You don’t just happen to stop by Rome, Georgia on your way somewhere. It’s just an hour and half from Atlanta, but it is not served by any major interstate highway. For the ballpark fan, there’s one big attraction: State Mutual Stadium, home of the Rome Braves, as Mark Cryan explains.
Opened: April 6, 2003
Capacity: 5,105, plus 14 suites
Dimensions: 335L, 401C, 330R
Owner: City of Rome
League: South Atlantic League, Low Class A
Team Parent: Atlanta Braves
Address: 755 Braves Blvd., Rome, GA 30161
Written By: Mark Cryan (November 2013)
The Only Game in Town
Rome, population 35,000 (give or take), is one of the smallest communities in the country with a full-season team. Compare that to some of the other markets in the Sally League, like Lexington, Kentucky (300,000) and Greensboro, North Carolina (275,000). It’s a testament to the work of GM Mike Dunn and his staff, as well as the power of being “The Only Game in Town” that Rome draws around 2,800 per night, keeping them in the middle of the pack in the league attendance race.
Of course, it’s not just about selling tickets for this team. As one of the minor-league affiliates owned and operated by the parent club Atlanta Braves, providing the best environment for developing talent for the Atlanta Braves is also a top priority. The proximity to Atlanta is convenient for player evaluation and also allows the operation of teams like Rome and Gwinnett (the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate) to serve as part of the Braves overall marketing strategy. As many signs around State Mutual Stadium remind you, “This is Braves Country.”
A Ballpark Lover’s Ballpark
It seems that nearly every ballpark built within the last fifteen years or so follows the same basic blueprint: a sunken playing field with a single seating bowl, an open concourse above and luxury boxes stacked on top of that.
The ballpark in Rome breaks the mold, featuring a more traditional grandstand, with fans entering the seating bowl above the box seats, but below the upper seating sections. Unlike a more traditional stadium configuration with small tunnel entrances into the seating bowl, also known as “vomitories” (I just love that word, don’t you?), here there are extremely wide openings on each side of the grandstand. These don’t allow for a view of the whole field like the open concourse, but the openings on each side of the grandstand do allow fans a partial view of the playing field while waiting on line for concessions, but with a more traditional feel and a more sheltered concourse. This design also avoids the bottlenecks that typically develop in the more traditional design.
Immediately behind home plate, there is a third opening, but this one is a sort of “picture window” looking out from the Braves’ very snazzy ballpark club. Club members can visit this restaurant-style area before the game or during the early innings, and still have a view of the field while enjoying great food, prepared by the Braves in-house food and beverage operation. This club also has a bar area with full selection of beer and liquor, and is a great place for any type of party or function.
The overall impression of the grandstand is a very successful hybrid design, combining elements of the traditional grandstand with the concourse behind and below the seats (think Durham or Richmond) and the open-concourse design like Greensboro, Greenville, Delmarva or any number of other new stadiums. There are also some delightful non-symmetrical elements, like the Malibu Rum Terrace, an open-air group space with a tiki bar overlooking the first base side of the field.
There are lots of other great little touches in this ballpark, including banners displaying Braves history. The park has a great traditional feel, with lots of exposed brick and green steelwork, as well as a wealth of thoroughly modern amenities, including lots of concessions stands and a host of video boards throughout the park.
The Road to Rome
Yes, Rome is out of the way, but the Braves affiliate in the Single A South Atlantic League found their way here in time for the 2003 season. This followed a 12-year run at Luther Williams Field in Macon, another Georgia city about an hour and half drive from Atlanta in the other direction. Macon had a long baseball history, a great historic ballpark, and a larger population.
Luther Williams Field had been the home field for many of the Braves rising stars during the 90’s, including Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz, but by the late 90s, its history and charm were accompanied by significant neglect. Built in 1929, Luther Williams Field offers 3,500 seats under a big covered grandstand and a press box suspended under the front edge of the roof. Over the years, it had been home to minor-league affiliates for teams including the Braves, Reds, Dodger, Phillies and Tigers.
The Braves became increasingly frustrated with Macon’s unwillingness to invest in updating Luther Williams, and it seems that the city leadership of Macon believed there would be a team ready to set up shop in Macon if the Braves left. Since the Braves decamped to Rome, though, the city’s only taste of professional baseball has been two short-lived independent teams, the Macon Peaches of the Southeastern League in 2003 and the Macon Music of the South Coast League in 2007.
While Macon stood still, voters in Rome narrowly approved a special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST. An additional one cent sales tax was charged on purchases in Floyd County for roughly fourteen months, completely paying off the stadium’s $15 million price tag before the midway point of the Braves first season in town.
This marked the first of a series of franchise shifts for the Braves, including the shift of their Double-A entry in the Southern League from Greenville, S.C. to Pearl, Mississippi, and their Triple-A squad in the International League from Richmond, Virginia to Gwinnett County (Lawrenceville), Georgia. In each case, the Braves have departed a long-time home for the lure of state-of-the-art facility in a smaller market. In light of these moves, the Atlanta Braves planned move to suburban Cobb County seems almost inevitable.
The R-Braves take pride in the quality of their food and beverage offerings. (I hesitate to call anything with an upscale restaurant and a full bar a “concessions operation.”) The goal here is an extension of the Atlanta Braves brand, so the team strives to provide a “big league” experience. And the food delivers. There are several all-you-can-eat options, and delicious, reasonably priced food is readily available throughout the park. Bubba’s BBQ specialty stand down the first base line has tremendous barbecue, and there are combo plates, including chicken tenders, fries and small drink for just $8 as well as all the normal ballpark favorites at the main stands.
These food choices can be enjoyed in your seat, or at one of several other appealing seating areas throughout the ballpark, including a wide plaza with picnic tables above a grass berm seating area in right field, and the nautically-themed “Miller Lite Marina” with both picnic tables and bar stools down the third place line. The open space beyond the right field corner even provides enough room for a game of catch between innings.
Right across the parking lot from stadium, you’ll find another ballpark. The Rome Braves Miracle Field is a specialized kid-sized field that provides opportunities for children with disabilities to play baseball. The Braves raised the money to build this immaculate little jewel, and it has provided many hours of enjoyment for children in Northwest Georgia while serving as an indicator of the team’s commitment to the community.
The Complete Package
The R-Braves feature a full promotional calendar. For example, the night we were at the ballpark, there was a post-game concert featuring the beach music band “The Tams,” known for 60’s hits like “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” and “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am?” This concert was held in “The Pavilion,” a permanent picnic shelter down the first base line that faces out to a shallow grass bank. This makes for a nice small music venue. Several hundred people stuck around, and the Tams played a fun, lively set. It was a perfect ending to a great night at the ballpark.
Beyond the Fence
Come to the ballpark early, and you can enjoy a stroll down the paved walking paths that run between the outfield wall and the river behind. This is part of a trail system that ties the ballpark site to many parts of town. hile the ballpark site is on the edge of town, it’s a very short drive to anyplace in town, and the town itself shows the signs of major investment in public spaces, including a tidy, prosperous downtown that is defined by the confluence of the Coosa, Etanowa and Oostanaula Rivers, and its charming architecture. One of the landmarks in Rome, which was named for the Italian capital, is a statue of Romulus and Remus that was a gift from former Italian leader Benito Mussolini. There are also two four-year colleges in Rome, Shorter and Georgia Highlands, as well as a two year school, Coosa Valley Technical College. Shorter’s campus has an almost medieval architectural look, and a beautiful, rural setting where herds of deer freely roam the grounds.
The Box Score
If you are a serious Braves fan, planning a baseball trip through the Southeast, or if you are a Georgia resident that hasn’t made it to Rome yet, you owe yourself a trip to this great little city and their terrific ballpark. Mike Dunn and his staff run a classy operation that would regularly win awards if it was in a larger or more accessible market. The ballpark is unique, clean, walkable and very comfortable. There is room to play a game catch between innings, the food is excellent and affordable, and it seems they have something going every night.
Where to Stay & Eat
The team hotel is a modestly priced Days Inn conveniently located next to the Steak-N-Shake, a Rome hotspot after games. f your budget is a bit larger, the Hampton Inn or the La Quinta are newer, more upscale properties just off highway 20 as you approach the city coming from Atlanta.
840 Turner McCall Blvd SW
Rome, GA 30161
21 Chateau Dr. SE
Rome, GA 30161
15 Chateau Dr. SE
Rome, GA 30161
Steak n’ Shake has great affordable burgers and shakes, of course, but you can stay closer to the ballpark and enjoy a pre-game or post-game at one of two restaurants that are immediately adjacent to the ballpark. A Fuddrucker’s across the street features make-it-yourself burgers, and the Bella Roma Grill is a local Italian restaurant that sits just outside the ballpark’s parking lot. There are also a number of restaurants in Rome’s very walkable downtown.
A visit to Rome can easily be combined with a trip to see Atlanta and Gwinnett play and enjoy all the attractions of Atlanta. The Rome/Floyd County area is also a city with extensive parks and recreation offerings; there are lots of place to hike, fish and boat thanks to an robust recreation and parks department.
For more information on the area, visit the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website at: romegeorgia.org.
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