Michael Lough

New Braves home is magnificent, once you get there

Fans look out over SunTrust Park before the Atlanta Braves open their new ballpark for an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees in Atlanta on March 31, 2017.
Fans look out over SunTrust Park before the Atlanta Braves open their new ballpark for an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees in Atlanta on March 31, 2017. AP

Atlanta Braves fans have suffered through some mediocrity the past few years, what with the Upton brothers, Dan Uggla, obsessions with minimal pitch counts and so on.

Slowly but surely, the people in charge started getting a little bit smarter, and re-building began, with apparently a plan.

That’s always nice. Rare among people in charge, so yes, always nice.

The good news is that the Braves will be better (although this isn’t much of a start).

The great news is that all involved apparently outdid themselves with nearly everything that makes up new SunTrust Park. The bar has been raised.

The bad news is that it will be a blood-pressure explosion trying to see them in person on any regular basis.

TV and radio ratings might creep up a bit as folks stay home.

A decent driving experience in Atlanta is an exception anyway. But here they went and put a 41,000-seat stadium — as marvelous as it is — at maybe the second-busiest and second-worst interchange in Atlanta, basically Spaghetti Junction Junior, and amid businesses and neighborhoods.

Fill the tank, pack a lunch and keep the phone charged and aspirin nearby.

A PIC — person in charge — told some folks in Kennesaw awhile back that people needed to think outside of the box and determine new transportation options.

That wasn’t a good sign. It kind of indicates that they realized how ldebatable a decision had been made, because the backpedaling had started.

The PIC said he hoped the community improvement districts will add on to bike paths so they reach the stadium.

Bikes. Yikes.

“We’re working closely with the CIDs because we’re going to have a lot of bikers,” said Braves executive vice president for business operations Mike Plant in a Marietta Daily Journal story back in April 2015, “and we want people to ride there, certainly on the weekends and take cars off the road.”

Indeed. Ride a bike amid thousands of cars driven by people now antsy because they can see the stadium they can’t seem to make progress reaching.

Ah, perhaps employ helicopters and allow people to parachute in. Is that outside-the-box enough?

The Braves allegedly picked that location because it was closer to more fans. Yet, and this is interesting, they cut the number of seats by 8,000 or so.

So they became more convenient for more people, yet are letting fewer people in the building. OK.

We’ll see. Attendance at Turner Field during glory years was less than one would expect and hope for, which allowed for assorted excuses, like the location and parking.

Let’s watch the attendance with this location and parking, while the team struggles and when things pick up. Good news: the new place has less than half as many suites as The Ted. Bad news: the normal folks will have to make up that big-money difference soon enough.

The location and ensuing traffic and parking disaster gives a hit to attendance below the metro area’s Mason-Dixon line, Interstate 20, and all but kills it for the scores of dedicated fans from Middle Georgia, and other parts of the region not so far away.

The Ted: You can walk out of work in metro Macon at 5, be on I-75 by 5:15, and the vast majority of the time be at least on Ted property before the first pitch, if not inside the stadium walls.

I’ve been saying for two years now that if you’re from Macon and went to 25 or so games a year at The Ted — like a lot of people did — prepare to cut that down to less than half, and closer to a quarter after the first year. It’ll have to just about become a weekend trip and hotel stay, many fewer school/work night trips.

And if it rains? Ouch. An accident? Double ouch.

First pitch has been pushed back to 7:30 p.m. People closer to the stadium need more time to get there?

One would still have to leave Macon before quitting time to make first pitch. If the game goes to the average of about two hours and 50 minutes, that’s a final out at almost 10:30 p.m.

If you stay until then and get back to Macon by 12:30 a.m., you win.

Sure, so much about Turner – location, lack of a Marta stop within a reasonable distance, and the nonexistent investment by the city, county, Braves and businesses folks around it – was imperfect, but one could get in and out in stunningly reasonable fashion much more often than not.

No more.

But we’re told by Braves folks that the new stadium has 14 access points, down from 17 initially and compared to two for Turner. Remember that while watching the temperature gauge in your car in July. And we’re told the drive is only a few more minutes from south of downtown.

Sure it is.

Just a few weeks ago, the team released its “Phase III Transportation Update.” Two weeks before the home opener and they’re still trying to figure out how to get people there? An Atlanta TV report said officials have spent three years on the parking and traffic plans.

Keep your phone charged, because there’s an Uber Zone, and consulting Waze, a traffic app, will be vital. There’s Cobb County transportation, but Marta isn’t in the equation.

And, of course, you can ride your bike, but you will have to deal with allegedly 14,000 parking spots the Braves say are available.

That update included “the evolution of the game day travel experience at SunTrust Park, one which encourages fans to make a plan in advance of their trip to the ballpark.” Yes, now just plan to work a half day if you want to go.

You need a program to study and memorize because getting to this great stadium is that complicated. It shouldn’t take so much effort for a ballgame.

Again, so much for folks outside a 10-mile radius making a decision at 3 p.m. to head on up for a game. But if you do, as we’re told, “buy parking in advance.” And bring plastic. No cash. And we can’t even talk about The Battery, which will just add congestion to a congested area.

Will the stadium experience be able to beat the experience of getting to the stadium? One sure hopes so, for the fans’ sake.

Man, here’s hoping this team gets better fast.

Michael A. Lough: 478-744-4626, @MLoughMacon