any county involvement, that he had “gone it alone,” so to speak, for political or personal or any type of reason.

In other words, the Mayor’s office wanted to make it clear this was not Jones deciding to play King, to dictate, but rather he never tried to shut out anyone at the county level, in fact the PROJECT WASN’T REALLY JONES’ IDEA BUT IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY AND THE SQUIRRELS.

This is what the plain meaning says. There is no reason to assume the Mayor’s press office chose its words badly.

If the Squirrels respect their fans and the public, they come forward now and detail their involvement in the Mayor’s proposal, indeed what understanding they had with the Mayor and other officials relative to the future of baseball in Richmond.

If they want a new Shockoe Stadium, then say it. If they prefer to remain on the Boulevard, then say that too.

But the Mayor’s office makes it very hard to believe they have been just “neutral bystanders” as claimed, awaiting the decision of the public and their elected representatives without indicating any preference either directly or indirectly.

The Mayor wants the public to spend tens of millions of dollars to get the Squirrels a new stadium.

In so doing, he may or may not have soured hopes for regional cooperation on key issues to the people, this is unclear and so I give him the benefit of the doubt.

So I ask, is it too much to ask that the Mayor and the Squirrels level with all of us?

Logic suggests a new stadium may require higher ticket prices and higher food and parking expenses for the people to help pay for the expensive construction and other requirements of a downtown stadium should that become a reality.

Moreover, if baseball at the Bottom isn’t doable in the end, then the Mayor and the Squirrels will have to come back to the people and their fans for a new proposal on the Boulevard.

Why risk alienating fans and friends and the public over whom agreed to what and when over Shockoe?

Just level, I say.

The Mayor’s Office suggests there has been more moving around in the dark than Santa Claus, as the saying goes.

It isn’t illegal. If the Squirrels have been “tilting” toward Shockoe, then say so. If the Mayor hinted to them when they came about his wanting to build a new stadium there this also needs to be revealed.

Come one guys! It is all part of the game, the public can handle it. Why not be totally honest with the very people and fans you want to support your team, your stadium legacy, your proposal?

Honesty goes a long way in such matters because sooner or later, truth crushed to earth will rise.

Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.

2 comments

  • Daniel Beasley

    After the Redskins deal, I don’t trust city counsel , or the Mayor, but the location at the Blvd. should be changed because of traffic in the area for afternoon games. Imagine what that traffic would do to 95 downtown in the bottom. How about putting it at RIR, when Nascar goes broke, or their are no races.

  • anonymous

    Just another government handout. Hell, more than half of America is entitled to such, why not the squirrels too? Just glad I choose to live in Henrico, one of the best-managed jurisdictions in VA. Great school, excellent accessibility to county services, low crime, transparent governance, low taxes, free parking almost everywhere, lots to love. Amazes me that Henrico, Chesterfield too, continues to expand their tax base, maintains a balanced budget and overall offers a significantly greater lifestyle, FOR LESS, than Richmond. Sinking ship? Until they demonstrate that they perform rudimentary mathematics, and use that information to make wise decisions, you’d be stupid to place a bet on them. There is a reason the Counties won’t even consider building a stadium with Richmond.

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