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Take me out to the old ball game – at SunTrust Park

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What happens when Major League Baseball meets Wall Street? I suspect something very much like SunTrust Park, the new home for our Atlanta Braves – albeit just outside of Atlanta in Cobb County.

Yes, professional baseball has gone the way of NFL football, which is to say it is marketing itself almost exclusively to the corporate clientele.

By that I mean the average Joe (me) is no longer the target market – meaning a season ticket holder at the least.

I don’t mind really. I really prefer the TV anyway (except when my hallowed Bulldawgs are at home, and even then only once or twice a season).

But I did want to see the Braves New World that is SunTrust Park. With a cost somewhere north of $1 billion, well, who wouldn’t want to see the elephant at that price? And I wanted my grandsons – aka The Beach Boys – to see it for the first time with me.

As My Lady Wife and I were cruising the interstate to take Tripp and Chase to see The Battery (not half finished yet) and the new stadium, my mind wandered back to the mid-1960s when Atlanta first became a major league city, the first south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

It was 1966, and with the acquisition of a Major League Baseball team, Atlanta sealed its place as the pre-eminent city in the Deep South. It wasn’t until 1996 and donning the Olympic mantle did The Big A become the ATL and join the ranks of World Class cities.

Yes, in 1966 I became a Braves fan — sorry Dodgers, but you had to root for the home team. And it was a pretty good team. Pitching was Phil Neikro, remember him? I loved Felipe Alou (hit .327 in 1966, what’s not to like?). Catching was a guy named Joe Torre. Say, whatever happened to him?

Rico Carty, a big lovable Dominican player everybody called “Beeg Boy.” That’s because he always played at one speed: Beeg. Shoot, he hit .299 lifetime.

Then there was Eddie Mathews. The Hall of Famer third baseman had 512 home runs. He would be the greatest home run hitter of all time for most teams, but …

But Hank Aaron was on that team, too. Perhaps the best to ever play the game of baseball.

So I was spoiled those first years at old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. It doubled as home to the Braves and the fledgling Falcons. You remember that and you can call yourself a real Atlantan.

Worse days were ahead for the Bravos. They were a big part of the tag “Loserville” they hung on Atlanta. We acquired sports franchises but no pennants – in any sport.

But each year, hope would well in my breast, and I would await opening day. We had a brief ray of sunshine with Neikro and Dale Murphy, but I remember going to games at Fulton County Stadium where attendance was in 4 digits.

The worst was when, in 1987, the Braves traded pitcher Doyle Alexander, our most reliable starter that year in August for a Detroit Tigers minor leaguer.

I was heartbroken. We were giving up on the season in August and obviously giving up on 1988 as well.

And for what? I would never forget that name because the guy didn’t even sound like a major league player. Some kid named John Smoltz. Whatever happened to him, anyway?

In 1991, I wrote a spring column in which I was not going to get all gooey about a new slate for the Bravos. That year I wrote a different column. I would not put my heart on my sleeve and root for another hapless Braves team with a bunch of retread everyday players and a bunch of young pitchers fresh off the farm.

For crying out loud, Ted Turner demoted his general manager Bobby Cox just to have the pleasure of firing him for being in last place at the All-Star break with the team Cox himself had assembled.

Take that, you Atlanta Braves.

That became the Worst to First season and the first of five trips to the World Series and 14 straight division titles. (Oh, that John Smoltz).

Those were the days when the Braves played in the Ted, the stadium we got for having the Olympics. It would last just 20 years. Think of Fenway, think of Wriggly, even the House That Ruth Built. Now there is tradition.

We do live in the throwaway age. So now comes SunTrust Park.

I have to say there is a bit of a wow factor. You drive in, you park and you’re 10 minutes from the gate. Except it takes a lot longer than 10 minutes because there is this thing called The Battery.

What is The Battery? I can tell you what THEY call it. They call it the South’s pre-eminent lifestyle destination. Whatever happened to just going to a ballgame?

So it is not a game but an experience. So why not have an experience?

Much of it is not done yet, but there is still plenty to see and do. Their catchphrase is: Eat. Shop. Play Ball. And trust me, there is truth in their advertising.

Personally, I don’t go to baseball games to shop. But My Lady Wife likes shopping like I like French fries. And I do like eating. I like eating like ... oh well, you get it.

And if you are so inclined, you can just live there a la Avalon. I noticed they promote USB connections in the kitchen. Must be some kind of millennial thing.

You can walk to the game and walk home. That’s what I did in Little League.

So we did see the Bravos play, and my grandsons were suitably impressed. But being twins and 14, any comments were mostly monosyllabic. (“Nah hunh,” is about half their spoken vocabulary.)

Well, perhaps I exaggerate. A little.

It was a grand evening for baseball. It was a little tricky getting in, but once you know the way, it beats driving down to the Ted all to …

Let’s just say it’s better. And as for the latest edition of the Atlanta Braves? I like their youth. And I have seen worse Braves teams. A lot worse.


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