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Flying Squirrels create community without summer baseball

'It’s something unique and different that hopefully they will remember'
Guests watch “Fields of Dreams” on July 9 while sitting in socially distanced rectangles.
Posted at 7:32 PM, Jul 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-12 19:33:19-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The baseball season may be over for Richmond’s Double-A team the Flying Squirrels, but The Diamond stadium is still a place of entertainment for the community.

The Flying Squirrels on July 9 began their newest promotion “Movies in the Outfield.” Guests were socially distanced in rectangles spaced throughout the outfield as they enjoyed watching “Fields of Dreams” on the big screen.

Trey Wilson, the team’s director of communications and broadcasting, said the twice-weekly movie nights are another opportunity to open the gates and have people come out.

“It’s something unique and different that hopefully they will remember,” he said.

Major League Baseball announced recently that due to COVID-19 challenges it would stop providing players to affiliated minor league teams, effectively canceling the Minor League Baseball season.

The Flying Squirrels were making alternative plans prior to the MLB decision.

“The writing had been on the wall for a while,” Wilson said.

Deana Buck has attended baseball games since she moved to Richmond in 1973.

“We really enjoyed it,” said Buck, who attended the first movie event with her husband. “It was a lovely evening.”

Steven Knight said he has attended at least 50 Flying Squirrels games since he moved to Richmond seven years ago. Knight and his dad “had a blast” at Thursday’s screening.

“It was awesome,” Knight said. “We really had a great time. I thought the whole thing was well organized.”

Buck said she was disappointed to not watch any live baseball this season, but the Flying Squirrels still provided her with social time outside.

“For us we have been really trying to find a way to do outdoor activities that are with people, and do that safely,” said Buck. “For us this was like a combo platter that was really wonderful.”

Guests are asked to follow the Flying Squirrels safety protocols while attending the screenings.

New movies will be shown twice a week on Thursdays and Saturdays. Tickets are $8 per person and must be bought in advance; admission is free for children under age 3.

“These things only work if everybody does their part,” said Wilson about hosting events during the pandemic.

Safety measures put in place by the Flying Squirrels worked well, according to Buck. Staff and guests kept their masks on while interacting, and everyone respected each other's space.

“It was kind of a no-nonsense operation,” said Buck, regarding the staff's commitment to safety.

Free parking is available in the front lot off of Arthur Ashe Boulevard. Guests are encouraged to pre-order concessions online prior to attending. Beer, wine and hard cider are available, as well as fan favorites like hot dogs and popcorn.

Flying Squirrels have asked fans for ideas on which movies to show. The animated superhero film “The Incredibles” was screened Saturday, July 11. The baseball movie “A League of Their Own” will screen at7:35 p.m. on Thursday, July 16. Doors open an hour before the film.

“We did have enough of a time that I would definitely go back,” Knight said.

On April 16, the Flying Squirrels “Opening Day” fundraisers “500 Bases of Love” and “Bring it Home” raised $40,000 that was distributed to local organizations combating needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just because there's no baseball this year doesn’t mean that we can’t still find ways to contribute to the community,” Wilson said.

The Flying Squirrels “Fathers Day catch” event was still held this year with modifications to protect the safety of guests and employees. The team also partnered with local CBS affiliate WTVR to host a fireworks show on the Fourth of July, for viewers to watch via television or live-stream from home.

“My job and everybody on our staff's roles have shifted,” Wilson said. “Normally we’re a baseball team but right now we’re more of a special events company.”

By Joe Dodson with Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide news coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets.