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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Minor League Moves - The Last Domino

Back in 2008, I remember hearing stories about the Richmond Braves and their deteriorating stadium. The Braves' AAA franchise was moving out, because Richmond's Diamond just wasn't up to the parent club's standards.

It's odd now looking back on that, because, while the team was 500 miles from our home in New York's Capital Region, the move would ultimately upset three teams within just a short drive of us, the last one coming in an announcement just this past week.

The Atlanta Braves had long called Richmond, Va., their AAA home. By 1990, they had already been in Richmond for 25 seasons, as evidenced by their barely legible 1990 CMC set logo. By 2008, that season total stood at 43.

But, for several years, the parent club had had problems with Richmond's stadium, The Diamond. According to one account, it was considered among the worst in AAA. Another account had it as a decaying eyesore. That's it up there, in a Wikipedia photo submitted from Flickr.

After talks for a new stadium broke down, the Atlanta Braves pulled out, making the AAA move to Gwinnett and leaving Richmond without baseball for the first season in more than four decades.

Then came September, Richmond was back. The AA Connecticut Defenders, who had called Norwich, Conn., home for 15 seasons, made the move, becoming The Richmond Flying Squirrels.

But Norwich wouldn't be like Richmond and go a season without baseball. On Jan. 27, it was announced that they would have a franchise, but just start the season a little later. The short-season New York-Penn League franchise that had called Oneonta, NY home for 44 seasons, would leave for Norwich.

As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I got to Oneonta for the first time in August, loving the experience and expecting to go back this year. We had also missed out on Norwich. The move put Norwich back on our map, but made us sad that Oneonta and its great old stadium lost its team.

But Oneonta went just 17 days without a baseball club. The wooden bat New York Collegiate Baseball League, admittedly much further from the majors than the NY-Penn, filled the void. The NYCBL franchise in Saratoga Springs, NY, the Saratoga Phillies, is moving to Oneonta, to become the Oneonta Outlaws.

My wife and I haven't done much with the NYCBL. There are a good five franchises within short drives. We went to a game in Amsterdam, NY, a few years ago. The Saratoga Philles, named for the local horse racing track, drew between 500 and 700 fans per game, so I can't say Saratoga's loss equals that of Richmond, Norwich or Oneonta's when their teams pulled out.

But it is interesting to see the line of dominoes fall, one that was put in motion by sub-par ballpark in Richmond.

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