It’s not considered a prime example of the retro ballpark at work, but the Atlanta Braves have worked hard over the last 15 years to transform Turner Field from a bland, corporate ballpark to a place where team and regional baseball history are celebrated, and where fans can have a good time watching a game. For the most part, the work has paid off.
Address: 755 Hank Aaron Dr., Atlanta, GA 30315.
Cost: $235 million.
Architect: Atlanta Stadium Design Team (Ellerbe Becket, Heery International, Rosser International, Williams-Russell and Johnson).
Project Manager: Barton Malow.
Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti.
General Contractors: Atlanta Stadium Constructors (Beers Construction, CD Moody Construction, HJ Russell Construction).
Owner: City of Atlanta and Fulton County via Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority.
Suites: 58, plus three party suites.
Largest Crowd: 54,296, on Oct. 2, 2012, for Bobby Cox Day.
Dimensions: 335L, 380LC, 400C, 390RC, 330R.
Ticket Lines: 800/326-4000.
Home-Dugout Location: First-base line.
Playing Surface: Prescription Athletic Turf, featuring a hybrid Bermuda grass.
Other Tenants: None.
Nickname: The Ted.
First Game: On April 4, 1997, the Atlanta Braves defeated the Chicago Cubs, 5-4. A sellout crowd of 45,044 was on hand to see reliever Brad Clontz pick up the win with 1.1 innings of scoreless work in relief of Braves starter Denny Neagle; Mark Wohlers picked up the save after Chipper Jones (who earlier had recorded the first hit at Turner Field) singled in Mike Mordecai with the game-winning run. Michael Tucker hit the first home run in Turner Field history in the third inning off Cubs starter Kevin Foster.
Landmark Events: Consider the Braves made the postseason in the first nine years after Turner Field opened, it’s fairly amazing only two World Series games have ever been played there, with the New York Yankees winning both in their 4-0 sweep of the Braves in the 1999 World Series. The 2000 All-Star Game was played at Turner Field, with the American League winning 6-3; Chicago’s James Baldwin, the Human Rain Delay, was the winning pitcher despite giving up a homer to Chipper Jones.
Be warned the Braves use a variable-pricing scheme, partly based on demand. We list the more expensive prices here; the actual price may be lower for a game not in heavy demand. The prices can be all over the place: an outfield pavilion seat can go for $45 on a popular night and $15 for a slow night. So there are deals galore, but be prepared to pay extra if a popular promotion or team is on the agenda.
Best Sections to View a Game: In general, tickets to Atlanta Braves games aren’t hard to acquire, even for the good seats. We’re of the opinion there are two things keeping attendance down at Turner Field: the lack of marketing to the local African-American community and the generic atmosphere at Turner Field. Either way, the lack of demand for tickets gives you plenty of opportunity to score the seats you want. If you’re coming in for a single game, consider a splurge on the Club Level: prices, $65 and $55, are reasonable for a MLB club level. Plus, at the Club Level you’ll have access to some air-conditioned comfort on a muggy night and a clear view of the center-field scoreboard.
Best Cheap Seats: Under the right circumstances, you can get into the ballpark for a buck, as the Braves offer Skyline seats for $1 three hours before gametime. Those sections are in deep center and way down the left-field line. Go for the Skyline seats down the left-field line and then camp out at a Coca-Cola Sky Field table: the view is better. The only drawback: you won’t have a good view of the mondo scoreboard.
Most Overrated Sections: The $45 Field Pavilion seats are merely the outfield bleachers. Those seats provide a decent view of the action, but you won’t have a good view of the scoreboard – and any seat over $20 should have a good view of the scoreboard. (On nights when there is no delay, these seats can go for as little as $15.)
Most Underrated Sections: Upper Box seats are only $15. We hate to hammer home this point, but the center-field videoboard is impressive, and you should select seats that provide a clear view of it.
Turner Field: Good Design, Improved Presentation
We’re not quite sure we’d write off Turner Field as just another retro ballpark, as some fans seem to have done. The Braves even advertise the ballpark as having “the nostalgia and the atmosphere of old-time baseball,” but that’s not totally true: while there are some retro elements in the ballpark, from the seats Turner Field is pure business, a circus and plenty of sideshows surrounding an immaculately groomed playing field and overseen by the largest scoreboard in the majors.
In fact, from the seats Turner really isn’t retro at all. It’s not an exceptionally intimate ballpark unless you’re in the lower seating, and if anything the ballpark is on the modern side, with a high-tech scoreboard looming over the action and plenty of fireworks when a Braves player hits a homer.
Still, for many, retro represents pure nostalgia, and there’s more than enough of it at Turner Field.
Turner Field began life as the main stadium for the 1996 Summer Olympics, constructed next to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. In that configuration, Olympic Stadium stretched out to accommodate a full track; the current grandstand was one end of the oval, while the other end was torn down (you can see the pillars from the original stadium entrance at the Ralph David Abernathy side, with the rest of the old Olympic seating used as the Entry Plaza). After the Olympic games ended, it took eight months to retrofit the stadium to a baseball-only facility.
The designers did a pretty good job of hiding the ballpark’s roots; you can stand almost anywhere in the stands and you won’t be able to tell Turner Field began as an 85,000-seat track-and-field stadium. It could be argued that these roots contributed to a certain blandness, however. Despite some brickwork, Turner Field isn’t retro, but you can’t really pin down any other distinctive style, either. It lacks any great places for fans to stand around and watch the game; the whole notion of exposed concourses and public spots is almost totally absent at Turner Field.
If you’ve not spent a lot of time going to baseball games in the South – and by that we mean basically anything south of the Mason-Dixon Line, excluding Florida – you need to know that fans treat attending a game in those areas a little differently than the rest of the country. To wit: It’s a great Southern tradition to stand around and chew the fat while keeping an eye on the game; a baseball game is really an excuse for community interaction. The best ballparks in the South contain plenty of places to mingle and chew the fat.
If you look at the great retro parks – starting with Oriole Park at Camden Yards and going through Citizens Bank Park – you’ll see they all have tons of spaces where fans can stand and watch the game. In Philadelphia, for example, most of the concourse ringing the field is wide-open; the opposite is true in Atlanta. When you walk away from your seats to grab a beer and a dog, you won’t be able to see the game or just stand and stretch your legs.
Sadly, there’s only one space at Turner Field that truly fills this need, and because of its location in the upper deck in left field, it won’t be used by most Braves fans. Too bad, because it’s a great space. The Coca-Cola Sky Field may be quite a distance from the action – 435 feet from home plate and 80 feet above the field – but it’s the perfect family space. There’s a miniature diamond for the kids to run, and on a hot day the large row of misters will definitely be appreciated. Plus, the giant Coca-Cola bottles blast fireworks after a Braves home run; any kid who won’t think it’s cool to be close to an exploding Coke bottle isn’t worth bringing to a ballgame. But we’ve never really seen a lot of folks gathered up there for the simple pleasure of talking during a game.
Over the years the Braves have worked hard to increase the regional feel at the ballpark, especially on the food front. Still, we could have use a little more South – old or new – at Turner Field. We are fans of Atlanta and welcome every opportunity to spend time there. But you don’t feel like you’re in the South when you’re at Turner Field. No, we don’t mean we expect the Dukes of Hazzard to come barreling through the infield or see the Confederate flag waving in center field. During the course of a game, you could be anywhere. Local is always good: a ballpark should be a place for a community to gather, but we see little of that at Braves games.
Which is too bad, because overall Turner Field presents a very good game-day experience. Most fans will enter the ballpark via the Main Plaza, located in center field. As mentioned, it was part of the stadium’s track and field configuration (the pillars close to the street show the original boundary of the Olympic stadium), but today it’s a celebration of Atlanta and Southern baseball with statues of former Braves greats Henry Aaron (shown above) and Phil Niekro and local legend Ty Cobb, originally installed at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Also in the Scouts Alley area: a ceremonial magnolia tree and plaque (shown above) honoring the minor-league Atlanta Crackers (which we discuss later in this story) and a statue of Phil Niekro, the winningest pitcher in Atlanta Braves history, but not franchise history – both Warren Spahn and the largely forgotten Kid Nichols won more games for the Braves.
It’s designed to be a self-contained universe once the game starts, with a large-screen television showing game action. Gone is the Kids Zone, replaced in 2012 by the Taco Mac Family Zone. Taco Mac is a Southern chain of sports bars (no, it’s not a Mexican chain), but the family angle is big here. The focal point: the Tree House, where kids can climb and play with a giant Tomahawk, as well as slide down the Taco Mac buffalo slide.
There are three levels and four concourses to Turner Field. Most fans will stay in the main concourse, as it does ring the ballpark. The Golden Moon Casino Level contains 58 suites, three party suites, club seating, and a private membership club, the 755 Club. The upper level is limited to the grandstand, but it does have some great views of the downtown Atlanta skyline.
Even though there’s an extra charge involved ($2 on a game day, $5 on non-game days), a visit to the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame is a must. As far as chronicling the history of the Braves franchise – which stretches back through Milwaukee and goes back to 1871 in Boston – the museum is superb. If you want to know what players were like at the turn of the century and how the Boston Braves played at South End Grounds, this museum is for you. You’ll see reproduction uniforms of the various Braves teams (also known as the Red Stockings, Beaneaters, Doves, Rustlers and Bees), as well as a reproduction of the contract Babe Ruth signed when he spent his final playing days with the team.
There’s a lot of emphasis on the Milwaukee Braves as well, the team where Hall-of-Famer Henry Aaron first came to prominence. Those Braves swaggered into Milwaukee’s County Stadium and won the World Series in 1957 behind the pitching of Lew Burdette and the bat of Eddie Mathews. (It would be the last World Series won by the franchise until 1995.) Though the team started strong at the box office, attendance slipped dramatically (going from 2.2 million in 555,584 in 1965), and the Braves left Milwaukee after only 12 seasons.
You could easily spend more than an hour walking through the exhibits (which include a dugout bench from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and a walk-through Pullman train car, to show how teams traveled before the advent of airplane trips) and the historical displays before the game. On a game day you’ll need to enter the museum through a dedicated entrance in back of Section 134; on non-game days you can buy tickets at the main ticket office.
There is much to like at Turner Field. Expect to spend a lot of time at the ballpark for a Braves game: you’re going to want to spend a good amount of times wandering the grounds.
There are none. This is a standard-issue corporate ballpark, with all the good and bad that entails.
Food and Drink
The food at Turner Field has improved immensely in the last few years. Besides your usual ballpark items — burgers, fries, pizza, etc. — you now have a wider selection of offerings, including sushi (the Go-Go Braves roll is sold at the Kotobuki Sushi stand behind Section 49), barbeque (at the Smoke House BBQ in the Fan Plaza) and more.
For the most part you have your standard corporate beers on tap, but take some time to search out Yuengling at the All American or Ballpark Favorites stands, or seek a craft beer at the Beer Island stand in the Fan Plaza.
We also make it a point to seek out the Chik-fil-A stands near section 139 and 333, being northerners and all.
The Braves Chop House, located in right-center field, serves barbecue and features a multilevel deck with plenty of seating.
For the Kids
There are plenty of distractions for kids uninterested in baseball. We’ve already mentioned the most prominent one: the Sky Field, shown above.
The Sky Field provides a diamond for kids to burn off energy, and the misters are welcome on a hot, muggy Atlanta day. Parents can watch the game from a picnic table while their kids build up a sweat running the bases and then cool down under the mister.
Tours of Turner Field leave on the hour. During the season tours run between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-3 p.m. on Sundays, except when the Braves play an afternoon game. During the offseason tours run between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, with a holiday break at the end of the year.
The tour costs $12 for adults and $7 for children. The tours begin and end at the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame, with tickets available at the ticket office and online.
Local Baseball Attractions
The Atlanta Crackers were just one of the great teams in Atlanta baseball history, playing at still-remembered Ponce de Leon Park. Baseball became popular in Atlanta right after the Civil War, with teams like the Gate City Nine and the Osceolas capturing wide followings. The Crackers, launched in 1901, were a cornerstone of the old Southern Association, and the Atlanta Black Crackers were a cornerstone of the Negro Leagues. Players like Luke Appling, Eddie Mathews, and Chuck Tanner spent time in a Crackers uniform, while Norman Lumpkin, and Sammy Haynes were famous Black Crackers. The Crackers left town after the 1965 season, forced out by the Braves; the Black Crackers folded before that.
Throughout the long history of both Crackers teams the home of Atlanta baseball was Ponce de Leon Park. The first Ponce de Leon Park opened in 1907 and could seat 9,000; it cost $60,000, a huge sum in those days. Alas, in 1923 the wooden structure fell prey to a foe more deadly than a wrecking ball – fire – but Crackers ownership rebuild an even grander and expensive ($250,000) ballpark, which opened in 1924. Originally named Spiller Field, the ballpark originally seated over 14,000 and was expanded over time. The ballpark was best known for a mammoth magnolia tree in right-center field – 462 feet away and in the field of play, which led to some special ground rules. Eddie Mathews and Babe Ruth were reportedly the only players to hit a ball into the tree.
Although the ballpark was torn down in 1965, the magnolia tree still stands at 650 Ponce de Leon Av. NE. It’s now a century old, and there have been efforts to ensure the tree stays healthy. A plaque commemorating the tree’s historical significance was dedicated in 2005.
It’s hard to miss Turner Field, as it sits right next to I-75/85 about a mile south of downtown Atlanta.
Getting there is another matter. For some reason there’s never been exceptional freeway access to the ballpark, at least from the north. If you’re coming from the north on I-75/85, there are two exits serving the ballpark. From exit #248A (marked as the Martin Luther King Dr./State Capitol/Turner Field exit), turn right onto Martin Luther King Drive and then turn left onto Pryor Street, noting the State Capitol to your left. Stay on Pryor until you hit Fulton Street; turn right onto Capitol Avenue/Hank Aaron Drive. This is a scenic, albeit slow-moving route; there are signs to point the way. You can also take exit #246 and make a left on Fulton Street. Stay on it until hanging a right on Capitol Avenue/Hank Aaron Drive. Again, if you follow the signs you’ll be OK.
From the south on I-75/85, take exit #246 and make a right on Fulton Street. Stay on it until hanging a right on Capitol Avenue/Hank Aaron Drive. If you follow the signs you’ll be OK.
Those of us who remember Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium have fond memories of the of parking surrounding the old stadium, but some of that parking has been lost to development. Today there are 8,500 or so parking spaces surrounding Turner Field available to the general public. The two closest lots to the Grand Entry Plaza are reserved for season-ticket owners and those holding Club Level tickets.
A more logical approach is to take the MARTA Braves Express bus to the game. The bus runs every 15 minutes from Underground Atlanta beginning 90 minutes before each game. The last bus back from Turner Field leaves one hour after the game ends. Up through the seventh inning the bus goes back to the Steve Polk Plaza; after that it returns to the Forsyth Street entrance to the Five Points Rail Station. (The point: the shuttle route encourages you to spend some time hanging out at Underground Atlanta before going to the game.) The cost is $2.75 each way (kids 6 and younger ride for free), and tickets are available at the sales booth at Underground Atlanta. For more information, check out itsmarta.com/braves-shuttle.aspx.
If you plan on flying in: Turner Field is less than 10 miles from Hartford-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It’s now the world’s largest and busiest passenger airport. There’s good and bad in this: its good because competition usually yields some low-priced fares on almost any carrier; it’s bad because it can take quite a while to make it from your gate to baggage claim and then to a rental car. Give yourself plenty of time to make your way through the airport maze.
Team Ballpark History
The wandering Braves have quite the ballpark history.
The Braves began life in 1871 and mainly played until 1914 in two ballparks going under the South End Grounds name. There were three South End Grounds occupying the same location near the current Ruggles T Station at Columbus and Walpole and the former site of Huntington Avenue Grounds, a previous home of the Boston Red Sox. Why did both Boston baseball teams once play so close to one another? Proximity to mass transit – in this case, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad line – was a huge consideration in ballpark locations before the advent of the automotive age.
The first South End Grounds wasn’t too distinguished, but the rapid growth in popularity of baseball and large crowds wanting to see the likes of King Kelly led Braves owner James Gaffney to build one of the most distinctive ballparks in baseball history. South End Grounds was the first – and only – double-decked ballpark in Boston history (remember, Fenway Park has only a single deck) and featured spires at both ends easily visible from a distance. The fanciful design featured intricate brick work and unique finishing touches, and the second-level pavilion was the first Club Level in baseball, offering fans a place to spread out and watch the game in a more relaxed fashion. The ballpark also featured what some argue was the first electric scoreboard: wires were placed underneath the playing field to lights mounted on the outfield wall to indicate the status of the game. Braves ownership put up screens down the first-base line to keep freeloaders from watching games for free from the rooftops of adjacent houses.
Baseball was king in Boston in the South End Grounds era: the Braves (or Red Stockings, Doves, Rustlers, Beaneaters, or Bees, depending on the year) won 13 pennants while playing there, and a World Series. Box-office attractions like King Kelly, John Clarkson and Kid Nichols provided a steady stream of working-class patrons to the ballpark.
That second South End Grounds burned down in the Great Roxbury Fire in 1894, replaced by a plain, single-deck fire-resistant structure because Braves ownership underinsured the grand structure. Despite the less-than-grand surroundings, the Braves continued to draw at South End Grounds, and by 1914 it was apparent the team would need a new, grander structure to keep up with the Red Sox and their spanking-new Fenway Park. (In fact, South End Grounds closed on Aug. 11, 1915, and over the next year played home games at Fenway Park.) Braves ownership knew they could draw huge crowds – in fact, they rented Fenway Park in the 1914 World Series to accommodate crowds larger than South End Grounds could handle – and they set out build a facility that would out-do Fenway.
And, in many ways, they did. Braves Field opened on Aug. 18, 1915, and was instantly hailed as a monumental accomplishment. Holding 43,500, Braves Field was larger than Fenway –the largest in the United States, as a matter of fact. (It would hold that distinction until the opening of Yankee Stadium.) The covered grandstand served as a blueprint for a generation of ballparks. Like many ballparks of the era, it featured a vast outfield, with center field 550 feet out: Ty Cobb hated the place and said no one would ever hit a home run there, but he was wrong: Walton Cruise hit the first home to right field some seven years later, and Frank “Pancho” Snyder homered to left field in 1925. (Remember, this was at a time when it “bounce homers” – that is, balls bouncing over the fence – counted as home runs and not ground-rule doubles. There were three bounce homers hit at Braves Field in 1921.) By 1928 it was clear fans wanted to see home runs, and so Braves ownership relented and moved in the fences while adding bleachers.
While the Braves could count on a certain number of rabid fans to fill up the “Jury Box” bleachers (so named because fans held court on the proceedings of the game), over time the Braves’ appeal dwindled. Part of that was because it wasn’t that great a place to watch a game: smoke and grime from a nearby railroad switching yard spilled into the ballpark and cool winds off the Charles River kept balls inside the fences. By the time Ted Williams came along, it was clear the Red Sox ruled Boston.
Though, ironically, the Red Sox used Braves Field often. In 1929 Boston city officials finally allowed Sunday baseball, but because Fenway Park was located close to a church, the team still couldn’t break the Sabbath. So the Red Sox played Sunday games at Braves Field between 1929 and 1932. The Red Sox also moved 1915 and 1916 World Series games to Braves Field to accommodate larger crowds.
Parts of Braves Field still stand. Boston University’s Nickerson Field (once the home of BU football) is on the ballpark site, and the Gaffney Street entrance to the field and the ticket booth date from Braves Field. Nickerson Field served as the first home of the AFL’s Boston Patriots and the home of the ill-fated Boston Breakers of the United States Football League. A marker outside Nickerson Field commemorates the Braves Field era. (Nickerson Field is on Harry Agganis Way at Commonwealth Avenue on the Boston University campus.)
In 1953 it was clear Major League Baseball would move westward, and Braves owner Lou Perini beat Bill Veeck to Milwaukee, moving the team to County Stadium.
The Braves had a relatively short run in Milwaukee: 1953-1965. The team was a smash in the early years, drawing 1,826,397 in 1953, setting a National League record, and later drawing 2.2 million in a single year. Milwaukee had wanted baseball bad enough to use county money to build a ballpark – County Stadium was the first publicly funded major-league ballpark, though certainly not the last – and its citizens were eager to support the team. Though you could argue a better ownership group might have saved baseball in Brewtown, the allure of Atlanta and its increasing pool of corporate support and affluent citizens was too much to pass on.
When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, the team’s first home was Atlanta Stadium, later renamed Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in 1975. It was an $18-million circular cookie-cutter ballpark built to attract major-league sports (it worked; the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons soon took up residence as well), and because of the high altitude the ballpark soon was tagged with a nickname of the “Launching Pad.” It was located directly north of the current Turner Field site; besides being the home of the Braves it was also the home of the NFL’s Atlanta Braves and the baseball venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
The Braves initially played the American Indian angle heavily. Big Victor was a popular feature when the team moved to town: the totem-pole figure had eyes that rolled when the Braves hit a homer. He lasted a season until mechanical problems forced his retirement, and he was replaced by Chief Noc-A-Homa and his wigwam.
The Braves retired Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on a sad note: the final match there was Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, won by the New York Yankees 1-0. Though the ballpark is gone, it is memorialized in the Turner Park parking lot: a blue fence marks the outfield fence, brickwork in the asphalt shows the infield and bases, and a marker pinpoints where Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run landed
Felipe Alou was the first Atlanta Brave to bat at Atlanta Stadium, and his son Moises Alou was the last to bat in the regular season when playing for the Montreal Expos.
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