Some of the best times of my life have been spent sitting in a baseball stadium watching the Atlanta Braves.
As a kid living in Decatur and College Park in the early 1970s, I looked forward to every trip to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. My dad’s job allowed us to get free Braves tickets anytime we wanted. In those three years, we saw a lot of baseball in that stadium.
I watched Hank Aaron in his prime and was in the stands for the 1972 All-Star Game, when the outfield consisted at one point of Aaron, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente. I took my glove to every game. The closest I ever got to catching a foul ball was one night when I missed because another glove hit mine. The glove belonged to Ralph Garr, who was playing left field for the Braves. He wasn’t happy, but neither was I. I still have never caught a ball.
As an adult, I was in the stadium in 1991 when the “Worst to First” Braves clinched the National League West title and went on to play in the World Series. I took my two boys to Braves games and taught them to do the Tomahawk Chop.
Later, I followed the Braves to Turner Field and made many trips from my homes in Upstate South Carolina and later Charleston, W.Va. On a flight home from Las Vegas, I convinced a Delta agent agent to change my connecting flight home to West Virginia until the next morning so I could take MARTA from the airport to a game at The Ted. I got back to the airport around 2 a.m and slept in a chair until my 8 a.m. flight.
I loved that both stadiums were right in the heart of the city.
And now, my Atlanta Braves have moved to the suburbs.
I admit I wasn’t thrilled the new stadium was going to be in Cobb County, but now that I live in Gainesville, I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to see the third Atlanta Braves stadium in my lifetime.
My wife, Michelle, and I made the drive to SunTrust Park Saturday afternoon. The bustling Cumberland business community is very urban, but a significantly different atmosphere from the neighborhoods around Atlanta-Fulton County and Turner Field. I didn’t notice nearly as many scalpers hanging out near the stadium before a game, but maybe I didn’t know where to look.
As we arrived at the gate, the first thing I noticed was the statue honoring Flowery Branch’s Phil Niekro. I was a fan of “Knucksie” as a kid, but I am a little more proud of it now that we both call Hall County home.
While this stadium is indeed different from its predecessors, I found many aspects of SunTrust Park that made me smile. Here are a few observations:
There isn’t a bad seat in the stadium.
My wife insisted on a “seat in the shade,” which I assumed would be too far away from the game for me. Surprisingly, the seats on the back row behind the left field foul pole were great seats. I took a little time to walk around the stadium and sat in some upper deck seats. Even higher up, I felt like I was right there in the middle of the action.
You can borrow a glove.
I found a kiosk not far from my seat where I could rent a glove for a $1 hold on my credit card. The Mizuno Glove Experience offers youth and adult gloves. Fans only pay full price for the gloves if they don’t bring them back. I would have gotten a glove, but my wife had us sitting on the back row of the left field section. While I could see the game great, a foul ball wasn’t coming my way. But next time, I’m getting one and will finally catch a foul ball.
The Chophouse seats are great.
There is a section of seats outside the Chophouse restaurant that overlooks the outfield where you can eat, watch the game and you might even need that glove. But the best part of those seats is a chilled drink holder that one Braves official told me would keep your beverage “as cold or colder” than it was when it was first brought to your table. The seats cost as low as $32 for some weeknight games. I will be sitting there before the season ends.
The Monument Garden is special.
Inside the stadium is an incredible monument park with a tribute to Braves history and the players who made it. In the center of this attraction is a great statue of Aaron along with bats in the shape of “755,” the number of home runs Aaron hit in his career.
Accommodations for kids.
I am a baseball purist who believes fans should come to the park to watch the game, but I understand there are people who want to do other things while the game is going on. The Sandlot has a variety of kids’ activities including a batting cage, zipline, climbing wall and a variety of arcade games for kids. My grandchildren will love it. I probably need to be prepared to miss most of the game when I take them. There are also some great experiences for groups.
While I do miss the atmosphere and the history of the Atlanta-Fulton County and Turner, SunTrust Park has won me over. I am ready to make a few more memories in this new stadium. Maybe I can start with finally catching that foul ball.