Monday, April 17, 2006

A Visit to Turner Field

As I mentioned, I went to Atlanta this weekend, for my first visit to Ted Turner Field in maybe eight years.
It was an interesting experience, quite a contrast to little Fenway.

"The Ted" opens 2 1/2 hours before game time, although you can't get down into the main seating area until 2 hours before the game time. You enter the park at 755 Hank Aaron Drive. After a quick bag inspection and ticket scan, you enter the plaza area. Before I had even walked ten yards, five or six employees had already welcomed me to Turner Field and told me to enjoy the game. It was just the beginning of a string of gracious, welcoming employees. Even the security personnel, after admonishing a young autograph seeker to not lean on the wall, smiled and wished the boy a good game. That Southern hospitality is no urban myth!

The plaza at the entrance gives you a real taste for the whole experience. You are at dead centerfield - and you can see into the park from where you're standing. Opposite the entrance is a huge souvenir store, and to the right and left are restaurants - including a full Chop House with indoor and outdoor seating. I did a double take at a small kiosk right at the entrance - you can walk up and buy season tickets right there! Startling, considering that you have to practically marry into Fenway season tickets. There were all kinds of activities taking place in the plaza - face painting for the kids, characters from the Cartoon Network roaming around for pictures, a drum corp performing. On Sunday afternoon, they featured three Braves "legends" in a q&a with tv. announcer Pete Van Weir - the guys also signed autographs for an hour or so.

After you've had your fill of that, you wander to the right into Scout's Alley. There, you can purchase a bunch of tokens, and have the chance to taking batting practice, pitch, play interactive computer games. The whole stadium is like a theme park where they also happen to feature a ball game if you get bored! There are observation posts above the bullpens, where you can see the pitchers warming up pre-game or relievers during the game.

I walked around to the dugout areas, which as I said you can enter two hours before the game. For that first hour, you can hang by the dugouts and try for autographs - there were tons by the Braves, but few by the Visitor's Dugout. The Padres were pretty nice about either giving an autograph or politely waving you away The standard excuse is "I'll be back after I hit" - although one pitcher said he'd come back after he weighed in(?!)

After an hour - which is one hour before the game is scheduled to begin - they clear out those areas so that the people who've bought the seats can sit down in them. I took that chance to scout out the park. Pretty standard concessions - and pretty standard prices. $6.25 for a beer, $6.75 for a foot-long hot dog. There is pizza, funnel cakes. And a Moe's Southwest Grill, where you can have your own burrito built to order.
This year, they've added an ammenity to the field level seats. Patrons in those seats get a menu - and an order taker comes over, punches in your choices, collects your payment (cash or credit card, thank you.) Within five minutes, someone comes along with your order. No waiting in line - and the prices are identical to the concessions outside. Nice feature.

During the game itself, they run endless promotions and contests before the home half of each inning. Delta upgrades someone from the bleachers to a field box; Home Depot does a "race" on the video screen; Aflac has the trivia question; and several other companies do video "shell games" or guess the attendance contests. I frankly got sick of seeing the Braves mc who does it and his bevy of Braves beauties, who seem to be there strictly for eye candy. They are shown on the SuperJumbo tron often, dancing, slinging t-shirts, etc. At the 7th inning stretch, they do "Take Me Out" of course, which is followed by "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" (which I thought was a thing to do at Orioles' games?)

Amidst all the video gadgety and swirling colors, it took me a few innings before I could locate where they hide the pitch count, pitch speed, and the official scoring. Since I really like keeping score, those were important stats to find! Keeping score always seems to prompt some diverse and interesting questions. Like "Do you work for the Braves? Then how come you keep score?" The guy behind me figured I knew everything about baseball, and kept quizzing me on Smoltz' ERA, and who had pitched complete games this year in the National League. When the gang behind me left for an extended period of time, the grandfather prompted the littlest kid to ask me what they'd missed!

Leaving the park was easy - although I always get messed up trying to find 75 North when I leave. I always end up driving all the way through dowtown Atlanta - which is not bad on a Sunday afternoon, but you don't want to do it on a Tuesday night! I had bought my parking pass in advance, so I cruised right into the green lot - which is very close to the park and to the exit route!

A comment in general on the crowd and the experience. It's weird to sit in a half-full park on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon. What could be better?! But Atlanta - and the southeast in general - is college football country. You can't get near a Georgia Tech or UGa game. So the Braves are fighting that tradition when they try to tap into the Atlanta market. I also think they suffer from having every game broadcast on TBS or Turner South. The casual fan can sit at home and watch portions while tending the BBQ. And the crowd is pretty casual. The group in front of me arrived an hour into the game (it was the bottom of the 3rd), and left after 90 minutes (in the 7th). I hope they didn't pay $50 each for their 6 tickets and had gotten them from his work or something.

So if you are in Atlanta and want to see a game, go out to see the Braves. Good tickets are very easy to get - the atmosphere is very welcoming - and it's a pleasant place to sit and observe the world!


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