RICHMOND, Va. - "We had no intention of bringing an All Star game to The Diamond."
That admission came from Eastern League president Joe McEachern moments after the Flying Squirrels unveiled the official logo for next year's EL midsummer classic.
Which will, in fact, be played at The Diamond. So what has changed?
Quite simply, in the nine years since Todd "Parney" Parnell and Chuck Domino have established the Flying Squirrels franchise in Richmond, it has grown into more than just a team. Games are now an event and the team who's season runs primarily in the summer has expanded to be an RVA presence 12 months out of the year.
The Squirrels finished first in the EL in average attendance again this year. They have been in the top two in all nine seasons of their existence. That was one of the main factors in Richmond being awarded this showcase event.
"We use the All-Star game to reward a community for their enthusiasm" McEachern added. "For community involvement and the good that comes out of it. And it's an opportunity to use the game to celebrate a city."
McEachern thought that when the Squirrels got a new stadium, that would be a good opportunity to bring the All-Star game to Richmond to celebrate a new ballpark. That has yet to happen, but the league couldn't ignore the fan base here any longer.
"We almost feel obligated to Richmond" McEachern continued. "Not just because fans come out, but because they're the best baseball fans in the Eastern League, hands down."
"Our staff does not dwell on what's not happening," Parnell said of the lack of a new stadium. "They dwell on what is happening and they dwell on how we can make it the best ever.
"I love our ownership group, I love our staff and the way we revolve around what CAN we do to make Richmond a better place."
Parnell was joined by Mayor Levar Stoney, McEachearn, Richmond Raceway President Dennis Bickmeier, and others as the team unveiled the official logo and week-long schedule for next year's event. It will start on Sunday, July 7th with a kickoff event on Brown's Island with live music, entertainment and selections from several Richmond restaurants.
Monday, July 8th will see the VACU Amphitheater at Richmond Raceway host the All-Star Country Music Jam and Tuesday the ballpark will host the Eastern League Celebrity Home Run Derby, all leading up to the actual All-Star game on Wednesday, July 10th.
The Squirrels also introduced Genworth as the title sponsor for All-Star week and presented Genworth CEO Tom McInerney with a congratulatory letter from his childhood friend, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
"We're really trying to make this a celebration of the Richmond community," McInerney said. "It's our hometown. We love it. Our employees live here, work here, enjoy everything here. What's great for the community is great for Genworth."
"Baseball isn't the epicenter of this" Parnell added. "The epicenter is the Mayor's festival at Brown's Island, showing that off. Music at the [Raceway], the Home Run Derby with celebrities from the state and even the nation coming in."
Flying Squirrels President Lou DiBella was not able to be in attendance, tending to a family matter, but echoed Parney's thoughts in a statement which read in part:
"We are so fortunate to be in Richmond, Virginia, one of the most culturally rich, diverse and growing cities in America. Our fans and neighbors are simply the best and we couldn’t be more excited to join our mayor, Levar Stoney, in introducing and showcasing RVA."
The 2019 EL All-Star game is the first of it's kind at The Diamond since the International League played it's All-Star game here back in 1992.