The Richmond Flying Squirrels walked out onto their home field at The Diamond for the final time this season on early Sunday evening.
Though a road series against the Erie SeaWolves will be the true end, Sunday’s game against the Akron RubberDucks was the team’s final chance to say farewell and thank you to its fans.
It was a pleasant evening for it, warm and sunny. Along with the usual festivities, fans could enter to win prizes from the team, and young children were allowed to run the bases after the game.
“The atmosphere is always great here. It’s why we keep coming back,” said Richmond local Kallie Lutcher.
Lutcher, who attended with her two sons, Getty, 9, and Rhett, 3, said her family makes sure to come to a handful of games annually.
Maintaining that staple felt even more important this year as the world settled into pandemic life.
“It’s definitely helped create some consistency within our family,” Lutcher said. “So many things were taken from us within the last year. It definitely helps make things feel a little bit more normal.”
Creating that environment of recovery was an important goal for the Squirrels organization — one that vice president and COO Todd Parnell has been reflecting on as they close out the season.
“Going into this, I felt like the Flying Squirrels would be an important part of the healing culture in the community,” Parnell said, “and I’m very proud of how our entire organization really helped in the Richmond region.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the team in 2020, and it’s still feeling the effects today having to navigate cancellations, protocols and fewer employees.
But Parnell said that the unity between the staff, players and fans created a sort of positive feedback loop that got them through a pandemic-altered 2021 season. It’s also set them up for a positive 2022 campaign, where the hope of normal still lingers.
Fan Appreciation Night wasn’t just a theme for Parnell: “[Their support] means everything. It’s emotional to me.
“How many fans stop me and others on our team around the ballpark and say things like, ‘Hey, in 2020 all we thought about was going back to the ballpark,’ or, ‘You guys helped get me and my family through COVID.’ … That’s what it’s all about.”
There’s a bittersweet edge to the end of the season; the team inevitably won’t look the same next April, and the staff is in need of a bit of a break after months of pressure.
But Parnell wants to assure fans that they’re never far from the organization’s mind. After a brief retreat to Sandbrige, they’ll be hitting the books to get next season’s calendar settled by this Halloween.
“Every day is important to us,” Parnell said. “We’re grateful for how everybody was patient with us, because we had a lot of issues to overcome this year operationally, but being able to work through that with our partners … it’s part of what makes Richmond such a special place.”
Villar, Williams honored
by Flying Squirrels
Third baseman David Villar was selected team MVP and right-hander Ronnie Williams was picked as the pitcher of the year, the team announced Sunday at The Diamond. Additionally, Williams was chosen for the community service award.
Villar, the San Francisco Giants’ 11th-round draft pick in 2018 out of the University of South Florida, has produced a breakout season in his first Double-A campaign. He has set a club record with 19 home runs and led qualified Richmond hitters with a .277 batting average heading into Sunday’s game.
Williams is in his first season with the Giants organization after being selected in the minor league phase of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft last December. He pitched 24 games for the Flying Squirrels this season, 23 times in relief, going 6-4 with a 2.45 ERA. Williams was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento on September 8.
Villar went 3 for 4 with a double and four RBIs, and Frankie Tostado homered and doubled while driving in three as Richmond won its home finale over Akron 10-4.
Michael Plassmeyer (3-8) allowed three runs and seven hits with six strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings to pick up the win.