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.
Since the Phillies got good -- and even now that they aren't anymore -- Met fans have, for the first time in their history, seen what a real rivalry is.
The Braves have announced that they are moving to suburban Cobb County for the 2017 season, because Turner Field's lease runs out in 2016. This is a bad idea. At any rate, if you haven't yet crossed Turner Field off your list, this season will mark your last chance to do so.
Before You Go. Being well south of New York, Atlanta is usually warmer than we are. It also gets rather humid. In addition, Turner Field does not offer much protection from the sun. They don't call it "Hot-lanta" just for its nightlife.
Check the website of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (used to be 2 papers, now 1) before you go. Temperatures are projected as being in the low 70s on Friday afternoon, the high 70s on Saturday, and the low 80s (yes, eighties) on Sunday. On each night, it's projected as being in the high 50s. Definitely leave your jacket home.
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. And it's in the Eastern Time Zone, so you don't have to fiddle with your watch or your phone clock. Do keep in mind, though: They think you talk as funny as you think they do.
Tickets. The Braves rarely sell out, except for the World Series (and they haven't even gotten that far since the 21st Century dawned -- even the Mets have, but the Braves haven't). Even during the 1999 NLCS, Met fans found it not so difficult to get tickets at Turner Field, official capacity currently 49,586. The Braves averaged 25,017 per home game last season, so for a regular-season game, even for a team that has contended for the Playoffs the last few years, it should be a snap.
Since the opponent is New York, premium pricing will be used. And the prices will be jacked up more for the Tuesday game, which is their home opener and will likely sell out. So I will list prices only for the Wednesday and Thursday games, which will be less.
The most expensive seats, the Henry Aaron Seats right behind home plate, go for $97. Field Reserved go for $58, Terrace Infield for $51, Terrace View for $33, Terrace Reserved for $42, Upper Box for $20, and Upper Pavilion seats, in the upper deck from first base to right field, are $11. No, that’s not a misprint: Eleven dollars. For a Major League Baseball game in the 21st Century.
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 anywhere near D.C.), 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 $292 (though it can be as low as $130 on advanced purchase). Yeah. Even with high gas prices, that’s not better than driving. And, at 20 1/2 hours each way (including an hour-and-a-half 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 $294. It’s as long as driving and riding the bus, and costs a lot more than 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.
Perhaps the best way to get from New York to Atlanta is by plane? If you book now, US Airways can get you from Newark Liberty International Airport to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for $626. True, that’s more expensive than the train, and it requires a stopover at Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, but 4½ hours each way beats the hell out of 18. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Gold Line or Red Line subway from Hartsfield-Jackson to Five Points takes just half an hour.
(The airport is named for 2 Mayors. William B. Hartsfield served from 1942 to 1962, and got the airport built. Maynard H. Jackson Jr. was the city's 1st black Mayor, serving from 1974 to 1982, and again from 1990 to 1994, and he got a new terminal built at the airport.)
Once In the City. 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.
Founded in 1837, and originally named "Terminus" because it was established as a railroad center, but later renamed because the railroad in question was the Atlantic-Pacific Railroad, Atlanta is a city of about 450,000 people (less than Staten Island), in a metropolitan area of about 6.1 million (still less than 1/3rd the size of the New York Tri-State Area). The sales tax in Georgia is just 4 percent, but it's 5 percent in the City of Atlanta.
The State House
Be advised that a lot of streets are named Peachtree, which can confuse the hell out of you. Even worse, 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 Street, Marietta Street & Edgewood Avenue -- 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 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 Street NE at North Avenue.
ZIP Codes in Georgia start with the digits 30 and 31, with Atlanta and its suburbs using 300 to 307. The Area Code for Atlanta is 404, with 770 surrounding it, and 678 overlaid.
MARTA's 3-stripes logo of blue, yellow and orange is reminiscent of New Jersey Transit's blue, purple and orange. A single trip on any MARTA train is $2.50, now cheaper than New York's. A 10-trip is no bargain at $25. The subway started running with tokens in 1979, and switched to farecards known as Breezecards in 2006.
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.
Turner Field in its original configuration,
as the 1996 Olympic Stadium
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 Streets), but it's free if you transfer from MARTA. Pick it up at Steve Polk Plaza, at Central Avenue & Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Most fans will enter at the stadium’s north entrance, N Gate. There’s also E, SW and NW gates (East, Southwest and Northwest).
Left field entrance. Note Hank Aaron's statue at left.
"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."
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.
Turner Field opened in 1996, as the main venue for the Olympic Games held in Atlanta that year. After the Olympics, the north end was demolished, and replaced with the bleachers and main scoreboards, so that the 85,000-seat track & field stadium could become a proper 50,000-seat baseball stadium.
Why is it being replaced? After all, this is only its 20th season. It's not in bad shape, right? Actually, it has a problem that Fulton County Stadium, on the plot of land just to the north, had, and also led to the early dooms for the Georgia Dome and The Omni: Atlanta's humid climate means that maintenance of such a building costs more than in most cities: In Turner Field's case, a renovation to keep those costs down would cost $150 million. The team says that "fan improvement renovations" would add another $200 million. And the City of Atlanta isn't willing to pay that, due to other priorities, like school and street upkeep.
The Braves have also said that they don't have control over the commercial development around the stadium -- there really isn't any, given that it's blocked off from most of the city by freeways and parking lots. It wasn't quite unique among the multisport stadiums of the 1960s and '70s in that it was downtown (St. Louis also did that), but despite being downtown, it didn't have nearby development that would have a cross-stream of revenue.
Finally, the Braves decided that Turner Field "doesn't match up with where the majority of our fans come from." Translation: Black people in Atlanta aren't paying to come to Braves games, white people from the northern and western suburbs are. Is that racist? Maybe not. Is that cynical? Oh, hell, yes. Given the cost, the commercial opportunities, and the status of their fan base, the Braves concluded that it would be more economical in the long run to simply start over.
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. (Hey, at least they're trying.) Smokehouse BBQ is at 317, La Taqueria at 321, a Gluten Free Concessions stand is at 106, and, for dessert, Mayfield Ice Cream and Dippin' Dots are all over.
According to a recent Thrillist article on the best food at each big-league ballpark, the best food at Turner Field is the Buffalo chicken and waffles, which can only be had in the 755 Club, open only to season-ticket holders. Good. Who the hell eats chicken with waffles? (The article calls it "a Southern classic," but I've also heard it's popular in Ohio.)
Team History Displays. Outside The Ted, in an area called Monument Grove, are statues of Braves greats 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.
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.
Retired numbers. Note the ads for Atlanta-based companies
Coca-Cola and Chick-fil-A.
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 Mayor who built Fulton County Stadium, allowing for the Braves' move) contains various items from Braves history, including the club's tenures in Boston (1871-1952) and Milwaukee (1953-1965).
The Hall's 30 members include the following:
* Boston-era players Spahn, Herman Long, Kid Nichols, Rabbit Maranville, Tommy Holmes and Johnny Sain. Not yet elected are several Boston-era members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, such as Harry Wright, George Wright, John Clarkson, Kid Nichols, Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourne, Frank Selee, Mike "King" Kelly, Hugh Duffy, Tommy McCarthy, Billy Hamilton,Vic Willis, Jimmy Collins and Johnny Evers. Also not yet elected is Wally Berger, the only Brave selected for the 1st All-Star Game in 1933, and was selected for the 1st 4 All-Star Games; and Bob Elliott, the only Boston Brave to be named NL Most Valuable Player, in 1947.
* Milwaukee-era players Spahn, Aaron, Mathews, Del Crandall and Ernie Johnson Sr. (father of basketball broadcaster Ernie Johnson Jr.). Not yet elected is the other Hall-of-Famer to have contributed to the 1957 World Championship, Red Schoendienst.
* Atlanta players Aaron, Niekro, Murphy, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Ralph Garr, David Justice, Javy Lopez and Andruw Jones; and manager Cox. Although Joe Torre was an All-Star for the Braves in both Milwaukee and Atlanta (he even hit the 1st major league home run in Fulton County Stadium, in its opening game of April 12, 1966, before closing it as the opposing manager on October 24, 1996), and managed the Braves to the 1982 NL Western Division title, he has not been elected.
* Non-players: Team owners Bill Bartholomay and Ted Turner; team executives Bill Lucas (MLB's 1st black general manager), Paul Snyder and John Schuerholz; broadcasters Johnson, Skip Caray, Pete van Wieren and Don Sutton (a HOF pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers); and trainer Dave Pursley.
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 (rendered in blue numbers on a red flag). Then there’s 4 that are for Pennants where the Braves went on to lose the World Series (red on yellow): 1991, ’92, ’96 and ’99. There's 12 Division Championships where the Braves did not go on to win the Pennant (blue on yellow): 1969, ’82, ’93, ’97, ’98, 2000, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’04, '05 and '13. And 2 Wild Card berths (white on yellow): 2010 and '12.
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 from 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 over 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.
Pete 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," giving the Braves a bit of popularity 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. (Long title. No, Fiona Apple did not collaborate on it.) True, the success of the Braves and their big (for the time), automobile-accommodating 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 of 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. A recent Thrillist article on "Baseball's Most Intolerable Fans" put Braves fans near the middle of the pack, 13th: "Even when Maddux was dealing in his prime they couldn't always sell out playoff games. Basically, if you aren’t college football in Georgia, don't bother. Hell, even the Tomahawk Chop was ripped off from Florida State. This is the suburban strip mall of franchises, so it's all too appropriate that they’ll soon be in the suburbs."
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. 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.
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. 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.
The Friday night game will be followed by fireworks. The Saturday night game will have a giveaway: Bobblehead dolls of former Braves announcers Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren. And the Sunday afternoon game will have a postgame concert by TobyMac.
The Braves are wearing sleeve patches commemorating Turner Field's final season, and a memorial patch reading "DEWSY" for longtime coach and minor-league instructor Bobby Dews, who died last December.
The Braves hold auditions for National Anthem singers, instead of having a regular singer. 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.
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 made you feel during the Clinton Years.
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.
Levi Walker Jr., alias Chief Noc-a-Homa, and Hank Aaron
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.
The Chief's tepee, in left field at Fulton County Stadium
Instead, they 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 Braves use "Kernkraft 400" by Zombie Nation as a postgame victory song. Win or lose, the play Ray Charles' version of "Georgia On My Mind."
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. MARTA Red Line to Dunwoody, then transfer to Number 5 bus.
Mazzy's, at 2217 Roswell Road in Marietta, is the home of the local Jets fan club, but it's 20 miles north, and forget about reaching it by public transportation. The club also lists Bada Bing's, at 349 Decatur Street SE, just 1 stop east of Five Points on the MARTA Green Line (fitting), but they claim Mazzy's is their "perfect place." Meehan's Public House is also said to be a Jet fans' hangout. 227 Sandy Springs Place, at the CityWalk shopping center, just outside I-285. MARTA Red Line to Dunwoody, transfer to the 87 bus.
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.
A recent Thrillist article on the best sports bars in each State listed The Midway Pub as the best in Georgia. It's about 3 1/2 miles east of downtown, at 552 Flat Shoals Avenue SE. Number 74 bus.
If your visit to Atlanta is during the European soccer season, which is now approaching its climax, your best bet to watch your favorite club is the Brewhouse Cafe, at 401 Moreland Avenue NE. MARTA Blue Line to Inman Park-Reynoldstown.
Sidelights. When the Thrashers moved to become the new Winnipeg Jets 2 years 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; to the NFL Falcons from 1966 to 1991; and to the Atlanta Chiefs of the North American Soccer League (Champions 1968) from 1967 to 1973. It was in what’s now the parking lot north of Turner Field.
* SunTrust Park. Construction is well underway on the new ballpark, named for a bank, that the Braves hope to open in April 2017, in Cumberland, Cobb County, Georgia. It's in Atlanta's northwestern suburbs.
The Braves have tried to justify the move by saying that this is "near the geographic center of the Braves' fan base." This may be true. But the proposed move would also get them out of the majority-black City of Atlanta and into the center of mostly-white, Tea Party-country Georgia. Gee, I wonder if there's a connection, especially now that the famously inclusive Ted Turner no longer owns the team? (Ironically, Tea Party groups have opposed the building of the stadium, citing the taxes that would have to be implemented for it.)
Seriously, the Braves have got it backwards: Whereas many teams in the various sports left the inner city for the suburbs, or at least for suburban parts of their cities, in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and then came back downtown in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, the Braves built Fulton County Stadium downtown in 1965 (and then Turner Field downtown in 1996), and are going out to the suburbs in 2017. Do they really think this is going to increase their oft-mocked attendance? We shall see.
Capacity will be about 41,000. It is northwest of the interchange of Interstates 75 and 285, on Circle 75 Parkway, 13 miles northwest of Five Points. MARTA Gold to Arts Center, then transfer to Number 10 bus. The Braves also plan to use a "circulator" bus system to shuttle fans to and from the stadium.
Construction photo, dated March 31, 2016
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 and 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).
Elvis Presley sang at the Omni on June 21, 29, 30 and July 3, 1973; April 30, May 1 and 2, 1975; June 4, 5, 6 and December 30, 1976.
The U.S. national soccer team played at the Georgia Dome on July 22, 2015, losing 2-1 to Jamaica.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a new retractable-roof stadium for the Falcons and Major League Soccer's expansion Atlanta United FC, is under construction, just south of the Georgia Dome, which, presumably, will be demolished. Like SunTrust Park, it's expected to open in time for its sport's 2017 season. It is in the running to host Super Bowl LIII (in February 2019) or LIV (2020), and the NFL will decide next month on those, so Atlanta has a 50-50 chance of getting one of them.
The CNN Center is adjacent to the arena, and the College Football Hall of Fame just to the north of that, at 250 Marietta Street NW. MARTA Gold or Red to Dome-GWCC-Philips Arena stop.
* Hank McCamish Pavilion. The Georgia Institute of Technology (a.k.a. Georgia Tech) has played basketball here at "the Thrillerdome" since 1956. Originally named the Alexander Memorial Coliseum, for legendary football coach Bill Alexander, the building underwent a renovation from 2010 to 2012, funded in large part by a donation from the McCamish family.
The Pavilion 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 Arena was built on The Omni's site. The WNBA's Atlanta Dream will play their 2017 and '18 seasons there, due to renovations at Philips Arena. 965 Fowler Street NW. MARTA Gold or Red Line to Midtown.
* 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 a little over 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). MARTA Gold or Red to North Avenue. (UGa's Sanford Stadium is 71 miles east of Five Points, at 100 Sanford Drive in Athens. Take I-85, or Megabus from MARTA Civic Center station.)
In between Grant Field and the Thrillerdome is Russ Chandler Stadium, Tech's baseball facility. Although they've never won a National Championship, the list of players they've sent to the majors leagues includes Marty Marion, Marlon Byrd, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Mark Teixeira. 255 5th Street NW.
A few steps away from Grant Field, 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 -- and 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. (To make it even more confusing, the Negro Leagues had a team called the Atlanta Black Crackers.)
The team won a Pennant in 1895, before the 1st ballpark with the name was built. In the 1st park, they won Pennants in 1907, 1909, 1913, 1917 and 1919. In the 2nd, 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 20 Pennants.
The park also hosted high school football and the occasional prizefight, including the last fight in the career 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 there until their final season, 1965, before the Braves arrived the next year. That last season, 1965, was played at what became Fulton County Stadium, 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 1st 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.
In 1979, Georgia State University bought the Auditorium, and converted it into their alumni hall, renaming it for alumnus Bill Dahlberg. Courtland Street & Auditorium Place SE. Just 5 blocks east of Five Points, and within walking distance.
Ty Cobb is buried in his family's mausoleum in Rose Hill Cemetery, in his hometown of Royston, 93 miles northeast of Atlanta. It can only be reached by car.
* 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's Blue and Green Lines 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.
The Carters have announced that, unlike most recent Presidents, they will not be buried at their Presidential Library, but rather in their hometown of Plains, 158 miles south of Atlanta. Whether they will be participating in any events at the Library during any of the Mets' visits this season, I don't know, but in spite of their ages, they do get around rather well.
There are also museums honoring Gone With the Wind 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.
Elvis sang at the historic Fox Theater early in his career, giving 6 shows in 2 days, March 14 and 15, 1956. 660 Peachtree Street NE at Ponce de Leon Avenue. MARTA Gold or Red Line to North Avenue. He topped that from June 22 to 24, giving 10 shows in 3 days (including a personal record 4 on the 23rd -- he was a lot younger then) at the Paramount Theater, next-door to the Loew's Grand Theater, famous for being the site of the world premiere of Gone With the Wind.
Both the Paramount and the Loew's Grand (which burned in a suspected insurance scam in 1978) have been demolished, and replaced by the Georgia-Pacific Tower. John Wesley Dobbs Avenue & Peachtree Street NE. MARTA Gold or Red Line to Peachtree Center.
In addition to the preceding, Elvis gave concerts at the following Georgia locations: 2 shows at the City Auditorium in Waycross on February 22, 1956; the Bell Municipal Auditorium in Augusta on March 20 and June 27, 1956; 2 shows at the Savannah Sports Arena on June 25, 1956; the Savannah Civic Center on February 17, 1977; and at the Macon Coliseum on April 15, 1972 (2 shows); April 24, 1975; and August 31, 1976. He was supposed to sing there again on April 2, 1977, but his lifestyle was catching up with him, and the show was postponed, and done on June 1.
Atlanta is the home base of actor-writer-producer-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 Avenue SW, 3 miles southwest of downtown. MARTA Gold or Red Line to Oakland City, then a 10-minute walk north. I think it's a private home, so don't bother whoever lives there. Especially if there's somebody living there who's like Madea.
The most famous TV show set in Georgia was The Dukes of Hazzard. 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. 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. The movie version, like the TV version set in the fictional town of Sparta, Mississippi, was filmed in Tennessee and Illinois, as Sidney Poitier refused to cross the Mason-Dixon Line to film his scenes.
Atlanta has attracted the supernatural, including The Walking Dead, The Vampire Diaries 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 Avenue. 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 Street in the show (the address does exist in neighboring Decatur), isn't even in Georgia: It's in Little Rock, Arkansas, hometown of series co-creator and writer Harry Thomason. (His co-creator and writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason is from Poplar Bluff, Missouri.)
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 -- a better chance than you had from 2009 to 2014.
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. Of course, you'll have another chance to cross a ballpark off your list next year.