LOD at the Ballpark: A Weekend at SunTrust Park – Atlanta
It has been many years since I have attended a baseball game in Atlanta. In the late 1990s, on one of our family vacations, we attended a game at Turner Field. The Braves were one of the most dominant teams in MLB at that time, but the ballpark did not leave much of an impression on me.
Any baseball fan my age (I’m 35), grew up watching our hometown team, as well as the Atlanta Braves (on TBS) and the Chicago Cubs (on WGN). These are the days before MLB At-Bat and access to any game in the country at any time. In a sense, the Braves (and Cubs) became teams with a national following. Not to mention, both franchises shared affiliation with the Carey family; Harry Carey in Chicago, Skip and Chip in Atlanta.
As for the Braves, along with their years of national exposure, they are also the regional team of the South; reaching a fan base far outside the Atlanta metropolitan area. Without a MLB franchises in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and North Carolina the Braves have a large reach. Even in Florida, where the Miami Marlins did not begin play until 1993, the Braves have a sizable fan base. This was very apparent attending Braves games last weekend, where you could walk around the concourses and notice all the SEC and ACC fan gear. The Braves are also hosting University Days at the ballpark in August and September, to cross promote the affiliations of fans with colleges throughout the South. This seems to be an important characteristic of “Braves Country.”
All these factors play into the of the game experience at SunTrust Park. We were fortunate enough to catch two ballgames on Friday and Saturday. This was a four game series against the Washington Nationals, with real implications for the standings in the NL East. Both games were sold out and the crowds were heavily engaged (a whole lot of tomahawk chopping). Friday night’s game was particularly exciting, as Josh Donaldson produced a walk off hit in the bottom of the 9th for the Braves. That night, we had tickets along the Third Baseline, which included private bathrooms and concessions. The seats were comfortable (made of breathable material) with plenty of legroom. It was a fantastic view of the entire stadium from where we were sitting and the weather was perfect. It made it hard to leave our seats to explore the stadium.
Thankfully, we had a second day at the park. First, it should be established that The Battery Atlanta offers an entire baseball experience to fans. Over the course of my lifetime, I have traveled to nearly half of the MLB ballparks and I am not sure I know anything else that compares. North of Atlanta in the suburban city of Marietta, The Battery district includes the Omni Hotel (overlooking the park), a large and growing number of bars and restaurants, shopping and entertainment options. A newly constructed indoor concern venue sits on the North side of the stadium. Fox Sports South broadcasts their pregame show right in the heart of it all.
Located right off I-75 , despite the dreadful Atlanta traffic, the parking options seem convenient. Crowds began assembling very early on Saturday afternoon (for a 7:20pm game). Fathers and children played catch and whiffle ball games in the small turf field outside the main gates. For a new development, there was so much life surrounding the ballpark. One can only imagine it will continue to grow in the years to come. The Braves approach to building SunTrust Park bucked the trend of recent ballpark projects. Rather than moving into the heart of the city, they built their park in closer proximity to season ticket holders. This could have been problematic, if the was not for a well planned effort to build the district as well as the ballpark.
Saturday’s game, we bought standing room seats, which allowed us to further explore each corner of the park. One observation is that the food options inside the park were limited. Staying true to their region, there were Chic-a-Fila and Waffle House concessions inside the stadium. Outside of that, most concession fare was standard for any ballpark. Hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza available throughout. There was plenty of standing room spots in all corners of the park. We stood in the upper deck in right and center field for part of the game. Then we moved into the lower deck left field for the later innings.
Both locations offered a decent view of the game. The ballpark offered a little bit for everyone. If you were looking for a change of scenery, you could visit the Chop House out in right field. If you bring the kids, there’s plenty of games and activities along the outfield concourses.
As if our father-son baseball weekend wasn’t good enough on it’s own merits, encountering the infamous Marlins Man put it over the top. If you are not familiar with Marlins Man, you might not be watching enough baseball. You might spot him wearing his signature orange Marlins visor and jersey, usually sitting somewhere behind home plate. We got a chance to chat with Marlins Man, hear his perspective on the shape of the Marlins franchise and his experiences touring ballparks all over the country. He had high praise for SunTrust Park as well.
Overall, watching the Braves at SunTrust Park was a memorable baseball experience. Sellout crowds, eager to watch their team work their way toward the postseason. It reminded me that the last time I saw Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley play live, it was 2017 with the Florida Fire Frogs. Impressive how quickly these guys have advanced to the big leagues. They will likely be leading strong Braves teams for years to come. So, if you are looking for ideas for a ballpark visit, look no further than Atlanta.