|Richmond Flying Squirrels|
Founded in 1983
|Minor league affiliations|
|Major league affiliations|
|Minor league titles|
|League titles||9 (1972, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1988, 1989, 1991, 2002)|
|Division titles||2 (2002, 2009)|
|Owner(s)/Operated by: Lou DiBella|
|Manager: Andy Skeels|
|General Manager: Bill Papierniak|
The Richmond Flying Squirrels are a minor league baseball team in Richmond, Virginia. The team, which plays in the Eastern League, is the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants major league club. They play at The Diamond. The Squirrels were previously known as the Connecticut Defenders.
The Flying Squirrels mark affiliated baseball's return to Richmond after a one-year absence prompted by the relocation of the former Triple-A International League's Richmond Braves to Lawrenceville, Georgia, where they are now called the Gwinnett Braves.
The Flying Squirrels began life in 1972 as the West Haven Yankees, a farm club of the New York Yankees playing games at both Quigley Stadium and Yale Field in West Haven, Connecticut. They switched affiliations in 1980 to the Oakland Athletics and became the West Haven Whitecaps for one season before becoming the West Haven A's. In 1983, the team became the Albany A's when they moved to the Capital District of New York, playing at Heritage Park in Colonie. In 1985, however, the Yankees replaced the Athletics as the team's parent club, prompting the minor-league team to become the Albany-Colonie Yankees, which they would retain until 1994.
On June 3, 1994, the Yankees announced they would move that franchise from Albany-Colonie to Norwich, Connecticut, and would be known as the Norwich Navigators. Ground was broken for a new stadium in Norwich on November 3 of that year, and the team began play on April 6, 1995, with a win over Bowie. The home opener occurred 11 days later and was another Navigators victory (this time over Reading).
Norwich reached the Eastern League playoffs four times in six years, with many current or former New York Yankees leading the way. On September 14, 2002, the Navigators won their first and only Eastern League championship with a five-game series victory at home over Harrisburg, under the direction of rookie manager Luis Sojo.
Within weeks, the Yankees announced that they were ending their affiliation with the Navigators and beginning one with the Trenton Thunder. Later that fall, the Giants signed on as the new parent club, effective for the 2003 season.
In 2005, the team was bought by a group led by boxing promoter Lou DiBella. With attendance figures declining, management announced an overhaul of the franchise's image and held a contest during the season allowing the public to select a new name submitted by Robert Schaub of East Hampton, Ct. and logo for the franchise. These were unveiled on November 14, with the winning choice being the Connecticut Defenders, and a new mascot (a bald eagle) debuted eight days later. Another contest was held to name the mascot, and on February 11, 2006, "Cutter" was christened.
The "Defenders" name, and the bald eagle mascot, were a reference to the United States Coast Guard Academy located a short drive away in New London, and also to the U.S. submarine base also located nearby in Groton. In 2005, the team sponsored several rallies in support of the sub base after it was placed on the Base Realignment and Closure list. The base was eventually removed from the list.
In September of 2008 the San Francisco Giants renewed their PDC with the Defenders franchise until 2010. The following season, the Defenders won the Southern Division title and qualified for the Eastern League playoffs, defeating the New Britain Rock Cats three games to one in the ELDS to advance to the second Eastern League Championship Series in franchise history. However, the Defenders fell short in the end, losing three games to one to the Akron Aeros.
On September 23, 2009, it was announced that the Defenders were leaving Norwich and moving to Richmond, where they will play in The Diamond while continuing to seek proposals for a new ballpark in the Richmond vicinity. Also, the "Defenders" nickname will not be retained, rather leaving the new nickname depending upon the results of a name-the-team-contest. On October 15, 2009, "Flying Squirrels" was announced as the winner. The name was chosen through a Richmond Times-Dispatch readers contest. The finalists were the Rock Hoppers, Hambones, Rhinos, Flatheads and Hush Puppies along with eventual winner the Flying Squirrels.