Friday, May 19, 2017

Toronto Blue Jays at Atlanta Braves - May 17-18, 2017


It's always a bonus when the Blue Jays have a road series in a new stadium as I can combine my Club 122 quest with my Toronto on the Road quest. Such is the case this season when the Jays had a four-game home-and-home set with the Atlanta Braves, who opened SunTrust Park this year.



Located north of the city in Cobb County near the interchange of I-75 and I-285, SunTrust Park was built to cater to the majority of Braves season-ticket holders, who live in and around here. Turner Field, which lasted all of 20 years as an MLB venue, was located south of downtown in an area that was not considered particularly safe, and which had little in the neighbourhood in terms of bars and eateries. The new ballpark is part of a large development project known as The Battery, with dozens of establishments within a few minutes walk. One long-time season ticket holder told me it used to take him an hour to get to games; now the journey is just 20 minutes. The stadium address is Atlanta, but the actual location seems to be in Cumberland if you are interested in that sort of trivia.



For visitors who want to stay downtown, getting to the stadium can be a hassle. Having stayed in Atlanta many times before, I found a cheap hotel about a mile from the ballpark and took a surprisingly efficient public transit from the airport to get there, forgoing use of a car for this part of the trip. For those who do want to stay downtown, the #10 CobbLinc bus is an option from Arts Center, although Uber and Lyft are more convenient, especially after the game. Note that the Braves now start night games at 7:35 to allow more fans to get there in time for first pitch, but this does mean that games can end after 11, which leaves little time to enjoy postgame libations. Fortunately, The Battery has several bars that are open late, with the Yardhouse the place to go for craft beer, with over 100 varieties on tap.



There are several entrances to the park, with the Chop House entrance the one that you would take from The Battery. The main entrance is the Third Base Gate, which is the one that fans who walk from the nearby parking lots use, thus it is the most crowded.



Note that the statues that used to decorate the front of Turner Field are now here, with Bobby Cox a new addition. He can be seen next to the First Base Gate.



After entering the Third Base Gate, you will find yourself on a mezzanine - take the stairs down to the main level. The first thing I noticed was the collection of standing tables just behind the 100 section. These are great places to watch the game from, and I did so for the first game.



Wearing a Blue Jays hat and jersey and scoring, I was approached by about six different people during the game, all very friendly and willing to listen to my stories. I stood at the spot below for the entire game, with the only problem being the overhang blocking the main scoreboard. However, the small opening between the club seats and the rest of the 200 level allows a nice breeze to blow through, making it a great spot to recover from the humid Atlanta evening.



Tickets can be quite cheap on the secondary market, though for these games they were commemorating the quick reconstruction of the I-85 bridge that collapsed due to a fire on March 30. Repairs finished on May 15, a full month ahead of schedule, so the Braves were selling many tickets for $8.50 or less. I got in for $5 for the second game after spending $10 for the first.



On the first level behind home plate is Monument Garden, a long display of Braves history that is quite nice. Among the many attractions here are a statue of Hank Aaron...



...a 755 sculpture that uses 755 bats...



...past awards won by the Braves...



...the Braves Hall of Fame...



...and jerseys from their previous incarnations in Boston and Milwaukee.



There are a couple of other historical touches outside of this area. First, at the main guest services booth, you can see photos of past greats.



My favourite bit is the "Homes of the Braves", which describes all the stadiums the franchise has used over the years. This can be found near the right field corner on the 200 level.



Keep walking around the spacious lower concourse and as you approach the Chop House (one of several party areas) and move into the outfield, you will see a kids zone that is more like a carnival, with games like Chop a Mole and even a zip line for children. It is known as the Sandlot and sponsored by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.



You will also notice giant bobbleheads of past Braves greats scattered around the ballpark. There are ten of them, and you can have a bit of fun trying to spot them all.



The light posts in the outfield contain all of the championship pennants; you can see one in the photo below just above the Chick-fil-A cow. Retired numbers are along the facade between the second and third decks in the left field corner.



In terms of seating, the infield box seats go from foul pole to foul pole and are in sections with 2-digit numbers. All fans can enter here before the game and stand next to the dugouts to try to get autographs. The walkway between these seats and the 100 level is visible in the photo below.



The club seats are really nice.



There are concourses on both the 200 and 300 levels, but there isn't much here other than concessions and the odd bobblehead. Note the overhangs are quite large here and about a dozen rows are covered by the sections above on the lower level.



The view from the top row behind the plate is below. This seems a bit closer than what I am used to in Yankee Stadium or Citi Field.



The designated driver program here is very good. Sign up using an iPad at any Guest Services booth and you receive a can of your choice of Coke product (Classic, Diet, Zero). Food is expensive, though season ticket holders get a bit of a discount. The cheapest option is a hot dog at $4.75. The unique item is the Tomahawk Ice Cream Bar, overpriced at $6.50 but a nice sugar rush.



The scoreboard above center field is massive, and there is another smaller scoreboard above left field, below the Delta sign.



There's even a starting lineup board. Perhaps in 2018, the Braves can afford logos for the other 29 teams.



Now a tour going clockwise from the left field corner. The overhang is apparent here and I think these are not very good seats as it would be dark even on a sunny day.



The view looking over to right field - again the pennants on the light poles are visible, though difficult to distinguish from this far away.



Now looking back the other way



The view from right- center field, which gives a clear look at the four levels of seating as well as the separation between the Club seats and the rest of the 200 level.



This is taken from the 300 level where there is a standing platform. There are a number of party areas around the ballpark that cater to those who see a game as a social outing. The Chop House in center field is one, while Below the Chop is a field-level spot behind the right fielder.



The shot below was taken from the farthest seat in the 400 level. I actually sat here for a few innings in Game 2 and the Jays scored 9 runs, so it is the luckiest seat I've ever had while watching them.



Overall, SunTrust Park is a very impressive addition to the Club 122 venue list, and a worthy replacement for Turner Field. My main concern was with the location, but it is not as bad as I expected and the surrounding area is already an excellent postgame destination. The Braves admit to having used elements from other new ballparks, and it seems like there is something for everyone here. The Braves are not very good this year, so tickets will be cheap and easy to get. If you are a ballpark fan, make sure to head down to Cobb County and enjoy some southern hospitality.

The Games

In the first game, Atlanta scored 6 in the first inning and won 8-4. Ugh. The highlight was a couple of bench-clearing discussions, both caused by Blue Jays acting a bit inappropriately for the situation. For Kevin Pillar called Jason Motte a word that is no longer acceptable after Motte quick-pitched him and struck him out. For his indiscretion, Pillar was suspended two games by the team. Later Jose Bautista hit a homer to cut the lead to 4, and for some reason flipped his bat. It was a silly reaction, but no punches were thrown and the game ended in 2:59.



In the second game, Marcus Stroman started and was excellent, even after returning following a 37-minute rain delay. Julio Teheran hit Bautista in his first at bat, and both benches were warned. Bautista said nothing, and the Jays scored 3 in the inning, illustrating the stupidity of retaliation. Darrell Ceciliani hit a 2-run shot in the third that made it 6-0, but he injured his shoulder on the swing and was taken out. Dwight Smith Jr. (called up for Pillar, swinging above), a first-round pick in 2011 and Georgia native, made his MLB debut replacing Ceciliani, going 0-2 with a walk. Later on Luke Maile and Stroman hit ridiculously unlikely back-to-back home runs as the Jays cruised to a 9-0 win for the split at SunTrust.



Notes

This was my 275th baseball venue. With 25 minor league parks left, I will hit 300 this year, barring rainouts.

After the first game, I was relaxing at a bar next to the ballpark and started a conversation with a couple next to me. I was still wearing my Blue Jays hat and jersey, and so the lady asked if I was from Canada. When I replied in the affirmative, she mentioned that they had spent three summers in Edmonton. I inquired as to why, and found out that the gentleman was involved in coaching and had been with the Trappers. I casually asked where he was now, and he said he was with the Braves. In what capacity, I wondered aloud? Pitching coach was the answer. I was slightly incredulous, but then again, it is unlikely that someone would lie about something that can be easily verified. The couple was in fact Braves pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and his wife Donna and I spent an interesting half hour talking about the game, the silly confrontations, and his work, asking plenty of stupid questions which he handled graciously. I recently visited the Braves AA team in Jackson as well as their A+ team the previous two days, and it was fun to mention some notable pitching prospects to Hernandez, who was the team's minor league instructor last season and has worked with all of these guys.

Next Up

I'm on my way to Wisconsin. I'll start with a couple of Midwest League stadiums in Appleton and Peoria (IL) before returning to Milwaukee to see the Jays in another 2-game interleague set next week. Updates, as always, will be posted here.

Best,

Sean

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