Driving back from a hunting trip to my fair town of Atlanta, Ga., I heard the news that shook not just the entire sporting world, but upset the delicate balance between urban renewal and suburban sprawl found in the South’s premier city.
Though it might seem trivial to people outside of Atlanta, the state of Georgia and the southeast region of the United States, the news that the Atlanta Braves will vacate Turner Field for the suburbs of Cobb County is news that has national implications.
Some of my fondest memories as a Major League Baseball player took place at Turner Field, where the Braves fans’ cheers got louder and louder with each pitch I tossed in the 1999 National League Championship Series and World Series, and where I received a standing ovation when I returned from a suspension in 2000 for comments deemed “politically incorrect.”
I’ll never forget that moment, after months of being the ultimate media punching bag, to finally explode from the bullpen in my signature sprint to the pitcher’s mound and hear nothing but cheers from the home faithful.
But those are personal memories and at this point largely irrelevant.
What’s most important to the Atlanta Braves organization is that they can ensure that today’s fans of the ball club, when they make an investment to attend a game at Turner Field, will have a chance to make personal memories of their own of a positive nature.
Back when Ted Turner still owned the Atlanta Braves, he used the TBS Superstation (prior to the merger of Time Warner with AOL) to broadcast nearly every regular season game across the country, helping create an enormous fan base.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to claim that the Braves are “America’s Team” at least within the ranks of Major League Baseball, with youth from the past several decades growing up on a steady diet of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Bobby Cox and a team that became a fixture of the baseball post-season for nearly a decade and a half. Heck, at one point I was even one of those youngsters.
But if you aren’t from Atlanta, you don’t understand the type of neighborhood Turner Field was built in and the type of environment fans coming to the games had to contend with for years.
It is this dimension of the Braves’ rationale for moving to Cobb County that many will be uncomfortable discussing.
So let’s discuss it.
In the bombshell announcement that the Braves would not be extending their lease of Turner Field – which the city of Atlanta owns – a press release issued by the organization delivered several reasons for the move to Cobb County:
“Turner Field currently needs $150 million in infrastructure work (including seat replacement, upgrades to the lighting, etc.), none of which would significantly enhance the fan experience. If the Braves were to pay for additional projects focused on improving the fan experience, the additional costs could exceed $200 million. Even with a significant capital investment in Turner Field, there are several issues that cannot be overcome – lack of consistent mass transit to the facility, lack of adequate parking, lack of access to major roadways and lack of control over the development of the surrounding area.”
Atlanta is the worst sprawl city in all of America, meaning fans of the Braves trying to get to a game at Turner Field (the Ted) have to contend with sitting in traffic, an experience that can sometimes be longer than the game itself.
It’s certainly “no day at the ballpark.” (Sorry)
The Braves released a heat map that consisted of red dots overlaying a map of metro Atlanta, the dots signifying where tickets were sold in 2012. This map clearly indicates that the fan base, the paying fan base, exists in areas that will be better served by the franchise moving to Cobb County.
After all, baseball is still a business, and keeping your paying fans happy and interested in parting with hard-earned money is, outside of contending for the World Series, the ultimate goal of the every franchise.
But it’s the quote about the “lack of control over the development of the surrounding area” that represents the real issue behind the Braves jumping on I-75 and heading 20 miles north for Cobb County.
An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, with the headline “Stadium move angers its neighbors” perfectly described the type of community the citizens who live near Turner Field have created, a neighborhood fans of the Braves must endure when they venture to a game.
It’s a story that sums up more accurately the real reason the Braves are moving.
Bill Torpy reported:
It was a busy morning at Joe’s Laundry & Cleaners, a forlorn, fortress-like business in the shadow of the now-doomed Turner Field.
Proprietor Paul Kwan was doing what his family has done since 1945 – making folks in the Summerhill neighborhood look sharp. And customers like Herman Lawson flowed in and out, still reeling from the news their beloved Braves were abandoning them to move north to Cobb County.
“It’s going to hurt; it’s going to take a lot of money out of the neighborhood,” said Lawson, who played ball on a field where The Ted now sits. “We’ll miss the revenue, the excitement, the activity, the fireworks, the pride. It’s the Atlanta Braves in our neighborhood.”
But, he added, “We have to face reality; they’re moving because of crime.”
Kwan nodded from behind the heavy metal screen at his counter that makes him look like a jailbird. …
A heavy metal screen at the counter of a laundry/cleaning business, to protect the owner and his employees from both his customers and the residents of the community surrounding Turner Field? That is the environment Atlanta Braves’ fans must endure before and most notably AFTER an evening of cheering on their hometown heroes.
Does any more reasoning need be explained to detail why the Braves are leaving Turner Field and downtown Atlanta and heading off to the affluence and safety of Cobb County than the precautions and security a business owner must take to protect his property and employees? At the end of the day the Atlanta Braves organization and Joe’s Laundry and Cleaners are not too dissimilar.
The sad part is that the Ted was supposed to turn the area into one of the most desirable places to live in Atlanta. It was supposed to revitalize a dying, blighted community and make the area a place everyone would want to live, with good schools and safe neighborhoods. But that’s a task easier said than done. The crime and violence that has plagued the community since the 1970s – when the city wooed the Braves franchise from Milwaukee and built Atlanta Fulton County Stadium – wasn’t just going to pack up and leave simply because a baseball stadium popped up, and the good residents of metro Atlanta weren’t about to risk their lives by moving there, either.
When the Braves open up the new stadium in Cobb County for the 2017 season, you can bet big money that not one area business will require a “heavy metal screen” at the counter.
The Atlanta Braves are still operating a business, and if it’s located in an environment where revenues can’t be maximized, it’s vital a new location be found where a significant return on investment can be supplied.
Like it or not, Turner Field does not supply that environment.