Saturday night’s visit to Atlanta’s Turner Field not only brought my lifetime baseball stadium total to 30, including 20 current ones, but was also KJ’s third park in a week. I’m pretty sure I’ve only accomplished that feat a couple of times in my storied history of visiting ballparks, so it appears my influence is starting to rub off a little. It also happened to be her second Blue Jays road game in three days, both of them contributing to their current seven-game losing streak.
Our visit started a little dubiously, though. I planned our trip from our hotel in downtown Atlanta by suggesting we travel two stops south on the subway, and walk a few blocks to the game. When we noticed several people dressed in Braves’ gear getting off the stop before, we briefly second-guessed our decision, but still stuck to the plan. When we did get off at our stop, it didn’t take long for us to realize why it wasn’t the best of ideas. Let’s just say it’s a good thing it was still broad daylight.
As it turned out, though, taking this particular route to the game was a blessing in disguise, as I doubt we would have discovered the monument to Hank Aaron’s 715th home run that stands in the far reaches of a parking lot built on the grounds of the former Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.
Turner Field, patriotically known to the team’s fans as the “Home of the Braves”, was originally Olympic Stadium, built for the centennial Olympic Games in 1996. Shortly thereafter, it was converted to a baseball stadium, and re-opened as Turner Field for the 1997 season. We came in through the main entrance, Grand Entry Plaza, an open air concessions area beyond center field, which features two sit-down restaurants and numerous other food options, a huge screen television for viewing the game while visiting the concessions, and a Cartoon Network arcade for the younger fans.
My only real complaints with the stadium came early and late. Upon arrival, we walked half-way around the stadium without seeing a single sign directing us to our section. We were in the 200s, which were on the same level as the 100s, but we actually had to walk up a flight of stairs to find any signs directing us to the 200 sections. Making matters worse, when we found a “Stadium Directory” sign on the lower level, the only sections that were marked were the 100s. Now, common sense told me that we had to walk up a flight of stairs, but I still found the situation kind of annoying.
The night’s festivities began with a moving pre-game tribute to our country’s soldiers. Being that this is Memorial Day weekend, Saturday night at Turner Field was designated as Military Night. There was a procession of soldiers from a nearby troop who marched onto the field in fatigues, and several Georgia natives and Purple Heart recipients were honored as well. I don’t consider myself to be an especially patriotic person, but I have my moments, and this was one of them.
The highlight for me, though, was when they asked any veterans of the armed forces in the crowd to stand and be recognized by an ovation from the crowd. The thought crossed my mind that if my dad was there, he could stand proudly with them. Normally, I just take my hat off my head during the national anthem, but I was moved enough by the proceedings that, on this particular occasion, I placed it over my heart. Adding to the moment's significance was the fact that my 20-year old cousin's next tour of duty will be in Afghanistan, with him shipping off in just a week.
As is always the case when I visit a new locale, I sought out some local beer, and was lucky to find a vendor selling Georgia’s own SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale. At $7 for a 16-ouncer, the price wasn’t too bad by ballpark standards, and the beer was actually pretty good, despite the name. I remarked to KJ that it combined the hoppiness of an IPA with the malt content of a pale ale, so it was a bit on the bitter side of the ever-important hops/malt balance scale, but it still hit the spot.
My second complaint was that I arrived at the beer stand only seconds after the last out of an extremely quick 7th inning, and was told by a beady-eyed worker that they were closed, before I could even say a word. Otherwise, everyone who worked there was very friendly, although there was another issue with the concessions where it took them about five minutes to find cups when I ordered a soda following the aforementioned unsuccessful beer purchase.
The game was a pretty good one. For the second time in a week, we witnessed a contest in which both pitchers performed well, with the Braves’ Derek Lowe also contributing two hits and an RBI to a solid effort on the hill. The home team led 4-2 going into the 9th, but their heart-attack closer, Mike Gonzalez, gave up one run on two hits and two walks, while retiring just one batter, before giving way to Rafael Soriano with the bases loaded. Soriano promptly struck out pinch-hitter Kevin Millar and then got Marco Scutaro to fly out to preserve the victory.
Finally, I have to give credit and thanks to their Guest Services department. Following the game, trying to avoid a repeat of our somewhat tense pre-game experience, we were directed to a free shuttle bus that took us to the main subway station in the heart of Atlanta. Since it was only one stop from our final destination, we were able to return to our hotel without incident or worry, and another excellent night of baseball watching was in the books.
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