by Julian Spivey
After 20 seasons and more than 1,600 baseball games Turner Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves, is hosting its final baseball game today as the Braves play the Detroit Tigers at 2:10 p.m.
Twenty years isn’t exactly a long life for a professional baseball stadium, but the stadium originally built to host the 1996 Summer Olympics and then Braves baseball has never been an optimum home for the Braves ownership, who site traffic problems in downtown Atlanta and lack of public transportation around the area as factors to why the team often struggles in ticket sales. The Braves have always had kind of fair-weather local fans, anyway, even when they were in the middle of winning 14 straight division titles.
Turner Field is a special place to me, even though I’ve only been to three games at the location. Not only has it been the home of my favorite baseball franchise for the majority of my life, but it’s where I attended my first ever Major League Baseball game – a key moment in any baseball fan’s life. For that reason, I wish Turner Field, named after former Braves owner Ted Turner, could stand forever. But, they tore the House That Ruth Built down in New York, so nobody is exactly going to save a 20-year old ballpark that didn’t really have any special significance in the history of the game beyond the Braves franchise.
I’m sure Sun Trust Park, that just doesn’t sound right, the Braves new ballpark being built in the nicer suburbs of Cobb County will be a nice home for my favorite franchise and will surely pack in loads of fans at least in its first season of operation, which begins next April. But, I’m not sure it’ll ever mean as much to me as Turner Field, the somewhat boring cookie cutter park that was partially built to please a terrific rotation consisting of now hall of famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Sun Trust Park will never see a Bobby Cox ejection, it’ll never see a Chipper Jones home run, it’ll never see a Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz strikeout, or a dazzling Andruw Jones defensive play or a number of other things. One of the things I’ll miss most about Turner Field isn’t even at Turner Field, but outside in one of the parking lots where they have a monument commemorating the spot where Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record at the old Fulton County Stadium in 1974. They will probably demolish that with the field, but I hope not. Most importantly it’ll never be the first place my parents took me and my brothers to see our first Major League game, all the way from Arkansas.
That’s us in the photo attached to this piece - I’m the one in blue. It was August 2, 1998 and the Braves were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals, a team I was quite familiar with listening to on the radio in Arkansas. The Braves mascot, Homer, looks like a meth addict – luckily he’s cleaned up his act today. Seriously, my parents probably shouldn’t have allowed us around that dude.
I don’t think I’m a normal person. I don’t really remember a whole lot of things from my childhood. I remember plenty of sporting events and moments I’ve seen, but not a lot of lived in things – things I did or experienced. I remember that day well. I remember Kevin Millwood was the starting pitcher for the Braves. I’ve attended six Braves games in my lifetime and not once did I see Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz start a game. I hate that. I remember Mark McGwire went 0-for-4 for the Cardinals and this was just a month before he’d break Roger Maris’ single season home run record that we all know now was bogus. I remember the Braves won 4-3 and they did so on a RBI double by Greg Colbrunn, who started that day in place of the Braves usual first baseman Andres Galarraga. I think Colbrunn means more to me from this one at-bat than he does to most anybody who ever saw him play. This would be the only time I ever saw the Braves win at Turner Field. I’ve seen them win twice at the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Maybe I should just stay close to home and watch them win?
The second time I went to Turner Field was during a family reunion in the summer of 2001. They would go on to lose to the New York Mets and we’d have to leave before the last out because my brother couldn’t keep down an overpriced ballpark hot dog, but the best part about this trip was we got to take a tour of the stadium. I stepped foot on the same field that my childhood heroes did. I even got to sit in the same dugout they did. I don’t believe my family has photos of this. I wish they did.
My third and final time at Turner Field was in the summer of 2005 when they got beat pretty badly by the Oakland A’s in an interleague game. This was more than a decade before now and I had no way of knowing this would be my final trip to The Ted, as many affectionately or sarcastically depending on the person call it. I so badly wanted to go to Atlanta this season and wish it farewell, but life is too busy and that never happened. Seeing a game here or there on television this season showed me that many, even those much closer than I am to the ballpark, must’ve had the same thing happen.
I’m going to watch the game this afternoon and I hope the Braves win one final time at Turner Field. As previously mentioned, there was really nothing too significant about the ballpark. At the same time, it holds an awful lot of significance to me.