Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How to Be a Met Fan In Atlanta -- 2013 Edition

The Devils aren't going down to Georgia.  The Stanley Cup Finals are about to get underway with the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, and besides, the Atlanta Thrashers have moved to become the new Winnipeg Jets anyway.

But the Mets are going down to Georgia, looking for some games to steal.  They are way behind, they are in a bind, and their fans are asking, "What's the deal?"

Despite beating them in the first-ever National League Championship Series in 1969, the Mets and Braves were really only rivals for a brief time, roughly 1998 to 2001. In each of those seasons, the Braves won the NL Eastern Division and the Mets finished 2nd, just missing the Wild Card in '98, getting it before losing to the Braves in the NL Championship Series in '99, then catching a break in 2000 when the Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, who then lost to the Mets. Who then, of course, lost the World Series to the Yankees.

Now that the Phillies have gotten good, the Mets are, for the first time in their history, really, seeing what a rivalry is.

DISCLAIMER: I have never been to Atlanta.  Much of this information is from the Braves' website.  And, of course, with the series starting tomorrow, you won't have much of a chance to put any plan based on this entry into action.  Sorry, but due to commitments in the real world, the delay couldn't be helped.

UPDATE: The Braves have announced that they are moving to suburban Cobb County. This is a bad idea.

Before You Go. Being well south of New York, Atlanta is usually warmer than we are. In addition, Turner Field does not offer much protection from the sun.  Check the website of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (used to be 2 papers, now 1) before you go; it's too soon to check its weather predictions.  Best to dress for warm weather, especially as we're in mid-June.  They don't call it "Hot-lanta" just for its nightlife.

Although Georgia, a.k.a. The Heart of the South, seceded from the Union in 1861, it was readmitted in 1870. You do not need a passport, and you don't need to change your U.S. dollars into Confederate money. Do keep in mind, though: They think you talk as funny as you think they do.

Getting There. It’s 868 miles from Times Square in New York to Five Points, Atlanta’s center of attention.  Google Maps says the fastest way from New York to Atlanta by road is to take the Holland Tunnel to Interstate 78 to Harrisburg, then I-81 through the Appalachian Mountains, and then it gets complicated from there.

No, the best way to go, if you must drive, is to take the New Jersey Turnpike/I-95 all the way from New Jersey to Petersburg, Virginia. Exit 51 will put you on I-85 South, and that will take you right into Atlanta.

You’ll be in New Jersey for about an hour and a half, Delaware for 20 minutes, Maryland for 2 hours, inside the Capital Beltway (Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia) for half an hour if you’re lucky (and don’t make a rest stop there), Virginia for 3 hours, North Carolina for 4 hours, South Carolina for about an hour and 45 minutes, and Georgia outside I-285 (the beltway known as the Perimeter, the Atlanta Bypass or “the O around the A”) for an hour and a half.

Throw in traffic in and around New York at one end, Washington in the middle, and Atlanta at the other end, and we’re talking 16 hours. Throw in rest stops, preferably in Delaware, near Richmond, near Raleigh, and in South Carolina, and it’ll be closer to 19 hours.  Still wanna drive? Didn’t think so.

Take the bus? Greyhound has plenty of service between the two cities, if you don’t mind paying $257. Yeah. Even with high gas prices, that’s not better than driving. And, at 20 hours each way (including an hourlong stopover in Richmond, Virginia), it saves you no time.  At least the station is downtown, at 232 Forsyth Street at Brotherton Street, by the Garnett station on the subway.

Take the train? Amtrak’s New York-to-New Orleans train, the Crescent, leaves Penn Station at 2:15 PM and arrives at 8:13 AM the next morning. The round-trip fare is $346. It’s as long as driving and riding the bus, and costs more than twice as much as the bus.  The station is at 1688 Peachtree Street NW at Deering Road, due north of downtown.  From there, take the 110 bus into downtown.

So unless you can con someone into sharing the driving and the gas costs, the best way to get from New York to Atlanta is by plane.  If you don’t mind making a stopover at Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, then, if you book now, US Airways can get you from Newark Liberty International Airport to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (named for 2 late Mayors of Atlanta) for a little over $400 round-trip. True, that’s more expensive than the train, but 4½ hours each way beats the hell out of 18.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) subway from Hartsfield-Jackson to Five Points takes just half an hour.  A single trip on any MARTA train is $2.50, the same as New York's.  A 10-trip is no bargain at $25.  The subway started running with tokens in 1979, and switched to farecards in 2006.

When you get to your hotel in Atlanta (and, let’s face it, if you went all that way, you’re not going down for a single 3-hour game and then going right back up the Eastern Seaboard), pick up a copy of the Journal-Constitution. It’s a good paper with a very good sports section. The New York Times may also be available, but, chances are, the Daily News and the Post won’t be.

Unfortunately, the MARTA subway does not get all that close to Turner Field. To make matters worse, the ballpark is separated from downtown Atlanta by the intersection of Interstates 20 and 75/85, so unless you’ve got a hotel within a 10-minute walk of the ballpark, you’re not going to walk there. But, if you didn’t drive down, or fly and then rent a car, the Number 55 bus goes from Five Points Station, the centerpoint of MARTA, to Turner Field.  And the Braves Shuttle goes between Underground Atlanta and the ballpark.  A round-trip ticket is $5.50 (buy it at the Best of Atlanta shop at Underground Atlanta, at Lower Alabama & Lower Pryor Sts.), but it's free if you transfer from MARTA.  Pick it up at Steve Polk Plaza, at Central Ave. & Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Tickets. The Braves rarely sell out, except for the World Series. Even during the 1999 NLCS, Met fans found it not so difficult to get tickets at the 50,097-seat Turner Field. The Braves averaged 29,878 per home game last season, and are averaging 30,498 this season. So for a regular-season game, even for a team that has conteded for the Playoffs the last few years, it should be a snap.

Since the opponent is New York, premium pricing will be used.  The most expensive seats, the Henry Aaron Seats right behind home plate, go for $111.  Field Reserved go for $57, Terrace Infield for $46, Terrace View for $60, Terrace Reserved for $35, Upper Box for $25, and Upper Pavilion seats, in the upper deck from first base to right field, are $12.  For games against less-demanding teams, they're just $6. No, that’s not a misprint: Six dollars.

Going In. Founded in 1837, and originally named "Terminus" because it was established as a railroad center, but later renamed because the railroad was the Atlantic-Pacific Railroad, Atlanta is a city of about 430,000 people (less than Staten Island), in a metropolitan area of about 5.4 million (still roughly 1/4 the size of the New York Tri-State Area).

Be advised that a LOT of streets are named Peachtree, which can confuse the hell out of you; and the city uses diagonal directions on its streets and street signs, much like Washington, D.C.: NW, NE, SE and SW. The street grid takes some odd angles, which will confuse you further.  Five Points -- Peachtree St., Marietta St. & Edgewood Ave. -- is the centerpoint of the city.

A building boom in the 1980s gave the city some pretty big skyscrapers, so, while it won't seem quite as imposing as New York, Philadelphia or Chicago, it will seem bigger than such National League cities as Cincinnati and St. Louis.  The building currently named Bank of America Plaza, a.k.a. the Pencil Building because of its shape, is the tallest in the State of Georgia, at 1,033 feet.  It stands at 600 Peachtree St. NE at North Ave.

You do not have to worry about wearing Mets, or any other team’s, gear in Turner Field. Braves fans will generally not act like New York, Philadelphia or Boston fans and get snippy (or worse, rough) because of it.

Turner Field is at the intersection of Capitol Street SE and Love Street SE, but the official address is 755 Hank Aaron Drive SE.  Most fans will enter at the stadium’s north entrance, N Gate. There’s also E, SW and NW gates (East, Southwest and Northwest).

“The Ted” was named after broadcasting mogul and former Braves and NBA Atlanta Hawks owner Ted Turner. His real name is actually not Theodore, but Robert Edward Turner III – after Robert E. Lee. Since his father was already “Bob,” he went with Edward, and, like a number of people named Edward, including the late Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts, his “Edward” became “Ted.”

Outside The Ted are statues of Braves greats Henry “Hank” Aaron, Phil Niekro and Warren Spahn -- even though Spahn was with  the Braves in Boston and Milwaukee, and never threw a pitch for Atlanta -- and the greatest baseball player born in Georgia, Ty Cobb. Although Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia, he grew up outside Los Angeles, so while his Number 42 is posted with the Braves’ retired numbers, there is no statue of him outside Turner Field.

Inside, expect the usual post-1992, post-Camden Yards concourses, lighting, and decorations (team-specific, of course).  While the park is south of downtown and open at its north end, don't expect to see a nice view of skyscrapers: The field points northeast, technically away from downtown.

The field is not symmetrical.  It is 335 feet down the left-field line, 380 to left-center, 401 to center, 390 to right-center, and 330 to right.  This might lead you to believe that The Ted is a pitcher's park.  But you would be wrong: Those distances are that long because, until Colorado and Arizona came into the NL, Atlanta had the highest elevation in the major leagues.  The old Fulton County Stadium was known as "The Launching Pad." Put it this way: If the field conditions there were the same as at Milwaukee County Stadium, Hank Aaron would still have hit over 600 home runs, but he wouldn't have gotten to 715.  So the faraway distances at The Ted make it a balanced ballpark.

The longest home run at Turner Field thus far is a 471-foot drive that Sammy Sosa hit in 2001.  I can't find a reference to the longest ever hit at Fulton County Stadium, although there was a seat in the upper deck in left field decorated with a hammer and the words HAMMER 557 -- not that the seat was 557 feet from home plate, but that it was where Hammerin' Hank Aaron's 557th career home run landed.  This would have to have been in the vicinity of 500 feet, but I can't verify that it was the stadium's lonest.

Food. Son, Ah say son, this bein’ the South, y’all can expect good eatin' and good hospitality. You want the usual ballpark fare, including hot dogs and beer? They got ‘em and they got ‘em good. You want Southern specialties such as fried chicken and barbecue? They got that, too.

As with most of these new parks, they have higher-end restaurants, too: The Braves Chophouse (a.k.a. “Top of the Chop”) and, in yet another thing named after Aaron, the 755 Club. Not sure what the dress code is for a Southern ballpark’s high-end restaurant, but don’t look to the “You might be a redneck” jokes of Atlanta-suburbs native and major Braves fan Jeff Foxworthy for inspiration: If you have any doubt as to whether what you’ve got would be appropriate for the same kind of restaurant at Citi Field or Yankee Stadium II, don’t go in.

If you don't mind their stance on social issues, the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A has stands behind Sections 139, 202 and 333.  If you need a taste of good old N'Yawk, there's a Pasta Bar behind Section 47.

Team History Displays. As stated, there are statues of Cobb, Aaron, Spahn and Niekro outside. In the Green Lot parking area north of the park, where Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium used to be, there is a chain-link fence about where the left-center-field fence was, and, at the approximate location of where it landed, then the Braves’ bullpen, is the marker that used to be on the wall behind it, honoring Aaron’s record-breaking 715th career home run, hit on April 8, 1974.

On the facing of the left-field stands, the Braves have placed their retired numbers, with their pennants further along in left-center. Number 3, Dale Murphy, 1980s outfielder; Number 6, Bobby Cox, 1990s-2000s manager; Number 21, Warren Spahn, 1940s-50s pitcher; Number 29, John Smoltz, 1990s-2000s pitcher; Number 31, Greg Maddux, 1990s-2000s pitcher; Number 35, Phil Niekro, 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s pitcher; Number 41, Eddie Mathews, 1950s-60s 3rd baseman and 1970s manager; Number 44, Hank Aaron, 1950s, ‘60s and ’70s right fielder; and Number 47, Tom Glavine, 1990s-2000s pitcher (known to Met fans as “the Manchurian Brave”). Jackie Robinson’s Number 42 is also displayed there.

The Number 10 of 1990s-2000s 3rd baseman Larry Wayne Jones Jr., a.k.a. Chipper Jones, will be retired on June 28 -- against the Arizona Diamondbacks, not the Mets.  So there's a little class from the Braves' organization, waiting until after the Mets have left, choosing to not rub it in.  The Number 25 of 1990s-2000s center fielder Andruw Jones (now playing in Japan) is not currently assigned, and I suspect it will eventually be retired as well.

Inside Turner Field, on the northwest (left field) side of the park under Section 134, the Ivan Allen Jr. Braves Museum and Hall of Fame (named for the man who was Mayor when the Braves arrived) contains various items from Braves history, including the club's tenures in Boston (1871-1952) and Milwaukee (1953-1965).

In addition to the preceding, the Hall's members include the following: Boston-era players Herman Long, Kid Nichols, Tommy Holmes and Johnny Sain; Milwaukee-era players Del Crandall, Lew Burdette and Ernie Johnson Sr. (father of basketball broadcaster Ernie Johnson Jr.); Atlanta players Ralph Garr and David Justice; team owners Bill Bartholomay and Ted Turner; team executives Bill Lucas (MLB's first black general manager) and Paul Snyder; and broadcasters Johnson, Skip Caray and Pete van Wieren.

Those pennants on the left-center-field façade can seem awfully impressive, until you remember that only 1 of them is for a World Championship, 1995. Then there’s 4 that are for Pennants where the Braves went on to lose the World Series: 1991, ’92, ’96 and ’99. And the 11 Division Championships where the Braves did not go on to win the Pennant: 1969, ’82, ’93, ’97, ’98, 2000, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’04 and ’05.

Strangely, while the Braves include the retired numbers of Spahn, who pitched for them in Boston and Milwaukee, and Mathews, who played only his last season as a Brave in Atlanta, they do not include the Pennants the team won in Boston (National Association 1872, '73, '74, '75; NL 1877, '78, '83, '91, '92, '93, '97, '98, 1914 & '48) or in Milwaukee (1957 & '58), or the 1914 (Boston) or 1957 (Milwaukee) World Series wins with those flags.

And, let’s not forget, while the fact that most of those flags came from 1991 to 2005, the relative dearth of them from 1966 (actually 1959 if you count Milwaukee) to 1990 shows that the Braves haven’t been nearly as successful a franchise as you might think. True, in Boston, they were the greatest American sports franchise of the 19th Century; and they were at least in the Pennant race in nearly all of their 13 seasons in Milwaukee; but from 1899 to 1990, 92 seasons, they won only 4 Pennants – as many as the Mets have in 52 years, and a rate about as bad as the Chicago White Sox (5 in their first 104 years), Cleveland Indians (5 in their first 110 and 3 in their first 94), and Philadelphia Phillies (5 in their first 125 and 4 in their first 110).

Stuff. You can get pretty much anything you want, from T-shirts with names and numbers of long-gone players to team-oriented DVDs, in the souvenir stands. But do yourself a favor and do not buy a foam Tomahawk. That’s a souvenir you just don’t need.

There are quite a few good books about Hank Aaron, including his own memoir I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story, but it's 20 years old.  A more detailed one about the chase for 715, rather than Aaron's entire life, would be Tom Stanton's more recent Hank Aaron and the Home Run That Changed America.

van Wieren, who retired after the 2008 season and has been battling lymphoma, recently published Of Mikes and Men: A Lifetime of Braves Baseball. After the 1995 World Championship, he collaborated with longtime New York baseball writer Bob Klapisch on a comprehensive history of the team: The World Champion Braves: An Illustrated History of America's Team 1871-1995.  (During the team's run to the 1982 Playoffs, Turner tried to take the "America's Team" tag promoted by the Dallas Cowboys and use it to promote the Braves on TBS, which he then called his nationally-syndicated "superstation," making the Braves popular outside the South.) Lang Whitaker, a writer for the NBA magazine SLAM!, has written In the Time of Bobby Cox: The Atlanta Braves, Their Manager, My Couch, Two Decades, and Me.  And Glavine, Smoltz and Javy Lopez have written inside accounts of the Cox "dynasty."

If you want a look at the franchise's previous incarnations, there's John Klima's Bushville Wins! The Wild Saga of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the Screwballs, Sluggers, and Beer Swiggers Who Canned the New York Yankees and Changed Baseball.  True, the success of the Braves and their big (for the time), automobile-accomodating ballpark led Walter O'Malley to lead the Dodgers out of first Ebbets Field and then, when he couldn't get a new stadium in Brooklyn, out of New York City entirely, and led him to con Horace Stoneham into doing the same with the Giants.  But that did also pave the way for the union of Dodger and Giant fans into the Met alliance.  And the Braves did beat the Yankees -- in one out of two World Series, anyway.  But William Povletich's Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak tells not only what happened in their rise, but in their fall, and the causes of the move to Atlanta.  (Hint: The Minnesota Twins arrived in 1961 and took away about half their population base, and the success of the Green Bay Packers from 1960 onward also distracted Wisconsinians.)

Sportswriter Harold Kaese wrote The Boston Braves after their 1948 Pennant season.  Late in his life, Warren Spahn worked with Kaese' estate to add an update.

There is, as yet, no DVD of The Essential Games of the Atlanta Braves, or The Essential Games of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

During the Game. Atlanta can be a rough city, and NFL Falcons, NBA Hawks and Georgia Tech college football games might be good places to keep your guard up. But Braves fans are not going to pick fights with you. As I said, they barely care enough to show up. And if you’re looking for famous Braves fans in the stands, don’t bother. Turner, while no longer the owner, might be there; his ex-wife Jane Fonda and former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn probably won’t be; and as for other celebrities, considering that Foxworthy is still hosting Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? in Los Angeles, he won’t be attending too many games, even though he’s probably, aside from the preceding, the most famous Braves fan.

As you might guess, Braves fans conclude the National Anthem not with “ …and the home of the brave” but “ …and the home of the Braves!” It’s not as dumb as the Baltimore “O! say does that… ” but it’s bad enough. Fortunately, the Braves don’t have a special song they use to follow “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the 7th inning stretch. Nor do they have a true theme song.

What they do have is that annoying Tomahawk Chop and its song, the War Chant: “Oh, oh-whoa-oh-oh… whoa-oh-oh… oh-whoa-oh-oh…” It was brought to the Braves by outfielder Deion Sanders, who had played football at Florida State University before playing both baseball and football professionally. Since FSU preceded the Braves into championship contention by a few years, this was a chance to latch onto something they thought was special, and, long after Deion’s retirement from all sports and the 1996-97 move from Fulton County Stadium to Turner Field, the Chop and the Chant remain. If you’re a real Met fan, you’ll be very quickly reminded of how sick it used to make you feel.

The Braves have had a number of mascots over the years, including Chief Noc-a-Homa (knock a homer), a decidedly politically incorrect Native American whose tepee was located in Fulton County Stadium’s left field stands, who would do a so-called Indian war dance after every Braves home run. For a while, like some other MLB mascots, including Mr. Met’s own Lady Met, the Chief got a girlfriend, Princess Win-a-Lotta. I swear, I am not making that up. I wish I was.

Anyway, having entertained fans since the Braves’ 1966 arrival, Levi Walker Jr., who played the Chief, quit in 1986 after a salary dispute. Deciding this was as good a time as any to address the issue of whether the character was insulting to Native Americans, the Braves did not hire a new Chief, and let the character fade away.  Instead, the Braves adopted a new mascot, named Homer the Brave. You might recognize him: He has a baseball head, much like Mr. Met, only he has eyeblack and a Braves uniform and cap. Is he as good as Mr. Met? Anybody who thinks so must’ve broken into the Dukes of Hazzard’s moonshine stash.

The Home Depot is based in Atlanta, and they sponsor a "mascot race": People dressed like tools.  A hammer, a saw, a paint brush and a power drill start from the warning track in right field and finish in front of the left field scoreboard.

After the Game. You should have no trouble with Braves fans on your way out, and you may even find a few of your fellow travelers ready to celebrate a Met win – or commiserate with you on a Met loss. But, if it’s a night game, be sure to get on the Braves Shuttle back to Underground Atlanta and then back to your hotel. Atlanta does have a bit of a crime problem; while you’ll probably be safe in the stadium parking lot and on the subway, you don’t want to wander the streets late at night.

A good way to have fun would seem to be to find a bar where New Yorkers hang out. Unfortunately, the best ones I could come up with were all outside the city: Hudson Grille (sure sounds like a New York-style name), 6317 Roswell Road in Sandy Springs, is 15 miles north of Five Points.  Mazzy’s, at 2217 Roswell Road in Marietta, is 20 miles north. The Sportsline Bar and Grille, at 2100 Riverside Parkway in Lawrenceville, is 30 miles northeast. Mazzy's was listed on an out-of-town football fans’ site as a Jets hangout, the other two for Giants fans. A Facebook page titled “Mets Fans Living In Atlanta” was no help. Your best bet may be to research hotel chains, to find out which ones New Yorkers tend to like, and meet up with fellow Metsophiles (or Metsochists) there.

Sidelights.  When the Thrashers moved to become the new Winnipeg Jets a year ago, it marked the 2nd time in 31 years that Atlanta had lost an NHL team.  They still have teams in MLB, the NFL and the NBA, plus a Division I-A college which has been successful in several sports, the annual Southeastern Conference Championships for both football and basketball, and an annual college football bowl game, the Chick-fil-A Bowl (formerly the Peach Bowl).

But that doesn’t make Atlanta a great sports town. All of their major league teams have tended to have trouble filling their buildings.

* Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Home to the Southern Association’s Atlanta Crackers in their last season, 1965; to the Braves from 1966 to 1996; and to the NFL Falcons from 1966 to 1991. It was in what’s now the parking lot north of Turner Field.

* Georgia Dome, Philips Arena, site of The Omni. They’re next-door to each other, at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SW and Northside Drive NW (another confusing street name). The Georgia Dome has been home to the Falcons since 1992 and has hosted the SEC Championship Game.  It hosted the NCAA Final Four in 2002 (Maryland beating Indiana), 2007 (Florida beating Ohio State), and 2013 (Louisville over Michigan).

The Philips Arena has been home to the NBA’s Hawks since 1999, and was the home of the NHL’s Thrashers from 1999 to 2011. It was built on the site of the previous Atlanta arena, The Omni, which hosted the Hawks from 1972 to 1997, the NHL’s Atlanta Flames from 1972 to 1980 (when they moved to Calgary), the 1977 NCAA Final Four (Queens native andn ex-Knick Al McGuire leading Marquette over Dean Smith’s North Carolina), and the 1988 Democratic Convention (Michael Dukakis was nominated for President, which didn’t work out too well).

The CNN Center is adjacent to the arena. Dome-GWCC-Philips Arena stop on MARTA.

* Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Georgia Institute of Technology (a.k.a. Georgia Tech) has played basketball here at “the Thrillerdome” since 1956, and recently completed a renovation.  This building, named for legendary football coach Bill Alexander, also hosted the Hawks from their 1968 arrival from St. Louis to The Omni’s opening in 1972, and again from 1997 to 1999 while Philips was built on The Omni’s site. 965 Fowler Street NW, Arts Center stop on MARTA.

* Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field. The oldest stadium in Division I-A college football? It sure doesn’t look it, having been modernized several times since its opening just about 100 years ago, on September 27, 1913. Dodd, who played at the University of Tennessee and coached at Georgia Tech (first as an assistant to Alexander, then as head coach), is one of only 3 people elected to the College Football Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.

Georgia Tech's teams have two nicknames, the Yellow Jackets and the Ramblin’ Wreck. There is a 1930 Ford Model A called the Ramblin’ Wreck (don’t let the name fool you, they love their college traditions in the South and this vee-hicle is kept in tip-top condition) that drives onto the field before every game, carrying the Tech cheerleaders, including Buzz the Yellow Jacket, with the team running behind it. I would advise against going to Dodd/Grant when Tech plays their arch-rivals, the University of Georgia, as those games not only sell out, but have been known to involve fights. Other than that, the stadium has a great atmosphere. 177 North Avenue NW (yeah, another one of those). North Avenue stop on MARTA.

A few steps away, over the North Avenue Bridge (over I-75/85) at 61 North Avenue NW, highlighted by a huge neon letter V, is The Varsity. No visit to The A-T-L is complete without a stop at The Varsity. Basically, it’s a classic diner, but really good. Be careful, though: They want to keep it moving, much like the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld and its real-life counterpart The Original Soup Man, and also Pat’s Steaks in Philadelphia.

The place has a language all its own, and, when they ask, “What’ll you have?”, being a Met fan, you do NOT want to order what they call a Yankee Dog – or a Naked Dog, which, oddly, is the same exact thing: A hot dog whose only condiment is mustard (which hardly makes it “naked,” but that’s what they call it). Check out this link, and you’ll get an idea of what to say and what not to say.

* Site of Ponce de Leon Park.  The Southern Association's Atlanta Crackers played at 2 stadiums with this name, from 1907 to 1923, and then, after a fire required rebuilding, from 1924 to 1964.  The second park seated 20,000, a huge figure for a minor league park then -- a pretty big one for a minor league park now.

Crackers? The term is usually applied to a poor white Southerner, and is, effectively, black people's response to what we now call "the N-word." It has also been suggested that the term referred to plowboys cracking a whip over their farm animals, or that it was a shortened version of an earlier team called the Firecrackers, or that it comes from the Gaelic word "craic," meaning entertaining conversation, or boasting, or bantering.

The team won a Pennant in 1895, before the first ballpark with the name was built.  In the first park, they won Pennants in 1907, 1909, 1913, 1917 and 1919.  In the second, they won in 1925, 1935, 1938, 1945, 1954, 1956, 1957, 1960 and 1962.  So, 15 in all.  After that 1962 Crackers Pennant, Atlanta would not win another until the Braves finally did it 29 years later.  All told, Atlanta has won 19 Pennants.

The park was known for a magnolia tree that stood in deep center field, until 1947 when Earl Mann bought the team and moved the fence in a bit.  Although it never happened during a regular-season professional game, in exhibition games both Babe Ruth and Eddie Mathews hit home runs that got stuck in the tree.  The park also hosted high school football and the occasional prizefight, including the last fight of Jack Dempsey, in 1940, when he was 45 years old and beat pro wrestler Clarence "Cowboy" Luttrell.

The Southern Association, a Double-A League (since replaced by the Southern League) folded in 1961, rather than accept integrated teams.  The Crackers, known (ironically, considering their location) as "the Yankees of the Minors," were accepted into the Triple-A American Association, and remained their until their final season, 1965, before the Braves arrived the next year.  That last season was played at what became Fulton County Stadium for their final season in 1965, its 52,000 seats making it the largest stadium ever to regularly host minor-league games, a record that would later be broken by the Denver Bears after Bears Stadium was expanded to 74,000 seats and became Mile High Stadium.

The Midtown Place Shopping Center is now on the site.  Unlike the park, and the first shopping center that was on the site, before Midtown Place, the magnolia tree has never been torn down.  650 Ponce de Leon Avenue NE.  MARTA Gold to North Avenue, then transfer to Number 2 bus.

* Non-Sports Sites. There’s the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum, 800 Cherokee Avenue SE, which tells the true story of that fire you saw in Gone With the Wind. At the other end of the spectrum, giving all people their equal due, is the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site at 449 Auburn Avenue NE, which includes the house that was Dr. King’s birthplace and boyhood home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he and his father Martin Sr. preached, and his tomb. The King Memorial stop on MARTA serves both the King Center and the Cyclorama.

The Carter Center, housing Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Library and Museum, and the Carter Center for Nonviolent Social Change, is at 453 Freedom Parkway. Bus 3 or 16 from Five Points stop on MARTA. There are also museums honoring GWTW author and Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell, Atlanta’s native drink Coca-Cola, and Atlanta’s native news network CNN. And there's the city's major shopping district, Underground Atlanta, in the Five Points area.

Atlanta is the home base of actor-writer-director Tyler Perry, and all his TV shows and movies are set there.  The house that stands in for the home of his most famous character, Mabel "Madea" Simmons, is at 1197 Avon Ave. SW.

The most famous TV show set in Georgia -- the State in which Hazzard County was located was never specified in the script, but the cars had Georgia license plates and Georgia State Highway signs could be clearly seen -- was The Dukes of Hazzard.  The first few episodes were filmed in Covington, about 37 miles southeast of Five Points; after returning from a Christmas break from filming in 1978-79, new sets were built in Southern California to mimic a small southern town's courthouse square.  Years later, the TV version of In the Heat of the Night would also film in Covington.

Atlanta has attracted the supernatural, including The Vampire Diaries, The Walking Dead and Teen Wolf. Much of Andy Griffith's ole-country lawyer show Matlock was filmed around the Fulton County Government Center and the State Capitol along MLK Drive, centered on Central Ave.  But, for the most part, Matlock, like another Atlanta-based show, Designing Women, was filmed in L.A.  The house that stood in for Julia Sugarbaker's home, at 1521 Sycamore St. in the show (the address does exist in neighboring Decatur), isn't even in Georgia: It's in Little Rock, Arkansas.


Atlanta is an acquired taste, especially for a Met fan. Is it worth going? Put it this way: At the rate both the Mets and the Braves are going, if your mission is to see the Mets “burn Atlanta” the way the Yankees of William Tecumseh Sherman did in 1864, you’re out of luck. If it’s to see the Mets do it the way the Yankees of Joe Torre did in 1996 and 1999, and the Mets themselves came close to doing in 1999, you’ve got a chance, but not a great chance.

But if your mission is simply to have a good time in an unfamiliar city, and to “cross one more ballpark off your list,” then, by all means, go, stay safe, and have fun.

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