In just a few short weeks, the Atlanta Braves will end their run at Turner Field. While the facility’s days as a ballpark are numbered, it will have another act, as Georgia State University will begin using it as a football stadium, perhaps as soon as next fall.
The fate of Turner Field resembles that of another facility the Braves once vacated. Following the 1952 season, the Boston Braves departed Braves Field and made the move to Milwaukee. In many respects, the departures from Braves Field and Turner Field could not be more different-whereas the relocation to Milwaukee foreshadowed baseball’s upcoming expansion to the west, the Braves move to SunTrust Park next season puts them in Cobb County, mere miles up the road from Atlanta.
The post-baseball life of Braves Field, however, is much like the one Georgia State hopes to create at Turner Field. Braves Field first opened for baseball on August 18, 1915, and was characterized by its unique dimensions. Braves owner James E. Gaffney believed that the inside-the-park home run was the most exciting play in baseball, and built a ballpark that would shape the action to his desire. The center-field fence was 520 feet away from home plate, with the left- and right-field corners estimated to be a distance of at least 375 feet.
The massive dimensions were emblematic of a ballpark that was both expansive and state of the art for its time. Built mostly of concrete and steel, Braves Field contained its own trolley station. It also sat about 40,000 fans, allowing it to host major events independent of the Braves, including both the 1915 and 1916 World Series for the Boston Red Sox, who sought a larger capacity than what was available at Fenway Park.
Over time, Braves Field’s dimensions would be shortened-reflecting baseball’s transition from the dead-ball era to one that was built on home runs. The Braves went through their fair share of ups and downs over the ballpark’s history, even changing their name to the Boston Bees from 1936-1940. The ballpark would officially be renamed National League Park during that time period, earning the nickname The Beehive.
However, the short-lived moniker was not the only change Braves Field experienced. Over the years, the facility proved to be adept at hosting pro football, even if the franchises that occupied it were ultimately short lived.
Perhaps the most notable team to take the gridiron at Braves Field was the NFL’s Boston Braves, who played the 1932 season at the facility before moving to Fenway Park and becoming the Boston Redskins. That franchise found its permanent home upon relocating to Washington in 1937, when they became the Washington Redskins.
Ultimately it was Braves Field’s versatility that proved to be its calling card. The ballpark hosted its only World Series for the Braves in 1948, the year that the home team lost to the Cleveland Indians. By 1953, Major League Baseball was gone for good and Boston University purchased the ballpark, starting its next chapter.
The ballpark took on a new name upon its conversion–temporarily being called Boston University Field, before becoming Nickerson Field. It was redesigned to become more of a multi-purpose venue for collegiate athletics, primarily hosting Boston Terriers’ football. However, the facility’s days of hosting major sports were far from over. In 1960, the AFL’s upstart Boston Patriots played their first of three seasons at Nickerson Field before moving on to Fenway Park.
In the years following the Patriots’ departure, much of Braves Field was demolished, allowing Nickerson Field to continue as a smaller collegiate football facility. It ultimately served Boston University football until the program ceased operations in 1997 season. Even without football, Nickerson Field continued to be a viable facility for Boston University sports. Today it hosts both men’s and women’s soccer, as well as men’s and women’s lacrosse.
Those looking at Nickerson Field would not get the impression immediate impression that it once hosted baseball. Its artificial turf surface looks like that of a typical soccer/lacrosse field, and the facility’s shape does not resemble that of an early 20th century ballpark. As it turns out, Nickerson Field retains a few key pieces from Braves Field. Much of the right-field seating remain in place, and the former ticket office still stands as a headquarters for campus police.
Perhaps as a reflection of the different times and needs, Georgia State’s project to repurpose Turner Field seems much loftier than what Boston University did to Nickerson Field. Under Georgia State’s plan, Turner Field will eventually be the center of a much larger development that connects to downtown Atlanta. In fact, it will wind up affecting the legacy of two facilities, as it is also expected to preserve sections of the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium site.
It will take years for much of that vision to come to fruition, just as it will take time to judge Turner Field’s viability as a football stadium. Yet if it can come event close to matching the longevity of Braves Field/Nickerson Field, the next act for Turner Field should be a success.
Images courtesy Boston Public Library.
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