In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy realized at one point that she was “not in Kansas anymore”. That is exactly how the Atlanta Braves have felt the last week of the Major League Baseball (MLB) season. They are no longer playing in the friendly confines of Turner Field. They are now playing 15 miles away at SunTrust Park. SunTrust seats about 8,000 less than Turner Field, which will make the park look fuller on those less sold out games. There is not a bad seat in the park, even in the 400 section. The designers made the seats closer to the field for a true fan experience. They made sure the kids enjoy the experience as well with several kid-friendly activities. They used LED lighting making it easier to watch the game in person or on TV. It seems like the lights are positioned directly on the field, giving the players a “stage” to perform on. The lights even change colors when a homerun is hit. There is a fountain in center field that shoots water 50 feet in the air when a homerun is hit as well. Since this is the South, the Braves have air-conditioning on each level of the stadium. This by far is the best feature ever! The second best feature has to be the Monument Garden. On the main level, behind home plate, is the history of the Braves. It includes the jerseys worn by the Braves over the years. It includes memorabilia and plaques of important events over the years. It includes a waterfall statue of Hank Aaron hitting home run number 715, breaking Babe Ruth’s record. Right behind that is 755 Louisville Slugger baseball bats sculptured into the shape of the number 755, commemorating his final homerun total. The dimensions of the park are very similar:
Turner Field SunTrust Park
Left Field 335 ft Left Field 335 ft
Left-Center 380 ft Left-Center 385 ft
Center Field 400 ft Center Field 400 ft
Right-Center 390 ft Right-Center 375 ft
Right Field 330 ft Right Field 325 ft
SunTrust’s outfield walls range in height from six feet to eight feet eight inches to sixteen feet. That is something the players will have to adjust too.
The players seemed to adjust well to SunTrust on March 31, 2017. They played an exhibition game against the New York Yankees. The Braves won 8-5, which was a good sign of things to come. It was only 21,392 on hand, because seats were only for season ticket holders. Of course, not all of them could show up, thus selling their tickets for other fans to enjoy the park for the first time. Once the regular season started, it meant the Braves would be gone for two weeks before coming “home”. They started the season with a record of 1-6. The one lone win was verse the New York Mets in the second game of the season 3-1. They were “chopping” at the bit to get back to Atlanta. On April 14, 2017, the Braves played their first game in their new “home”. They had a huge opening ceremony honoring Phil Neikro, Tom Glavine, Dale Murphy, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Bobby Cox, and Hank Aaron. Aaron threw the first pitch to Cox. After that, the team came out of center field, down the red carpet, with fireworks shooting off on both sides. It was amazing! The only question, could the adrenaline keep up for nine innings to win the game? The San Diego Padres were not going to give the game away. Julio Tehran threw the first pitch of the game against Manuel Margot. Ender Inciarte would be the first person to do just about everything in the new stadium. He recorded the first out, the first hit, the first run scored, and the first homerun. The Braves would go on to win the game 5-2 with Tehran getting credit for the first win and Jim Johnson getting credit for the first save. It sure seemed like this might be home for real for the Braves.
The weekend series continued Saturday, with the Braves winning 4-2. It was ironic and appropriate that would be the final score, since it was Jackie Robinson Day. MLB acknowledges April 15th annually, honoring the day Robinson made his major league debut in 1947. All players, coaches, managers, and referees were the number 42 on their jersey to commemorate him breaking the color barrier. Saturday featured the longest homerun so far, by second baseman Brandon Phillips. He hit a 438 foot one over the left-center field wall. On Sunday, the Braves gave up only two runs again. This time the bats were alive and well, scoring nine runs. The Braves had one more game verse Padres to complete the series sweep on Monday night. Guess what? They did it! This game was much closer, with them winning 5-4. Inciarte was the hero of the series, hitting four homeruns. He only hit three homeruns all of last year. The Braves are definitely settling into their new home.
The Battery, the entertainment district surrounding the ballpark will be the best space around a major sporting facility when it is fully complete. It will have an Omni hotel, the Roxy Coca-Cola Theater, businesses, and plenty of restaurants and retail shops. When you get a chance, you have to make a trip to SunTrust Park to enjoy a game. While you are there, make sure to do the Tomahawk chop to salute the Braves new home.