Back in college I met Johnny Pierce at BSU conventions. He was campus minister at Southern Tech. Later he officiated Don Lott's wedding. Twenty years later I recognized him sitting next to me at Braves batting practice. We caught up, and have been seeing each other at Braves games ever since.
Pierce (above, right) has jumped into this Braves thing with both feet. As a long time season ticker holder, he's been attending game for years. He often writes about his experiences at games on his blog. This week he reviewed the new ballpark after attending the first four games. Reprinted without permission - hopefully he won't mind.
Several friends have asked for my impressions of SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves. It seemed wise to get beyond the initial experience to give a fair and more complete evaluation.
My first reaction when touring the more intimate, highly-detailed ballpark in its latter stages of construction was to note a similar look/feel to lovely AT&T Park — though, on the outside, no one would confuse Windy Hill Road with the Frisco Bay.
Yet SunTrust Park is unique in character as well.
My larger impressions follow attendance at the first four games — an exhibition with the Yankees, a college game, Opening Day and Jackie Robinson Day. These experiences included day and night games, enjoying the Battery food and shopping, and parking in various lots as well as staying overnight within walking distance — if you like to walk a good bit, and I do.
So here are some thoughts on six aspects of the new Braves experience:
One: SunTrust Park is very different from Turner Field — in look, location and more. There are many good memories of The Ted. However, the Braves have moved on; so should its fans. (Even if for some of us, they moved further away.)
Two: I experienced nothing of the paralyzing traffic that doomsday prognosticators have warned about since the announcement of the new ballpark. It’s metro Atlanta, folks; traffic is going to be heavy in most every part at any moment. However, varied routes in and out of the ballpark and staggered arrival/departure times (due to good gathering spaces outside the stadium) are proving beneficial.
Three: Parking is very different from my customary hitting the green lot early at the Ted and having easy access to the downtown connector after the game. But the parking system at SunTrust Park is well conceived and very workable when both fans and employees get accustomed to it.
At the exhibition game, WAZE took me directly to my northern lot where I was warmly welcomed. The easy stroll over the pedestrian bridge got me to the ballpark and back efficiently. And access to I-75 was great.
Parking for the second regular season game was not as easy, however, as my assigned lot (though empty and staffed) opened later than the time posted on the web site. This forced me to contribute to the traffic concerns that prepaid parking was designed to eliminate. I’m sure such bugs will be worked out — with published information and lot supervisors on the same page.
One of the challenges is to pick a lot based on arrival plans since the lots open at various times. It is to the Braves’ advantage to get fans into these lots as soon as possible to create staggered arrival times and to bring increased business to the Battery.
Four: Food is everywhere and the choices are many. Concession lines were so long for the sold-out games that I didn’t want to miss a full inning of the game waiting. Those wait times will surely be reduced with smaller attendance and experienced staff.
In general, I found far better food in the Battery restaurants than in the concession stands. For example, I paid $12 for a “bowl” at the Taco Factory inside. It had a small amount of chicken and a few toppings over under-cooked, inedible rice. Before the next game, at The Yard, just outside the Chophouse entrance, I enjoyed a wonderful chicken, penne and asparagus dish for just two dollars more. I returned the next day with my daughter for excellent guacamole and tacos.
With El Felix and Goldberg’s among the new restaurants opening soon in the Battery, I’ll be doing most of my eating before rather than during the game. While avoiding too many comparisons to Turner Field, I must note the tremendous advantage of having so many good food choices around SunTrust Park compared to one adjacent sports bar that once drew a health department score of 58.
Five: Coffee is not generally associated with baseball like peanuts and Cracker Jack (which is singular, whether eating or singing about it). But I’ve long lamented that Dunkin’ Donuts is the official coffee of the Atlanta Braves but unavailable at games. However, DD’s consistently best coffee around is available just a few steps up Cobb Parkway from the Battery. That’s a good pregame stop for those, like me, whose Braves experience keeps them up past usual bedtime.
Six: Inside the ballpark one quickly notes the attention given to thoughtful architectural designs and high-tech enhancements (including an amazingly-vivid screen and impressive lighting), as well as the tributes to the franchise’s storied history. However, there are several points of pedestrian bottlenecking and even dead ends, creating more traffic jams within than without the stadium.
Any inconveniences, however, pale in comparison to the game experience itself, which is superb. When seated in the first row of section 137 with my friends and/or family, there is no place I’d rather be.
The view of game is perfect and the surrounding environment (though as commercial as NASCAR) is spectacular, especially as the sun sets. Speaking of the sun, the larger overhangs protect many fans from the weather and the multi-levels shield the glare from those of us facing the west.
After the postgame fireworks on a winning Opening Day/Night, I simply sat in my seat for a few minutes — soaking it all in and enjoying everything about the experience. I’ve not missed an opening day in Atlanta for more than 25 years. This was one of the best ever. And the tributes and winning ways the following night continued a new and wonderful tradition.
In 1981, fresh from graduate school and starting my first full-time job, I opened a checking account and got a car loan at SunTrust Bank (then known as Trust Company of Cobb County). That branch at the corner of Terrell Mill and Powers Ferry Roads was the closest to my Marietta apartment.
Little could I have imagined that 35 years later a beautiful new home of the Atlanta Braves with its own surrounding multi-use community would rise just a couple of miles away bearing that bank's name. If so, I might have stayed closer by.
However, the draw is strong enough for any efforts required for visiting SunTrust Park as often as possible. It will soon become a familiar and beloved place to devoted Braves fans.
Such familiarity and affection will mean the new ballpark needs a nickname that respects the corporate sponsorship yet requires fewer syllables when spoken and fewer characters when texted. I’ve been giving that some thought.
A few have offered tags like “The Sun” or “The Bank” or “STP.” I’m thinking maybe we should add an “o” to that last one to see if it catches on.
Then we can “Chop at the SToP.”
Whatever we call it, it will surely call us again and again.