The Braves have known for three years that this day would come. They knew that at the close of the 2016 season, it would be time to say goodbye to Turner Field so they could move about ten miles north to new SunTrust Park, which will open on April 14, 2017.
BaseballParks.com was on hand for the stadium’s final baseball game. We can’t say that it was the last game, because football will be played there when Georgia State University converts it into a gridiron facility. But Sunday, October 2 was the final baseball contest, and the Braves pulled out all the stops in giving their home for the past 20 seasons a proper send-off.
So here are some of the sights from that last game.
As fans entered Turner Field one last time, they were handed a special memento. It was a small disk containing “2016 Authenticated Game Used Dirt” from the ballpark, along with an oversized commemorative ticket. It was all in a plastic lanyard. A very nice touch.
In addition to the free lanyard (shown above on the left), fans could purchase a variety of merchandise commemorating the final game. Two I bought were a t-shirt and a lapel pin.
Fans wanted to have their pictures taken at some of the park’s iconic spots — such as Chipper Jones’ retired #10 on the entry plaza — one last time.
No visit to the Braves’ field would be complete without paying homage to the greatest Brave of them all, Hank Aaron. The real-life Aaron, using a cane to help him onto the field, was an important part of the post-game ceremony, as he and Braves’ Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk uprooted Turner Field’s home plate. They then were the plate’s chaperones as a motorcade took it — along with a police escort — directly to SunTrust Park.
Turner Field was originally constructed to be the main venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics. It was then converted into a baseball park, where the Braves started playing in 1997. These pillars around the huge entry plaza beyond the outfield were left behind when the conversion took place to show where the perimeter of the Olympic Stadium was.
The Braves honored the Olympic heritage of their stadium during the post-game ceremony when they had a “parade of states,” reminiscent of the Parade of Nations that took place during the Opening Ceremonies in 1996.
Another element of the ceremonies following the game was “The Final Chop.” Naturally, foam tomahawks were waiting for all fans when they arrived that day.
Prior to the National Anthem, past players were introduced to represent all Braves who played at each position during Turner Field’s 20 seasons. There wasn’t just one pitcher, though. I mean, could you pick only one when you had Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz to choose from? Here they are each given balls by Hall Of Fame Manager Bobby Cox. They then simultaneously threw ceremonial first pitches.
This was immediately followed by a stirring Star Spangled Banner while a massive American flag was stretched across the outfield. A flyover of fighter jets added an exclamation mark to the Anthem.
By the way, almost every reporter in the pressbox had his cell phone out taking pictures and video of the events. I’d never seen that before!
Since April 2009, Matthew Kaminski has been filling Turner Field with the most appropriate sounds a ballpark can have: organ music. He was certainly at his best at the Braves’ final game here. I truly hope he’ll be at SunTrust Park in 2017!
Not only was the final game played on a beautiful, not-too-hot day, it was beautiful to see a huge crowd on hand. It was reminiscent of the days when the Braves won 14 straight division titles and packed the place every night.
The Braves started a tradition during the 2016 season. After the 5th inning at each home game, someone important to the franchise would come out onto the left-field warning track and tear off a number, symbolizing that the final baseball contest at Turner Field was one game closer.
For the last game on October 2, a group dubbed The Legends of Turner Field was called out to do the honors. Former players such as Javy Lopez, Chipper Jones, Gary Sheffield and John Smoltz were joined by former manager Bobby Cox and Braves exec John Schuerholz, with Cox and Schuerholz jointly pulling the #1 down. It revealed the scene below.
This sign says it all.
Truly, the Braves did a wonderfully classy job saying goodbye to their home park since 1997.
Coming shortly: an inside look at SunTrust Park, complete with photos taken from within the construction site.