ALL-STAR GAME: 2000 WORLD SERIES: 1999 (0 W, 1 L) OLYMPIC GAMES: 1996
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Jacqueline and I saw a Braves-Cubs game on September 2, 2001.
Turner Field is unique in having been built originally for non-baseball purposes (in this case, the 1996 Summer Olympic Games) and yet ended up as a first-class baseball stadium. Of course, it was planned that way from the beginning. Anyone who was watching the 1996 Olympics could note that one corner of the stadium (where home plate is now) was more sharply angled and further from the track than the others. About 30,000 seats were removed after the Olympics were over, and the bleacher sections and peripheral buildings in the plaza area were built in time for the 1997 baseball season. Twenty-two concrete pillars that used to support the perimeter of the single-deck grandstand beyond present-day left field remain in place, arranged in a vast semi-circle as a relic of the 1996 Olympics. They mark the extent of the original stadium "footprint," dividing the entry plaza from the curved street. (Hence the outline of the original stadium in the diagram above.)
The playing field is about 25 feet below ground level, like most other newer ballparks. As for the field dimensions, Turner Field is rather ordinary, and in fact differs relatively little from its symmetrical circular predecessor, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The right field fence angles away so that right center is one of the deepest in the major leagues, which is good for triples, but the rest of the fence is one big curve. In that respect, it is unique among the neoclassical "retro" ballparks. In terms of the grandstand configuration, the way the upper deck wraps around the right field corner bears some resemblance to Jacobs Field. The upper deck on the third base side is truncated, however, creating a more open "atmosphere" than most others in its class. There is a five-foot gap between the fence and the bleachers, to prevent fans from interfering with near-home runs, which takes away some of the fun. There is a plot of grass turf behind the center field fence; the grass is used to repair damaged areas of the playing field.
From the fans' perspective, there are fewer luxury skyboxes than in most of the newer stadiums are found only in the left field second level, in back of the bleachers. The press boxes are in two levels that replace the mezzanine deck behind home plate; most newer stadiums have a similar press box configuration. Since Atlanta is the world headquarters for Coca Cola, there are large "Coke bottles" mounted like artillery guns in the kids play area on the narrow roof area overlooking the left field corner. There is also a large "Coke bottle" in that area that shoots huge Roman candle displays whenever the Braves hit a home run. The entrance plaza behind center field is full of statues and memorabilia, and soon you are confronted by a wide array of amusements, shops, pubs, and eateries, mostly catering to the non-budget conscious. The now-famous "Braves Chophouse" overlooks right field, and the upscale "755 Club" restaurant overlooks left field. There are evidently few if any restaurants or watering holes in the surrounding neighborhood, so you're pretty much stuck with what's available inside the stadium complex. Those new fan amenities are typical of most new baseball stadiums. Fans with slim wallets can take advantage of the cheap "Skyline" section at the far ends of the upper deck, on both the third base and right field sides.
Turner Field was one of the most successful neoclassical stadiums in terms of generating fan enthusiasm and attendance, though that has slacked off a bit in recent years. Like most other early-phase neoclassical stadiums, the capacity is probably a few thousand too high relative to the city's population. Prior to the 2005 season a newer, much bigger video board was installed. In 2008, a new section of seats (the "Suntrust Club") was installed between the dugouts, reducing the backstop distance to an absurdly close 43 feet. Behind the 143 new seats is an exclusive new lounge full of posh amenities for fat cats in Atlanta.
The Braves continued their winning ways in the new stadium: They were champions of the National League Eastern Division in every year from 1995 through 2005. They had a hard time making it any farther in the playoffs, however. The departure or retirement of their phenomenal pitching trio (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz) left the team without its formerly-dominant competitive edge. The rise of new stars such as catcher Brian McCann has brought the Braves back to the upper tier of the standings, earning a wild card slot in 2010 (and almost in 2011), but aging slugger Chipper Jones is expected to retire after the 2012 season.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Pastier (2007), USA Today / Fodor's (1996), Braves' FAN Magazine (2001)