So the longer-than-necessary road trip was over and the even longer awaited move finally took place this past weekend. The Home of the Atlanta Braves is no longer in Atlanta.
Turner Field, conceived and originally constructed as the 1996 Olympics Track and Field venue, built by and converted with taxpayer dollars, has given way to a community onto itself. Jammed against the intersection of I-75 and I-285, already one of the busiest roadways in the Southeast, is SunTrust Field, a 60-acre development that somehow, someway, has a brand new baseball stadium as it centerpiece.
Concerns about world-class traffic jams and parking problems seem to be diminishing with each passing sellout game, but even if they weren’t, the move away from the sinkhole that was Capital Avenue is a welcome one.
The amazing, under-budget miracle that was Atlanta Stadium, later to add Fulton County to its strictly geopolitical name, was not that it was built so cheaply, or so efficiently, but that it was built at all. Part of a remarkable gambit to lure the wanderlust of the Milwaukee Braves, AFCS (as it was called in its latter years) was built in time for it to be the home of the 1965 Atlanta Crackers.
As I sit here watching a replay of the Braves’ third straight win in their new home, it comes as an almost striking realization that so many of the team’s historic moments – those things you would put in a time capsule – took place over at AFCS. From Turner Field – nothing much, unless you were to include postseason letdowns.
I plead guilty to being a fan of a certain age, but bear with me on these:
There’s Hank Aaron’s 715th; Aaron’s 600th, Grissom’s catch to clinch the World Series; Francisco Cabrera driving in Sid Bream; Claudell Washington driving in the winning run in the Braves’ 13th straight win to open the 1982 season; Ron Gant’s dance after his game-winning homer; Ted (and Jane) sitting in the box, as stunned as the rest of us … all of those memories date to the original Launching Pad turned Chop House (there’s another one!).
In contrast, I come up with Ali lighting the Olympic torch, Heyward’s first-game homer, Jeff Francoeur’s debut, Evan Gaddis’ rookie year, Andruw climbing the wall like a superhero, Bobby Cox’s retirement … and many painful ones that overwhelm.
At Turner Field, the Braves were 0-3 in no-hitters, including Randy Johnson’s perfect game; there was the blown infield fly call that cost the Braves the win in the 2012 Wild Card game – which was, up to now, their last taste of post-season play.
Reading other columnists this past weekend, I’m struck by the number of them who feel badly, or embarrassed, that they feel no nostalgia for Turner Field. The lack of bonding moments is clearly one of the main reasons why, but here’s a small sampling.
“Well, maybe we won’t miss driving through Mechanicsville all that much, and apparently the area will be redeveloped to look like a vibrant Southside neighborhood instead of a giant hole in the ground, but still. You always felt a little grittier parking somewhere off Ralph David Abernathy and pretending through your toughest mean-mug not to be unreasonably scared of the locals.”
– Mike Jordan, Thrillist
“The Braves made it back to the World Series in 1999 but the Yankees swept them while winning the two games at Turner Field by a combined score of 11-3. The Diamondbacks won three games at Turner Field during the 2001 NLCS, including a shutout and an 11-3 victory. The Braves lost three consecutive division series from 2002-2004 and their opponent clinched at Turner Field each time. They lost a 2012 wild-card game to the Cardinals after Chipper Jones committed a crucial throwing error and umpire Sam Holbrook made a controversial infield fly call. And so it went for the Braves during that era: great players, successful teams, postseason letdowns. Even the high mark, winning the 1999 pennant, happened somewhat anticlimactically: Andruw Jones walked to drive in the winning run in the 11th inning against the Mets at Turner Field.”
– Michael Cunningham, AJC
“While most definitely a fan of the Atlanta Braves, I am not an Atlantan. That clearly biases me, as I didn’t see all of the construction leading up to the Olympics, nor was present for any of those festivities… that likely would have changed things. But in this era in which people change phones, cars, churches, or even homes as quickly as they would a dirty shirt, that’s what this stadium-switcheroo feels like.”
– Alan Carpenter, Tomahawk Take
“What will I miss most about Turner Field? Give me a minute here … what will I miss most? Not a lot, really. Not to be mean, it was a nice stadium but it wasn’t the best stadium. … Maybe a year from now, I’ll miss being able to get to a game in less than three hours, but right now, I’m not going to miss it a whole lot, sorry to say. Times change, people move on.”
– Mark Bradley, AJC columnist
While many have some difficulty putting their finger on why Turner Field won’t be missed, allow me to bring it into focus for you. Turner Field was a House of Fail, a House of Pain. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Cunningham above cited some of the numbers. Well, the deeper you dig, the more sewage rises to greet your nostrils.
There were 38 postseason games played at Turner Field; the Braves were 15-23 in those games. Nine of the losses featured blown leads by the Braves.
The last seven postseason series to be played at Turner Field were lost by the Braves.
The only World Series played at Turner Field, 1999, was a four-game sweep by the Yankees.
The last postseason series won at Turner Field was all the way back in 2001, when John Burkett won the clincher in a 3-0 sweep of the Astros. What followed was a 4-1 boot stomp by Arizona in the NLCS.
Now, perhaps I’m guilty of de-humanizing this, as a number of great players enjoyed their primes. Maybe when Chipper Jones, who was a Turner Field icon, makes the Hall of Fame, it will connect some dots for fans. So, too, should the eventual Andruw Jones induction.
Perhaps even Brian McCann can extend his career to that level.
I want to remember Turner Field fondly. I don’t want to think about how Time/Warner and Liberty laid the franchise low with a horrible TV/Radio deal and a shrinking budget, where you had to decide which of your good pitchers you can afford to keep.
I want to remember Turner Field fondly. I don’t want to think about the fact that its poor sightlines led to lower-than-safe railings that in turn led to the deaths of three fans during games. One, alcohol related, was when a young adult fan tried to slide down a stairway handrail.
The most visible, and disturbing, one came in a series against the Yankees in 2008. A longtime ticket holder, rising to yell at Yankee Alex Rodriguez, missed the handrail in front of his upper deck seat and fell to his death – miraculously missing fans below him.
The final one was ruled a suicide when a man went over a back railing of the smokers’ area and fell to the ground during a lengthy rain delay.
I want to remember Turner Field fondly.
But mostly, I want this current feeling about the Braves and their future in SunTrust Park to grow and grow as the well-laid plans for a rising dynasty seem to be bearing fruit. In that regard, the Braves can’t leave Turner Field behind soon enough.