Have a baseball road trip coming up? Well, in a bid to help you with your upcoming journeys, Big League Stew has solicited the help of the locals. Over the next month or so, we'll be hitting up our usual guest blogger crew to feature 10 tips for enjoying each of the 30 ballparks like the locals do. Have a suggestion in addition to the ones listed here? Make sure to list it in the comments below.
First off, welcome to Atlanta! Or at least, to a writeup about Atlanta. We’re glad you’re here. This is that Southern hospitality you’ve heard so much about. Also, reading these words has just added to your cholesterol count; we deep-fry everything here, even our verbiage.
Now, to business: You’re looking to know more about Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. You’ve come to the right place, sugar. Pull up a chair and sit a spell.
Turner Field began life as the stadium for the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996, and if you squint, you can imagine how the oval used to run. The seats that enclosed what is now the Fan Plaza beyond center field were temporary, and you can still find them in restaurants all over Atlanta. In the near distance, you can still see the Olympic torch that Muhammad Ali lit in one of the most dramatic moments in sports history; fittingly for Atlanta, it now adorns a highway overpass.
Turner Field itself is one hell of a ballpark, a more-real-than-real Disneyfied version of the retro-classic Camden Yards style. Your every need is provided for here, your every wish can come true … except in October, of course. Turner Field is the ideal spot for hookups of both the business and personal variety. Families love it, and baseball aficionados can get close enough to the action to smell the seams of the ball. If it was even the slightest bit easier to access, this place would be sold out 81 games a season.
So join us on our tour of Turner Field. For the truest fan experience, put this article aside and go sit in your car for 90 minutes before reading it. If you must go on now, though, let’s start right there…
1. Get in the car, Junior: One of the most wonderful things about Turner Field is its easy access from anywhere in Atlanta, as well as the bountiful offerings of bars, shops and nightlife that ring the stadium, creating a destination that’s — HA! Kidding. Turner Field, like its predecessor Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, is in a cultural and transportation dead zone, somehow simultaneously in the middle of everything and yet completely inaccessible. True mass transit doesn’t come within a mile of the stadium, meaning you’re going to be driving. And if you’re looking to make an evening game, you’d better leave now to catch a 7:35 first pitch in September. Pro tip: Don’t take any of the “designated” stadium exits. Drive south past the stadium and double back, or get off early on I-20 and take the back roads past Grant Park.
2. Paved paradise, put up a parking lot: All right, it’s a stretch to call old Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium “paradise.” But the Turner Field parking lot does stand on the exact spot where the Braves won their first (and counting…) World Series. Nice touch, however, is the fact that the Braves left much of the foundation of the old stadium in place, and have created a brick-laid path showing the layout of the original diamond. And in the middle of the parking lot, there’s a section of fence from the stadium depicting the exact spot where Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run to break Babe Ruth’s record.
3. Sign one more for eBay? The Braves’ relentless move toward command-and-control of the fan experience has meant that one of my favorite techniques for getting autographs is now no longer feasible. Time was when you could take kids to batting practice and they could hang out by the visiting dugout, chatting up the opposition and possibly even getting a batting practice ball. This worked particularly well for teams with no local transplanted fanbase, like Milwaukee or Houston. Now, though, huge nets cover the entire span of seats along both foul lines during batting practice, and all fans must congregate in the space of a single aisle. And after the game, you have to stand outside the players’ parking lot and hope they decide to stop if you want an autograph. Pro tip: It’s a crap shoot based on mood, but if you go to the back of the stadium following the last game of a homestand, you can catch the Braves as they’re loading on a bus to head to the airport. Time it right, and hope the Braves have won, and you can get a full three seconds of a player’s undivided attention.
4. Alley oop: Turner Field is aligned so that home plate looks out on the city’s skyline, and the mass of parking lots, and thus foot traffic, comes in through the plaza and gates just beyond the centerfield wall. What that means is that the Fan Plaza, on the opposite side of the center field JumboTron, is jammed tomahawk-to-tomahawk with Braves fans (or Cubs/Yankees/Red Sox bandwagoneers, depending on who’s in town.) While kids will want to visit Scout’s Alley beyond left field, where they can play games like batting practice and speed pitching, do your best to guide them to the rooftop basepath they can run on far above left field. There’s much more room, the beer/beverage stands are never crowded on the upper level, and the views of both the skyline and the field are glorious. If you do get swept into Scout’s Alley, however, be sure to look for the display on the wall showing just how high Otis Nixon jumped over the fence to catch a fly ball in a famous 1992 game-saving grab against Pittsburgh. You do not have Otis Nixon’s hops.
5. Buy me some peanuts, Cracker Jack, a craft beer and a handmade grass-fed beef hamburger: First Braves game I ever went to, my parents—being young and therefore not particularly up to speed on this parenting thing—fed me every single thing I asked for, and then got a good look at it all again in the floorboard of the car later that night. Don’t do that, either the feeding or the eating. Much like the Braves lineup, when the food at Turner Field hits, it’s a home run (get it?), and when it misses, well … there are Krispy Kremes and The Varsity not far away. Best bet is the H&F Burger, a transplant from Atlanta’s noted Holman & Finch Public House. It would be an outstanding burger even without the ballpark around it to give it flavor. The higher-end offerings in the Chop House and the 755 Club will put a squeeze play (more baseball metaphors!) on your wallet. The ballpark nachos and pizza slices at the stands around the stadium are the John Rocker of Turner Field food: seemed like a good idea at the time, turned ugly in a hurry, and are never spoken of again. Pro tip: The farther you get away from the center field plaza, the shorter the lines. Tucked away by the southwest gate are some stands where the concessionaires have never seen more than one patron at a time. Go to those, and get your beer and pretzel in a hurry.
6. Puppy love: The Atlanta Braves are a relentlessly efficient organization, sanding off all rough edges to provide fans with a Centralized Happiness/Integrity/Pleasant Personality Effect Recollection, or C.H.I.P.P.E.R., which is an acronym I just made up. What this means is that the Braves bombard you, the fan, with a sensory overload of “fan experiences,” as if the simple act of either watching a baseball game or perhaps talking with the person next to you between half-innings is too arduous a chore to contemplate. As a result, if you’ve seen a contest elsewhere, you’ll see a version of it here: Kiss-Cam, pick-the-song-by-cheers onscreen jukebox, t-shirt cannons, mascot race (sponsored by Home Depot, so it’s a Tool Race; don’t ever bet on the Drill) …you get the idea. Turner Field is so desperate to please you that after awhile you just wear down, and you don’t even flinch when the sound system starts blasting John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” during the seventh-inning stretch.
7. Good seats still available: Yes, the Braves don’t sell out playoff games, blah blah blah. We’ve heard it all before. You think 20-plus years of shaming by the national media’s going to make us change our ways now? Tickets are rarely tough to get at Turner Field, thanks in part to the sheer difficulty of just getting to the damn park. For you, though, intrepid ballpark traveler, this is opportunity. Hop on StubHub, and for all but the most marquee-highlight series, you can snag some quality tickets on the cheap. Pro tip: stay well away from the right-field upper deck. The sun there on summer afternoons is brutal; your beer will be boiling before the Braves come to bat in the first inning.
8. Must. Get. Bobbleheads.The Braves have a pretty packed promotional schedule, though a few items are worth noting: bobbleheads are always given away on Thursday night; this year’s offerings include Freddie Freeman, BJ Upton, and Dale Murphy. Sundays are Braves alumni days, where you can meet the Braves of yore in the Fan Plaza out past center field. (Don’t mention baserunning to Lonnie Smith or hung curveballs to Mark Wohlers; they may still be a little sensitive.) Also on Sundays, kids can run the bases after the game, which is a real kick for the young’uns. And for the old’uns, too.
9. Fear The Cow. This being Atlanta, everything that’s not on fire has a sponsor’s logo on it, most often the distinctive red of Coca-Cola. Chick-Fil-A is a close second, and if you’ve never had a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, you need to try one at Turner Field. (Beware; they’re addictive. Walter White would never have gone into meth if he’d had a Chick-Fil-A franchise.) The gargantuan Chick-Fil-A cow towering above left field will haunt your nightmares when it begins chopping.
10. There’s a game tonight? Oh, right ... baseball. The actual game has always been only one part of the complete sporting experience at Turner Field, and while we give our Braves plenty of well-deserved grief, the fact is that Atlanta embraces the Braves like no other pro sports team. (SEC football transcends all, even religion.) The Falcons are an attractive new date; the Hawks are that friend from work you hang with when there’s nothing else going on; but the Braves are family, always familiar, always there for you, always ready to welcome you with a smile and a little sweet tea. Five bucks for a small, seven for a large, please, hon.
What are your favorite tips for enjoying a visit to Turner Field?
Previous parks: Citi Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, Petco Park,Comerica Park, Progressive Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Wrigley Field, O.Co Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Fenway Park, PNC Park,U.S. Cellular Field, Safeco Field, Target Field, Rangers Ballpark, Camden Yards