Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tour 2017: SunTrust Park

All photos of The Battery Atlanta and SunTrust Park available on Flickr.

Our annual trip brought us to Atlanta this year, where we watched the Brewers battle the Braves in the first year of their new ballpark.  We both arrived in Hot-lanta on Friday June 23rd, which just happened to be one day before the 10th anniversary of the original Tour.  After walking what seemed like the entire length of the airport and riding the entire length of the MARTA train, we arrived at our accommodations - the Morrisons house in Brookhaven, which is northeast of the city.  The matriarch of the family is a cousin of Erik's wife Katie and they were awesome hosts for the weekend.  A very reasonable $15 Lyft and we were at the ballpark, a few miles west of the house we were staying.

We arrived right at the doorstep of the stadium around 4:30 and had some time to kill before the 7:35 first pitch.  Luckily for us, there is a huge commercial area supporting the ballpark, so we had plenty of restaurant and bar options.  This area is called The Battery and, unlike the ballpark villages in DC and St. Louis, was largely completed in parallel with the ballpark construction.  Before SunTrust Park was built, this area was primarily single-family residential and a few hotels.  Situated about 15 miles north of downtown at the nexus of two major freeways made it a prime location that both the Braves and the Cobb County seeked out for a major new entertainment, shopping, and mixed-use destination.  There has certainly been some controversy associated with this project - eminent domain, increased traffic in an already crippled highway system, and of course taxpayer dollars - but there is no doubt from our 3 days spent there that this is a major boon for the team and the city.  I'm a pretty vocal opponent of ballparks being conned to citizens as a magical development magnet, but in the case of The Battery that is built entirely as an outside destination, in a city as sprawling as Atlanta it seems to work great.  Erik and I spent all of our time either at the Morrisons house or The Battery and did not even set foot into downtown Atlanta, and there was more than enough for us to do even in its incomplete state.  It's a fantastic area if you can figure out how to access it.  It's not exactly pedestrian friendly outside of the Battery so it took us awhile to find it the first night and had to be directed through a parking garage by a staff member.  Somehow nobody thought to put in a dedicated transit line there either; it would have taken us 2 trains and a bus to get there from where we were staying.  There are also lots of people who go to the Battery just to hang out and not necessarily go to the game.  Non-ballpark patrons park in the same garages as gameday parkers do, so after the game you have to contend not only with game traffic but also with all the people who are putting their tickets into the machine to pay for an hour of shopping.  On Saturday it took us over an hour to get out of the garage and it was clear that the system needs improvement.  I highly recommend ridesharing for anybody going to this park; it drops you off right in front with no hassle.

We settled on a brewpub called Terrapin, which had a nice little perk of having direct access into the ballpark through a back door.  So after sampling a couple of local brews and conversing with some of the many Brewers fans in town for the series, we simply opened the glass door, showed our tickets, and walked right inside without having to wait in line.  Normally I do not like when a ballpark does not have a clearly designated main entry (like Target field), but in the case of SunTrust Park which is surrounded by two levels of bars, I appreciated the many different ways to access the stadium.  We took a lap around the main concourse towards our seats for Game 1 in left field next to the Brewers bullpen.  Along the walk to our seats we passed many team stores, including a store featuring only game-used/worn items, and a ton of delicious looking food options including BBQ, burgers, and tacos.  Coolest of all was Monument Garden behind home plate.  It was like Monument Park at Yankee Stadium but easily accessible right in the concourse.  It featured granite walls and water feature with all of the retired numbers, individual player awards, and acknowledgement of every single Brave that is a member of the Hall of Fame.  The centerpiece of the garden was of course dedicated to the greatest Brave of all time, Hank Aaron.  There was a statue of him moved over from Turner Field, a '755' display made up entirely of Hank Aaron bats, and a video running on loop depicting some of his greatest moments.  I hadn't realized until that day that the Braves are the longest continually running franchise in baseball.  I had always associated that title with the Cincinnati Reds, but when you factor in the ten or so names the franchise has had in 3 different cities, they have the Reds beat.  It was cool to see all of the Milwaukee Braves plaques and the 1995 World Series trophy and it was one of my favorite parts of the ballpark.

After acquiring some adult beverages and some catfish tacos we made our way to our seats for the game.  The Brewers lost Game 1 by a score of 5-4 behind a lackluster start by Jimmy Nelson.  He struck out 8 batters but also walked 3 and gave up 4 earned runs in just 5 innings, including a 1st inning homerun by new Brave Brandon Phillips.  The bullpen kept it close with only one run given up in 3 innings of relief, but an 8th inning 2-run double by Orlando Arcia was still too little too late.  By the 7th inning we had made our way to the right field bar called The Chop House, another of my favorite areas of the park.  I'm a sucker for the communal spaces and this 2-story bar open to all fans was an awesome social place to watch the game - and serving alcohol until last pitch didn't hurt either.  It was also a great place to watch the post-game fireworks.  We post-gamed at the PBR bull-riding bar across from the stadium which had turned into a nightclub by the time we arrived, a little young and loud for us at this point in our lives.  We were home by about 1:00am and rested up for another long day at the ballpark on Saturday.

Saturday we hung out at the house for awhile and went to the game with the Morrison family in tow.  It was quite difficult wrangling up 3 small children to do even the simplest tasks, but for the 3rd row seats they had provided us I was willing to put up with it.  The kids were surprisingly pretty calm at the game, possibly tired out from spending an hour at the kids zone behind the scoreboard.  The highlight of this area was a 25-foot tall zipline that I only too late found out could be ridden by adults as well.  I thought it was a good use of useless space with no view of the game to make a great interactive kids zone, another all but essential element in the modern ballpark.  The Brewers lost this game as well, this time by a score of 3-1.  Milwaukee got on the board right away in the 1st inning like they have been all year with an RBI bases-loaded fielders choice by Hernan Perez, but the knuckleball of Ageless Wonder R.A. Dickey for the most part baffled the Crew all day.  He gave up just the one run over 7 strong innings.  Matt Garza wasn't great but by Matt Garza standard should have been enough to win the game - 3 runs over 6 innings.  Rookie Josh Hader pitched another scoreless inning and still has not given up a run in his 6 innings since being called up.  Brandon Phillips hit another homerun in the 3rd inning in his push for an All-Star bid.

After a chill night at the Morrison house Saturday night, Erik and I were back up and at 'em on Sunday for getaway day.  We got to the Battery around 11:00 with plans for some heavy pregaming and found out an unfortunate Cobb County rule: alcohol is not allowed to be served until 12:30 on Sundays.  I'm guessing this was some old Georgia rule related to Christian Mass that has never been updated, but it explained the later start time of 1:35.  So we walked around the ballpark for awhile looking at all of the player statues (Spahn, Niekro, Cox) and made our way into the park to explore the last area we had yet to see - the upper deck.  Like the rest of the stadium it did not disappoint and there is just as much attention paid up here as there is the main level.  There was the same variety of food and drink stands, and a great standing room area at each foul pole.  Left field had a Coca-Cola area with lots of selfie opportunities and probably the best beer stand in the park.  Right field had the Xfinity area that was partially a private area but also partially for public use.  We also made our way to the 2nd level behind the batters eye to see the Braves drum and the 2nd floor of The Chop House, which is also mostly open to the public aside from some private tables in front.  Our only complaints about the park really were the use of private tables and the beer selection.  I appreciate the variety of seating, but there were at least 3 sections of picnic table type areas that seemed to waste prime seating locations.  As for the beer it is strictly Miller products and Terrapin, nothing else.  I'm guessing since the brewery is integral with the stadium that they have some exclusive rights but having only 3 or 4 beer choices in a modern ballpark is unacceptable.  A good majority of stands only served Miller Lite and Blue Moon. 

Our seats for Sunday's game were only a couple sections down from our Saturday seats along the 3rd base line.  Both Saturday and Sunday our seats included access to a "Dugout Lounge," which was basically a room with a concession stand, bathrooms, a few tables, and most importantly, air conditioning.  This really came in handy in the hot Atlanta sun and was yet another awesome feature of the ballpark.  The Brewers avoided the sweep on this day with a dominant 7-0 win.  Zach Davies picked a hell of a time for his best start of the season and delivered 7 innings of 4-hit shutout ball - perhaps even more impressively with zero strikeouts.  The Crew scored all of their runs in the first four innings, including an absolute bomb by Travis Shaw in the 1st inning.  It landed within the bar on the 2nd floor in right field and from what I can tell is the first ball to land up there in a game.  Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton combined for 6 hits and 4 RBI.  After the game Erik and I spent a few more hours at The Battery and crossed off another Tour staple - visiting the local Hooters - before calling it a night.

In general I appreciated the attention to detail in this park.  The lower level seats are a mesh fabric that doesn't bake in the sun.  There is a good mix of private, semi-private, and public social areas, including an adventurous kids area.  Monument Garden provides an interactive walk through the history of the storied franchise.  Even things that may seem insignificant like sunscreen dispensers and refrigerated cup holders at the bar are a clear indication that the Braves were involved in every step of the design process.  They certainly didn't want to make the same mistakes they made with Turner Field and have to move again in 20 years, and building this as one of the few true live-work-play destinations in all of baseball has all but cemented that.  The Braves wanted this home to last more than a generation and they delivered a top-10 stadium in my opinion.  Erik and I are now officially back in the 30-ballpark club and all is right in the world. 

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 8
views from park – 6 (The Battery)

view to field - 7 (no obstructed views but extended netting)
surrounding area – 10 (The Battery)
food variety - 7
nachos - 9 (BBQ of several varieties)
beer - 5 (on the cheaper side but low variety)

vendor price - 7
ticket price - 8 (upper deck $15)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park – 9
parking price/proximity - 2 (getting in/out of garage is awful)
concourses - 9 (all levels active, Monument Garden on main floor)
team shop - 7 (many)

best food – Smokey Q's
most unique stadium feature – Monument Garden
best jumbotron feature – Oblivious Cam
best between-inning feature – Beat the Freeze

number of Tomahawk Chops played in 3-game series - 22

field dimensions – 335/400/325
starters – Jimmy Nelson (MIL) v. Mike Foltynewicz (ATL); Matt Garza v. R.A. Dickey; Zach Davies v. Julio Teheran

opponent – Milwaukee Brewers
time of game – 3:18; 2:57; 3:01
attendance – 30521; 38463; 31634
score – 5-4 W; 3-1 W; 7-0 L

Brewers score that day – 5-4 L; 3-1 L; 7-0 W

Brewers 41-39, +1.0 (3 v. Marlins, 3 v. Orioles, 1 @ Cubs, 3 @ Yankees)
Reds 33-44, -6.5 (3 v. Cubs, 4 @ Rockies, 3 @ Diamondbacks)

Twins 40-36, -0.5 (4 @ Royals, 3 v. Angels, 4 v. Orioles)

Erik - 9 (+15 worked)

Peter - 24

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