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Sneak peek at SunTrust Park


While in Atlanta for the final two baseball games at Turner Field (see our photo essay on it here), the Braves graciously agreed to take me on a tour of the construction site for SunTrust Park, which will become their home in 2017. This article and the accompanying photos lets you know what I saw and learned.

Leading the tour was Derek Schiller, President of the Braves’ business operations. Also along was Beth Marshall, Senior Director of Public Relations. The insight provided by the two of them was simply outstanding,  because you need to understand the reasons behind the team’s desire for a new facility to appreciate its location and why it was designed the way it was.

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In case you’re not familiar with the new park’s location, it’s a dandy. It’s quite close to the interchange of two of the area’s major highways, I-75 and I-285, in Cobb County, about ten miles north of Atlanta’s downtown.

Prior to the Braves’ acquisition of the parcels of land to make this project possible, this was an oblong piece of largely undeveloped land bounded by Windy Ridge Parkway on the north and Circle 75 Parkway on the east and south. Even though it’s very much in the center of an enormous amount of traffic, it hadn’t been developed partly because major pipelines ran beneath the property. On the south side of Circle 75, though, were several office buildings.  The Braves set up a “Preview Center” in one of them. The photo above looks across Circle 75 from the front of that office building.  Three years ago, this same scene showed thick trees and a pond.

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Turning the page on Turner Field – Part 4


In the first three installments of this series on Turner Field, we provided insights from a Braves exec, a fan since the team moved to Atlanta and the team’s face of the franchise during its years at the ballpark. To wrap up this series, here is the article I wrote for USA TODAY Sports Weekly (which is why I conducted those three interviews).  The piece appeared in their September 28, 2016 edition under the headline “Braves had Super Run at Stadium.”  Many thanks to the editorial staff for allowing me to reproduce it for you here.

By the way, after the article was published, an astute reader contacted Sports Weekly and suggested that the Top Ten list was missing an important event:  the unveiling of the All Century Team at the 1999 MLB All Star Game at Turner Field. I think he’s right.

 

ATLANTA    When the Braves host the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, October 2, it will mark the end of an era.  Turner Field, the scene of a tremendous amount of history in its short two decades, will see its final baseball game. That’s because in 2017, the Braves will move into SunTrust Park, currently under construction ten miles to the north in Cobb County.

As fans prepare to say goodbye to the ballpark, let’s examine how it came to be, what magical moments have occurred on its playing field, and what will become of it when the Braves are gone.

ANYTHING BUT HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

When Atlanta secured the rights to host the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, organizers realized there was no local venue capable of hosting the marquee track-and-field events plus the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Read More

Proper Send-off


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.

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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.

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Turning the page on Turner Field — Part 3


In part 3 of our series on Turner Field, we hear from Chipper Jones, the star of the Braves teams that won so many NL East Championships. He took time from a hunting trip to answer my questions about the Braves’ ballpark for the past 20 seasons. I used some of his comments in an article on Turner Field that is in the current issue of USA TODAY Sports Weekly, available on newsstands from Coast to Coast … but I thought you’d like to read the entire interview.

You can find Part 1 of our series (featuring a transcript of my lengthy interview with the fascinating John Schuerholz) here and Part 2 (with live-wire Braves fan T.W. Lord, who is 89 years old) here.

JOE MOCK:  Can you sum up your feelings about Turner Field?

CHIPPER JONES:  It was just home.  During those 16 years, I spent as much time there as I did anywhere, including my own house.  And, that home away from home, if you will, was filled with all of my brothers over 16 years.  Bobby Cox was our manager and father figure, and he made managing an art form by keeping the peace and protecting us every night on and off the field.  It is 16 memorable years that I continue to treasure and will never forget.

JOE:  What are some specific moments there that stand out in your mind? Read More

Turning the page on Turner Field — Part 2


In Part 1 of our series on Turner Field, Braves executive John Schuerholz provided his feelings about the team’s home stadium. Here we gain the insight of a long-time season-ticket holder. By the way, you can find my article on Turner Field in this week’s USA TODAY Sports Weekly, on sale at newsstands across the country!

When T.W. Lord expresses his opinions about the Braves, they should carry some weight.  After all, the 89 year old has been attending their games as long as there have been Atlanta Braves, as he was in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on April 12, 1966 when the team played its first game in Georgia after moving from Milwaukee.

And when you’ve been a season-ticket-holder for a team for over four-and-a-half decades, you know something about them and their ballparks.

I asked him for his thoughts on Turner Field and the team’s move to the northern suburbs of Atlanta in 2017.

JOE MOCK:  Do you recall the first Braves game you ever attended?

T.W. LORD:  Actually, I went to the first game in 1966 in the old Fulton County Stadium.  I didn’t start buying season tickets until 1969, and I’ve been a season-ticket holder since then.

I have some memories (of the games in the ‘60s).  I remember one game where we pitched a pitcher and let him stay in too long and it ruined his arm. Back then, they let pitchers pitch 11, 12 innings. I believe that pitcher’s name was Tony Cloninger (note: he pitched for the Braves in Milwaukee then Atlanta, 1961-68).

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Turning the page on Turner Field — Part 1


As the final baseball games at Atlanta’s Turner Field approach, we are bringing you a series of articles that provide insight into the ballpark. Here in Part 1, read the thoughts of John Schuerholz.

I conducted a phone interview with John Schuerholz for an article I wrote for USA TODAY Sports Weekly about Turner Field, as the Braves were about to move from their home park for the last 20 seasons. Schuerholz, after a 22-year stint with the Royals, nine as General Manager, came to the Braves in 1990. He served as their GM throughout the team’s remarkable streak of 14 consecutive division titles that began in 1991, and in ’97, the team moved into Turner Field. In 2007, he moved up to team president.

I asked him about the planning that went into Turner Field, which had the original purpose of hosting the 1996 Summer Olympics. We also spoke about the reasons behind the team’s decision to move out of Turner and, in 2017, into SunTrust Park in Cobb County, in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. The team is a key partner in the commercial development surrounding the new ballpark.

JOE MOCK:  In your early years as GM of the Braves starting in 1990, there must have been discussions about a possible replacement for Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (which opened in 1966).  What went into the planning for Atlanta’s Olympic stadium to become a baseball park?

John Schuerholz participates in the countdown on October 1, indicating only one more game remains at Turner Field
John Schuerholz participates in the countdown on October 1, indicating only one more game remains at Turner Field

JOHN SCHUERHOLZ:  At very high levels, (there were discussions between) political leaders and business leaders and the Olympic leaders and we the Braves, being owned then by (Ted) Turner. It was Ted’s desire that when we would have our new stadium, it would be located in the area where it’s now located. He wanted to do something to try to stimulate the growth and the improvement in this area. He was very conscious of that. But of course the Olympic Committee had to get a facility. They negotiated their deal with the State of Georgia and the City of Atlanta and ended up with this spot as the preferred spot by all of the leaders I just mentioned. So we end up where we are, which is on the southern end of the City of Atlanta. A beautiful ballpark (was) built, now in its 20th and final year for us, and it (has) served us well. Lots of great memories here, Joe. Lots of excitement created for our community, for our fans not only in the Atlanta area or the State of Georgia, but throughout the Southeast, what we refer to fondly as Braves Country.  Many, many, many good and exciting times in this ballpark, some of which became historic. Read More