Last October, I attended the season finale at Yankee stadium, a game they lost to the Orioles 5 to 2.
In doing so, I completed my goal of attending a game in every one of the MLB host stadiums.
That distinction, it turned out, was pretty short lived as the Atlanta Braves moved into a spanking new stadium to start the 2017 season.
Rather than cross it off my list and re-achieving my goal at some point earlier in this season, I figured it would be more practical and more fun to combine it with a trip to see the (also brand new) football stadium, Mercedes-Benz Dome. So, I booked this September trip which worked perfect. Not only do I get to see the Braves play in their new park against my beloved Mets with Jacob deGrom on the hill, I get to attend the first ever regular season in the new football stadium to see a prime-time Sunday night matchup against the Green Bay Packers.
Unlike my last trip to ‘The ATL’, this time I rented a car so I can see more of the city and surrounding neighborhoods including Buckhead, the Beltline and Ponce City Market. As an added bonus, I decided to cross of another bucket list item on this trip. Tomorrow morning, I am driving out to Rockmart to do a sky-dive – a 14,000 free fall! This has been on my list for a really long time.
In 1996, Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics. The main track and field stadium was built with the intention of becoming a baseball stadium, and the Braves moved in in 1997 into what was Turner Field. By 2016, the stadium was the 15th oldest in baseball and still in very good condition, but the Braves felt their fan base would be better served with a sleek new park out in the burbs of Cobb County (how far from downtown) which the team feels is near the “Geographic center of the Braves’ fan base.”
The trend of new ballparks, ever since Camden Yards opened in 1992, was to move into their hosts cities downtown urban areas near all of the restaurants, hotels, conventions centers, mass transit, etc. The Braves bucked this trend with their site choice for Sun Trust which is about a 30 minute drive on I-75 from downtown Atlanta out near Marietta. The stadium sits at the intersection of the peripheral loop of I-285, a freeway that circles around Atlanta, and I-75. Along with the construction of Sun Trust Park, a ‘mini city’ of sorts was also built known as ‘The Battery’ consisting of a vibrant mix of retail stores, bars, restaurants and hotels meant to attract fans well ahead and well after game time. This is a very similar concept to what was done in St. Louis with Ballpark Village and really enhances the experience of the suburban setting. Fans arrive hours prior to the game to stroll the Battery complex. There are lots of people eating, drinking, socializing and watching the entertainment or just people watching. .
The Omni Hotel has rooms looking down into the field. Registered guests can even watch the games from the comfort of the rooftop pool, which is only 580 feet from home plate.
I made sure to arrive early to take it all in. My first impressions of the park and the area in general were very positive. The stadium mixes the brick with limestone-like breaks and touches. The most impressive entrance is the 3rd Base Gate with a wide plaza serving as a fan meeting area next to the Phil Niekro statue. In addition to Niekro, there are also statues of Warren Spahn and Bobby Cox outside the park.
SunTrust looks big from the outside, but the interior has a small stadium feel due to the cantilevered seating design which brings the seats closer to the field with less of slope. The sight lines are very good and there was great placement of the scoreboards. The center field batter’s eye has trees, a waterfall and rocks ala the ‘Rockpile’ in Coors Field, but it seemed much more out of place here than in Denver. The concourses are wide so there is no congestion so getting around is really easy.
The seating, atmosphere, fans, overall accommodations – much more pleasant and memorable experience than I had at Turner field a little over 2 years ago. I wore a 24-year-old Greg Maddux jersey that I don’t even remember buying that I had to pull out of mothballs for the occasion. I guess this helped warm some of the fans to me rather than if I wore my Mets jersey.
The theme promoted at this new ballpark is ‘Make Yourself At Home’. I suppose this is consistent with the suburban setting and making fans feel that this venue, the Braves and the fans are a familiar part of our lives and kind of an ‘extended family’. Before the game, the PA announcer asked everyone to stand up and introduce themselves to the folks sitting next to us and shake their hands. Such an odd and awkward request I thought – more like something you’d see at a bible retreat. But this is the deep south.
The food selection inside the park was pretty diverse and featured some local Atlanta favorites like Chik-Fil-A (Closed for Sunday games) , Waffle House, H&F Burger and Fox Bros BBQ. The popular ChopHouse made the move from Turner Field and has expanded to three levels. Two levels feature views looking out over the field, while the bottom floor is at field level behind the right field fence.
Concession stands are found at each level which is really nice since you don’t have to go all over to get something you will like.
My favorite feature of the park was the Monument Garden which is located along the first base concourse and it salutes the Braves history and its great players. On the wall are the Braves retired numbers, a Cy Young Award, a Gold glove, a Silver Slugger Award, Rookie of the Year as well as a uniform history of the Braves. The Garden’s centerpiece is a 9-foot-tall statue of Braves home run king Henry Aaron backed up by 755 baseball bats spelling out “755” (the total number of career dingers for ‘Hammerin’ Hank’).
For fans who don’t have the luxury of taking an Uber or who don’t want to deal with the traffic and/or expensive parking, there are some mass transit options using the local CobbLInc or MARTA systems.
Jacob deGrom, kept the Braves in check notching seven strikeouts and allowed just one run over seven innings winning his 15th game and setting a career high in innings pitched for a season. The Mets combined for 6 doubles as they eased to a 7-3 victory handing the defeat to former Met Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey. The only real offensive highlight of the game for Atlanta was Freddie Freeman’s 27th HR of the year in the 7th inning which spoiled the shutout bid for deGrom.
So, it was a fun night at a very impressive new ballpark. I’m looking forward to exploring more of Atlanta tomorrow and going to that beautiful new stadium at night to see the Falcons play – that is, if I survive my plane jump tomorrow morning.
Fans – A – All of the ones that I interacted with, especially the group seated next to and behind me- were all very friendly. This was such a big difference to what I found at Turner Field 2 years ago. All of the traditions, including the ‘Tomahawk Chop’, made there way to the new park
Features – A+ – Kid friendly areas, interactive exhibits, restaurants and maybe the best in-stadium Hall of Fame in all of MLB.
Location – B- – While ‘The Battery’ offers lots of great pre and post game activity options, the stadium is a bit of a drive from downtown Atlanta
Food – A – Lots of great options from the sit-down Chop House to Atlanta staples H&F Burger, Chick-Fil-A and Waffle House
Game – B+ – My beloved Mets get the win in a dominant outing by Jacob deGrom
Overall Experience – A – Other than it being a bit of pain to get there and back from downtown Atlanta, it was a great night out at a great park.