Nearly a decade ago I was privileged enough to obtain some free tickets to the MLB All-Star game at Turner Field.
One of the few diehard baseball fans within my group of friends, a buddy of mine got tickets and invited me to go. Having never been to an All-Star Game, I immediately said yes, expecting to see a great game in front of a raucous crowd that was excited to be witnessing a Midsummer’s Classic. Boy was I wrong.
Maybe it was the fact that most All-Star games lack a certain type of buzz within the crowd, but now that I look back at it nine years later, I realize that the disappointing experience was due to where the game was held, not the game itself.
Since that July night in 2000, I’ve attended several Braves games at Turner Field. I’ve seen them play the Giants when Barry Bonds was playing, I’ve seen them play the Yankees and I’ve seen them play their division rivals the New York Mets, and every time I’ve walked away from Turner Field thinking the same thing: the Braves need better fans. I’m not saying all Braves’ fans are bad, just the majority of the ones that attend home games. If you don’t believe me, go see a game in St. Louis, Chicago, Boston or New York. Those fans know what’s up.
At Turner Field things are different. Maybe it’s all the amenities of batting cages and singles bars that takes away from the atmosphere within the ballpark, but maybe it’s something bigger than that. Maybe it’s because the fans there are more into socializing and being seen than they are the actual game itself.
In other cities it’s not like that.
Watch a game in the aforementioned cities and you’ll notice that although you paid good money for your seat, you hardly ever sit down. Two strikes on an opposing batter? Everyone stands up. The home team is up with the bases loaded and one out? Everyone stands up. Bottom of the first with two on and no out? You guessed it, everyone stands up.
Take those scenarios and put them at Turner Field and you get something totally different. Half the time it appears that the fans in attendance don’t even know what inning it is let alone what the situation is, and the Braves deserve better.
The Braves deserve a type of fanbase that you can see on any given fall Saturday in the Southeast. The type of fans that tailgate before every game, talk Braves baseball before, during and after every game, and flood the local sports talk shows with comments and concerns on this year’s team. That’s what you get in other cities, and that’s how it should be.
Baseball is allegedly America’s Pastime, yet it no longer feels that way, especially in the south where football is king and everything else is just offseason fodder.
If you don’t believe me, just take a listen to any sports talk show this week; I guarantee they’ll be talking more about what happened in the overblown practice known as G-Day than they are the Braves and their hot start. The same thing will happen next week when people will be talking about the occurrences of Georgia Tech’s spring game and not how the Braves are looking like an early contender for the NL East title.
I guess that’s just how it’s always going to be in this state. Too many people — like myself — aren’t from here and never followed the Braves therefore we don’t buy season tickets and don’t attend too many games.
Unless of course our team is playing the Braves, then the true baseball fans show up to the park hours before the game, rally behind our team on every critical pitch and every crucial at bat, and drown out the 25 percent of Braves fans that are actually paying attention.
Maybe us true fans are trying to help our team win, or maybe we’re just trying to show everyone how baseball games are supposed to be watched.
Whatever the reason may be, Braves fans should get off their hands, get out of their seats and take notice.
Who knows, when you stand up you may actually find out that you have a pretty decent team playing in front of you.
Jonathan Zopf is a sportswriter for The Times. His columns appear each Monday in the spring.