It’s that time of year again. The days are getting longer, the scent of fresh mowed grass fills the air and spring training has begun. Baseball season is almost here. It is normally a time of great excitement and anticipation but this year, all I’m feeling is sad and betrayed. We are one season closer to that awful day when the Braves will be moving from their beautiful, 17 year old, stadium, the site of the 1996 Olympics, to their new home in traffic choked, public transportation-less Cobb County. This year, it’s a little hard to get excited.
It’s a business decision, they say, the city of Atlanta didn’t develop the area around the stadium the way they were supposed to – blah, blah, blah. I’m sure they have their reasons, but I feel hurt that they think so little of their fans. Do they really think that we want to fight a colossal traffic jam to get to a smaller stadium, just because there’s a Chilis next door? Did it never occur to them that part of the appeal of going to an Atlanta Braves game, is a trip into Atlanta itself? What the Braves seem to be forgetting is that this not just a business. This is baseball. Of all the American sports, none is more steeped in history and superstition than baseball. If you’ve ever been to Cooperstown, you know it is more shrine than hall of fame. I cannot help but think that the baseball gods will not be happy with this move.
It seems like only yesterday that we had to say goodbye to another piece of Braves history. Atlanta-Fulton County stadium was the site of Hank Aaron’s historic home run which broke Babe Ruth’s long standing record. It was also the site of the Braves’ 1995 World Series win. Yes, it was hard to say goodbye, but at least there was a reason. The Olympics were coming and a new stadium needed to be built anyway. It seemed wise and efficient to build a stadium right across the street, that would then be converted into a baseball stadium for our champion Braves.
I was there on opening day at Turner Field and it was exciting. We had arrived. We had a team that had recently won a World Series and now we had a shiny new stadium. In a nod to history, it was even designed to look like the baseball stadiums of old. We had preserved a piece of Atlanta history and Olympic Glory. We had only to look across the street to see the spot where Hank Aaron hit that fateful ball. This time, they did it right.
This move, however, feels like the spoiled demands of an overindulged toddler. Tearing down a 17 year old stadium, and piece of Atlanta history, to make some more money, just doesn’t feel right. If the Braves want to build fans, real fans, they have to give them a place that is filled with memories. A place they can take their kids and grand kids. A place that will be around for more than 20 years. If the Braves want to see real fans, they should look north to their old home, Fenway Park. The current World Champion Boston Red Sox are playing in a stadium that has got to be the oldest and most uncomfortable stadium in baseball, with no parking and no entertainment complex. Guess what? Their fans flock to it anyway, because it is more than a stadium, it is a part of their history.
Someday, when I take my grand kids on a tour of Atlanta’s former glory, all I’ll have to show them is a plaque and a pile of rubble next to a lonely, rusting waffle cone that used to be the Olympic torch. This is sad, not just for Braves fans, but for the city of Atlanta. When they tear down the Ted, they tear down a piece of Atlanta history. That is something we can never get back.