Farewell to Turner Field

The Atlanta Braves just opened their twentieth and final season at Turner Field. The park opened in 1996 as Centennial Olympic Stadium for the Atlanta Summer Olympic Games and was then renovated to a baseball-only facility in time for the 1997 season. The Olympic torch cauldron still sits beside one of the stadium’s parking lots, recalling one of Atlanta’s finest moments and reminding us that there really can be a successful afterlife for facilities that are constructed for the Olympics.

The stadium was named for the team’s former owner, the maverick media mogul Ted Turner. He put the Braves on his cable TBS Superstation in the 1970s to make them “America’s Team,” as their games became available to fans around the country. Don’t tell the Dallas Cowboys about that moniker, though.

Turner Field has been a good steward of the Braves’ long history. Monument Grove, adjacent to the ballpark’s ticket windows, is where fans can find the team’s Walk of Fame and statues of Braves Hall of Famers Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro, along with one of Georgia native Ty Cobb. The area also has trees and picnic tables and sculptures of the number of every Braves player whose number has been retired. Not the players, but their numbers. So you can go have a nice photo op with a statue of #41 (Eddie Mathews) or #29 (John Smoltz), just to name two. There is also a comprehensive Braves Hall of Fame, with 28 inducted members to go with information dating back to the 1871 inception of the franchise that eventually became the Boston Braves. It takes fans through their years in Milwaukee (1953-1965) and then in Atlanta beginning in 1966.

The Braves played in the catchily-named Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium from their 1966 arrival in Atlanta until Turner Field opened right next door. That stadium is now a Turner Field parking lot, though an outline of the park is built in and a monument marking the landing spot of Hank Aaron’s historic 715th home run remains in the same place it was when the stadium existed.

Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Chipper Jones all called The Ted home, and the ballpark hosted one World Series (in 1999, when the Braves lost to the Yankees) and one All-Star Game that came in 2000. The Braves’ long run of division titles in the Bobby Cox era led to many Division Series playoff games and four National League Championship series. There was a lot of playoff baseball here in the park’s two decades.

The park itself conveys a sense of the long history of the Braves, and it’s not a bad place to see a game. The team’s in a rebuilding mode this year, though, and the Braves are trying an interesting new method of bringing fans to visit this not-so-historic park in its final season: crazy new food! This season’s new food offerings bring us such heart-healthy items as the Tater Tot Chop, which is a waffle made of tater tots – everyone’s favorite cafeteria side dish – and covered with bacon, cheese and jalapenos. There’s also the Everything Dog, a foot-long hot dog that lives up to its name with toppings of fries, beer cheese, chili, nacho chips, jalapenos, and Coca Cola-infused barbecue sauce. Not just any of those toppings, but ALL of them. And don’t forget The Punisher, which promises to lay waste to your healthy lifestyle as a smoked rib sandwich with bacon that’s covered with Monster energy drink-infused barbecue sauce.

Those foods pale in comparison, if that’s even possible, to another new item on Turner Field’s culinary menu: the Burgerizza. This cardiologist’s kids’ college fund is a 20-ounce bacon cheeseburger that is sandwiched between two eight-inch pizzas. One of the small pizzas is a cheese pie and the other is pepperoni, which is clearly the deal-making part of this only-in-America extravaganza. The $26 Burgerizza is meant to be shared, which is pretty much the only decent thing about it.

There are also plenty of local foods available, as is the case with most ballparks. You can and should try the boiled peanuts, and there’s an outpost of the popular Atlanta-based Chik Fil A. And there’s plenty of Coca-Cola, another beloved Atlanta institution. The boiled peanuts aside, this is not an area of the country known for its healthy eating.

Turner Field will depart this world after an abnormally short life for a baseball stadium. According to Jeff Neuman of Real Clear Sports, of the seventeen new parks built from 1992-2012 (Marlins Park and Target Field came after), the average age of the parks they replaced was 42 years, or more than double Turner Field’s lifespan. There’s been grumbling from fans that the team’s new ballpark, called SunTrust Park and located in suburban Cobb County, won’t be as accessible to fans in Atlanta’s metro area. The Braves have long complained about the neighborhood they are in and their inability to redevelop any of it, and have also expressed concern about the funds needed to maintain the standards of Turner Field. They’ve also said the new park will be closer to their fan base. Whatever the reasons for the move and the team’s upcoming departure from Turner Field, the fact remains that if you want to see this park, you have just a few months left to do so.

With the Braves projected to have a tough season on the field, there are unlikely to be any more playoff games at The Ted before the wrecking ball visits, and the park’s last game will probably be on October 2nd in an interleague matchup with the Detroit Tigers. This place might not be historic or even older than Alex Rodriguez’s career, but it’s worth visiting if you can. Just bring some Pepto-Bismol and Lipitor if you want to try some of their new food options.

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