Sunday, August 21, 2016

Charlotte Knights 5 at Gwinnett Braves 1 (International League) - August 19, 2016

The final stop on this trip was Lawrenceville, Georgia, where the Gwinnett Braves play. Gwinnett is a county just northeast of Atlanta and Lawrenceville is the county seat and also where Coolray Field is located. The Braves AAA franchise has resided here since 2009 when they moved from Richmond. The name of the field might sound cool, but actually it is an air conditioning firm based in Marietta that owns the naming rights.

It is easy to get here as the ballpark is just a mile or so south of I-85, but remember that rush hour traffic in Atlanta can be brutal so add 30 minutes to your planned travel time if you are attending a 7:00 game. Parking is $5 and is well organized on the way in, with three people collecting the fee simultaneously. I can only guess that the postgame exit is much more frustrating; I attended a fireworks night and left immediately after the final pitch while most of the crowd stayed around to watch the pyrotechnics.

This was yet another doubleheader after a rainout the previous night, but I had completely forgotten to double-check the start time after arriving at my hotel, so I missed much of the first game. This turned out to be a minor blessing as I got a free ticket handed to me as I walked to the box office. Even better, the ticket came with a cap giveaway, a nice old-style Braves hat with the Gwinnett logo.

The park has a single seating bowl with suites above and an open concourse that allows views of the field from wherever you are. Note that the roof does not curve at all, this leads to a few covered seats in the top rows along the lines, as you can see below.

There are a number of individual standing tables that are mostly unused and provide some space to eat or score the game. The view below is from one of those tables, and as you would expect, you can easily move into the seating bowl after a couple of innings. In fact, the Braves are last in the International League (and all of AAA) in attendance at 3,357 per game, perhaps due to the access issues. With capacity over 10,000; there should never be a problem getting a row to yourself.

There is a walking path that takes you around the entire ballpark. The visiting bullpen is next to the right field berm should you feel the need to heckle.

The large scoreboard is behind right field and offers basic stats. Behind it is a condominium development known as The Views with floor plans named after Braves legends. You can see that I arrived around the top of the fifth of the first game. Oops.

The view from center field shows the overall ballpark design.

In the left field corner is a picnic area that was open to the public on this day. This looks to be a good spot to get foul balls.

Compared to some of the newer AAA parks I have visited this season in El Paso and Nashville, Coolray Field is not that fancy but it does the job. Concessions are varied with several specialty stands such as Burgertopia, Steakadelphia (Philly cheesesteaks), and Hickory BBQ some of the options. I enjoy any park that provides a standing area in the infield, something more useful here than elsewhere as you'll want to stretch out after spending an hour stuck in traffic trying to get here.

The Game

Gwinnett won the first game 7-5 as Charlotte's Carson Fulmer gave up six runs in one inning in his first start for Charlotte since being sent down.

The second game featured David Holmberg for Charlotte against Aaron Blair, both who have several games in the majors. The game was over pretty quickly when Adam Engel (19th round, 2013) hit a grand slam for Charlotte in the bottom of the second. The Knights tacked on another run in the inning and coasted from there, with Holmberg going the distance, yielding just 2 hits. One of those was a triple by Mel Rojas Jr. (3rd, 2010 by Pittsburgh), who scored on a sacrifice fly for the Braves only run. Gwinnett used 5 pitchers for their 7 frames, but every change occurred to start the inning, so this one finished up in a relatively quick 2:06 as Charlotte gained the split with a 5-1 win.


Coolray completes the International League ballparks and thus AAA for me. At this point, I have 24 minor league venues left to see but that number is always in flux. Already we know of three franchises moving next season, requiring more visits on my part. Fortunately all are roughly in the same area as two High A teams are moving from California to North Carolina while the Brevard County Manatees are shifting 50 miles west to Kissimmee. I'll probably see these in combination with the Braves new stadium and my sole remaining Southern League ballpark in Jackson, Mississippi on one trip.

The other leagues with remaining teams are the Midwest (8), Northwest (6), and Pioneer (8) and I'll plan trips to those once the MLB schedule is out and we know the Jays road trips as I'm hoping they get to Wrigley and Miller Park at a minimum as they will be facing the NL Central in interleague play.

Next Up

That's it for baseball this season, and I'll be pretty quiet over the winter as I return to work for a while. I've got a short CFL trip to Toronto and Montreal coming up at the end of the month, and I'll be seeing the Leafs in Chicago in October. I also have to add the four new Club 122 venues (Rams, Vikings, Oilers, Sacramento Kings) which will keep me busy enough. As always, my schedule is updated regularly, so if you are in a city I am visiting, drop me a line and we can meet up for a game.



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