There’s just something about a ballpark. Football can be played in stadiums, and basketball can be played in an arena. Baseball, well, it’s just a ballpark.
The Braves finally have one. SunTrust Park is a ballpark. Those of us who were around for old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium loved it, but it was a stadium that hosted baseball and football. Turner Field was made for the Olympics and given to the Braves. It was just a field with nothing to do around it.
Ballparks are for neighborhoods, and the Braves have built their own neighborhood with The Battery, a combination of restaurants, businesses and condos.
Forget about Braves Country. This is Bravestown.
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The city of Atlanta wouldn’t develop the area around Turner Field. Heck, even the Kentucky Fried Chicken was torn down. There was one sports bar around Turner Field. One. That’s it. And when the Braves wanted more, and when Atlanta dragged its feet, the Braves left for Cobb County.
Sure, ask why a team would spend only 20 years in a stadium and then leave. You’ll know when you go to SunTrust Park and see what the Braves have built.
It’s incredible. It’s what a game-day experience is supposed to be. The days of just going to a game are over. It’s now an all-day event, somewhat like college football is in the South. It’s all about making you get out of your recliner, leaving your big-screen TV and going to the ballpark.
The environment around the ballpark is incredible. There are so many things to do, things to see. And the view of the game is better than ever before.
Just imagine the day when the Braves get into the playoffs. Forget about watching the Chicago Cubs and being jealous of how Wrigleyville looks, with the thousands of people who aren’t in the park having a great time. The Braves’ environment should be just as electric, just as special.
And yes, I was skeptical about the trip to SunTrust Park. Turner Field was a bit more convenient for us Middle Georgians, simply because it was 15 miles closer. But my early review of the traffic and the parking is surprisingly positive.
In fact, it couldn’t have been easier in the two trips so far. Now, no two trips to any stadium in any big city will likely be alike. You might zoom to SunTrust Park one day and then be stuck in traffic due to wrecks or constructions or fallen overpasses the next.
But the Braves have made this easier. They have 8,000 fewer seats in SunTrust Park than Turner Field, but there are over 5,000 more parking spaces. And the parking lots, 20 at my count, are spread out all around SunTrust Park. Do the math.
At Turner Field, there were lots on the north and south sides of the stadium. And let’s face it, for those of us heading south after a game at Turner Field, you were stuck in traffic in a bad area for a while. It was usually a headache.
The experience at SunTrust is just different.
On Friday, I left the park and carried radio equipment to my parking lot around 6:30 p.m., an hour before first pitch. I was shocked when I looked up, and there was no backup on I-285 or on the roads leading into The Battery. On opening night, with a packed house, at that location, the traffic was flowing perfectly.
And leaving, we zipped onto the perimeter and headed home on I-75 South within five minutes.
That rarely happened at Turner Field, unless you ran to your car to beat the traffic. Having the lots spread out makes a difference. Everyone won’t be leaving from the same areas.
It won’t be perfect. You’ll probably sit in traffic at some point. Heck, you’re in a big city. That happens. The Braves suggest you use the Waze application, and it works really well.
The Braves have made this work with more lots and more spaces. The fear many of us may have had from Middle Georgia may have been unfounded.
And once you get inside, wow. Just wow. It’s a beautiful ballpark.
So, if the trip is easier than expected, and the experience once you get there is even better than before, going to Braves games will be the thing to do. It’s not just a game anymore, it’s an experience.
Well done, Braves. Thanks for giving us something that will provide great memories for years to come. Thanks for giving us a ballpark.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.