Like with any new home, SunTrust Park has its share of quirks.
Leading into Friday’s inaugural opener, the Atlanta Braves were still trying to figure out some of those oddities.
For example, how will the ball play off the brick wall in right field? How will the ball carry in a park that is more intimate than the previous home and built specifically for baseball? How hard or how soft will the groundskeepers make the infield, and how will the ball react?
And what about center fielders having to play defense in front of a fountain at the deepest point of the outfield?
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“I’m not going to get wet; it’s far from me,” Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte jokingly said of the fountain. “No, it’s pretty nice. I know the fans enjoy having something different in the ballpark. This ballpark, I know the fans are going to enjoy it a lot. It’s beautiful out there.”
Players and fans alike were asking lots of questions typical of new ballparks in advance of the stadium’s debut against the San Diego Padres. Friday’s game was the first official major league game played in the park and the third overall, following a Braves exhibition against the New York Yankees and a college game between Georgia and Missouri.
Fans were treated to an introduction of a string of Braves greats in pregame ceremonies, with Hank Aaron throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to Bobby Cox. Also introduced were Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Chipper Jones.
Jones recalled a similar day 20 years earlier, the day the Braves played their first game at Turner Field following its conversion from Centennial Olympic Stadium.
“It was a race,” said Jones, who will appear on the Cooperstown ballot for the first time in January. “It was a race to see who would get the first base hit. It was a race to see who would get the first run, who would hit the first home run.
“All these guys are excited to possibly put their name in the record book (Friday). This is is one of the biggest nights in Atlanta history. To be part of that is a very special thing.”
For shortstop Dansby Swanson, Friday was the culmination of a move that left him at times with wide eyes of his own.
“It was at night, I couldn’t take pictures, and I didn’t want to,” Swanson said of his first visit to SunTrust Park. “It couldn’t capture the beauty of the place, the purity of it. If I would have taken a photo and showed it to people, it felt as if it wouldn’t do it justice. It’s beautiful. The backdrop is great. Just the whole vibe of it. It’s such a positive.”
The backdrop most fans will see at SunTrust Park resembles more of a downtown setting than that of a traditional suburb. Tall business buildings and hotels ring the park’s outfield, with buildings that help form The Battery Atlanta, the Braves’ bid to turn the stadium development into a year-round operation, towering over the field in right.
There are elements of Turner Field, the Braves’ previous home, that made it to the new park: a big scoreboard in center, outfield bullpens and the right-field Chop House restaurant, for starters. But the tight foul lines and smaller capacity translate into a whole new experience.
“I think the whole thing of The Battery and walking in from The Battery, there’s a wow factor,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “That’s what we all did when we first saw this park. “It’s a lot more intimate when you’re out there playing. The fans are right on you, where at Turner Field it’s more relaxed and pushed back a little bit more. It’s going to be a better experience for the fans and for us, too.”
The bullpen in left and the brick wall in right could come into play quite a bit if Jones is correct in his assessment of the hitters’ park vs. pitchers’ park question.
“I did a commercial here a couple of weeks ago, and I walked through the center-field breezeway, and it was like I was walking into a blizzard, like directly into it,” Jones said. “Everything kind of gets sucked out of the park. I think the ball is going to carry really well, more so than Turner did.
“The team leader the first year we were there was, like, 21, 23 homers at Turner Field. We knew right away the ball wasn’t going to carry. Obviously, in the summer when it heated up, it carried a little better. But there weren’t too many cheap homers at Turner Field. This place? I don’t think you’re necessarily crushing one to get it out of here.”