The City of Connecticut and representatives of the Eastern League made the announcement jointly, Wednesday morning.
The Diamond, a 25-year-old facility, which played host to the Triple-A Richmond Braves, will be accepting the Defenders for the next two seasons. As mentioned, the Richmond Braves of the International League were previously housed at the “Diamond”, until they relocated to Gwinnett County, Georgia.
The team signed a two-year lease with the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, to play at the “Diamond” while a deal for a new stadium or a refurbished one is settled.
President of the Eastern League Joe McEacharn, commented on the move, “It is a bittersweet day leaving Norwich,” McEacharn said. “I generated relationships there. We moved there. We feel an obligation to the community. We don’t like to move teams. But the team simply could not withstand the financial pressure. They were losing money, a lot of it, on an annual basis, just to stay open.”
Others at the press conference included, co-general partners Gary Green of Alliance Baseball, LLC and Harvey Ross of Ross Holdings, LLC, joined Defenders President and Managing General Partner Lou DiBella.
“The return of pro baseball to Richmond is something my ownership group is thrilled to be a part of,” DiBella said. “Everyone involved in this endeavor has a track record of professionalism and success, and will work tirelessly to be an integral part of the Richmond community and provide a first class baseball experience.”
A side note, Chuck Domino, relinquished his Presidency of the Reading Phillies and Lehigh Valley IronPigs to become the chief executive manager of the Connecticut Defenders. Domino will retain his position of chief executive manager of the Iron Pigs, but was forced by MiLB to give up his position with the Reading Phillies.
According to MiLB, regulations prohibit one general manager from being involved with two teams in the same league.
“I didn’t want to resign from Reading, and Craig [Stein, the R-Phils owner and co-owner of the IronPigs] didn’t want me to either,” said Domino, speaking from Richmond after the introductory news conference today. “But it’s a challenge and an opportunity I felt I needed to do.
“This is going to be the last great challenge of my career, I think,” he added. “It gives me a chance to combine my experience in Reading and in Lehigh Valley in one endeavor.”
Domino does plan to bolster the “Diamond” as the 25-year old facility is in definite need of a facelift.
Domino has said that $1.5 million will be spent on improvements, (including 3,200 new seats, a new press box and suite windows, a new video board, and a new team store). Upgrades include, rebuilding of the teams locker-rooms, weight rooms, and installing an indoor-climate controlled batting tunnel.
“I look forward to giving the “Diamond” a facelift as we re-energize fans in the short run while efforts begin to give a city with the status of Richmond what it deserves, which is the best new Minor League ballpark in America,” said Domino.
Since the Braves departure to Gwinnett County, there has been endless speculation as to who would be moving to Richmond. The Defenders, the San Francisco Giants Double-A affiliate has been mentioned numerous times as a prime candidate for relocation. Currently they sit in the basement of the Eastern League attendance ranks.
A local business group led by Brian Bostic was interested this past February in purchasing the club, but those rumors were quashed, as his group was unable to raise the necessary $16 million that was required to purchase the club. Defenders owner Lou Dibella instead opted to relocate the team while maintaining ownership control.
Devon Teeple is an author for the Business of Sports Network, which includes the Biz of Baseball, the Biz of Football, the Biz of Basketball and the Biz of Hockey. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Devon is a former student within Sports Management Worldwide’s Baseball General Manager Class. Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective and is a intern with The Football Outsiders and contributor with the Plymouth River Eels.
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