Monday, April 24, 2017

How to Be a Met Fan In Atlanta -- 2017 Edition

 
Next Monday, the Mets go down to the land of cotton to face the team their fans, in their usual amount of wisdom (rolleyes), used to consider their arch-rivals, the Atlanta Braves. This 4-game series, running through Thursday, will be their 1st visit to the Braves' new ballpark, SunTrust Park.

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.

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 high 70s for the afternoons and the high 50s for the evenings, with a prediction of "Showers late" on Monday and "numerous showers" on Thursday. So at least one of these games could be postponed by the weather.

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, its official capacity at its close being 49,586. The Braves averaged 24,949 per home game last season, so for a regular-season game at their new 41,149-seat SunTrust Park, 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. Lower level infield seats go for $78, second deck for $53, bleachers for $25, 300 Level for $19, 400 Level for $17, and seats in the upper deck in left field are $9.00. No, that’s not a misprint: Nine 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, and costs $148 round-trip (though it can be as low as $120 on advanced purchase). But 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 return trip leaves Atlanta at 8:04 PM and arrives in New Yorknthe next day at 1:48. The round-trip fare is $304. 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, you can get nonstop round-trip flights from Newark Liberty International Airport to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for $831. True, that’s a lot more expensive than the train, but 2½ 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 472,000 people (slightly less than Staten Island), in a metropolitan area of about 6.4 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 downtown Atlanta 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 City of Atlanta, in the State of Georgia, and in the Southeast, at 1,023 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 4-day pass is a bargain at $19. The subway started running with tokens in 1979, and switched to farecards known as Breezecards in 2006.
Atlanta has always been the cultural capital of the South, particularly of the "New South." In the 1950s, Mayor Hartsfield, knowing that he couldn't get investors in his city if it was believed to be racist, billed it as "the City Too Busy to Hate." And Atlanta is a majority-black city. Nevertheless, it is still in Georgia, which is still the South. There's still old touches, including the fixation on Gone With the Wind, and the fact that the State Flag, even after several redesigns, still resembles the actual flag of the Confederate States of America, "the Stars and Bars" (not the "Southern Cross," that was the Confederate Battle Flag).
Going In. Unlike the Braves' previous stadiums, and the present and former venues for the NFL's Falcons, the NBA's Hawks, the NHL's Flames and Thrashers, MLS' Atlanta United, and Georgia Tech, SunTrust Park, the new home of MLB's Braves, is nowhere near downtown Atlanta. It's not even in the city, but in Cumberland, in Cobb County, in Atlanta's northwestern suburbs.

Despite not actually being in Atlanta, the official address is "755 Battery Avenue Southeast, Atlanta, GA 30339." The number, as with Turner Field's 755 Hank Aaron Drive before it, is a tribute to Aaron and his career home run total. (Aaron threw out the ceremonial first ball before the regular-season opener.) It is northwest of the interchange of Interstates 75 and 285, on Circle 75 Parkway, 12 miles northwest of Five Points.

There are several shopping centers around it, but let's not kid ourselves here: The Braves have got it seriously 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 have gone out to the suburbs in 2017.

Do they really think this is going to increase their oft-mocked attendance? So far, yes: Average attendance for the 1st 7 games there is 30,770, an increase of about 5,800.

Why was Turner Field replaced after only 20 seasons? It wasn't in bad shape, right? Actually, it had 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 have cost $150 million. The team said that "fan improvement renovations" would add another $200 million. That's $350 million, just to fix up an existing ballpark, an amount that (with inflation factored in) they might have to pay every 20 years. And the City of Atlanta wasn't willing to pay that, due to other priorities, like school and street upkeep.

The Braves also said that they didn'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.
As you can see, there's now lots of
commercial development around it.
Downtown Atlanta can be seen, well-off in the distance.

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.

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 move has also gotten them out of the majority-black City of Atlanta and into the center of the mostly-white, Tea Party-country of Georgia wouldn't have happened while the famously inclusive Ted Turner still owned the team. Ironically, Tea Party groups opposed the building of the stadium, citing the taxes that would have to be implemented for it.

To get there by public transportation from downtown, take the MARTA subway Red or Gold Line to Arts Center, then transfer to the Number 10 bus. It should take a little over an hour. If you drive in, parking runs from $18 to $23, depending on the lot.

SunTrust is a banking company, whose corporate ancestor was founded in Atlanta in 1891, and its downtown headquarters, the 869-foot SunTrust Plaza, is the 2nd-tallest building in the City and the State.

Capacity is 41,149. The field is natural grass, and points just to the east of due south. Field dimensions are very similar to those of Turner Field: 335 feet to left field (the same), 385 to left center (5 feet further), 400 to center (the same), 375 to right-center (15 feet closer), and 325 to right (5 feet further).
Like its 2 predecessors in Atlanta, SunTrust Park is a hitters' park, partly due to the heat and humidity, and partly due to Atlanta's elevation, which made it the highest city in the major leagues until Denver was expanded into MLB. So far, the longest home run in the ballpark's 7-game history is 438 feet, by Braves 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips on April 15.

The longest home run at Turner Field was a 471-foot drive that Sammy Sosa hit (with, uh, help) 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 AARON 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 longest.

In the batter's eye area in center field, there are 3 evergreen trees, a tribute to the magnolia tree at Atlanta's old minor-league stadium, Ponce de Leon Park. Like Angel Stadium in Anaheim and Coors Field in Denver, it includes boulders; like Coors Field and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, it includes a waterfall; like Kansas City, there's a sound sensor in the system, so that the water shoots higher the louder the fans get.
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.

They have Ballpark Classics stands behind Sections 116, 135, 146, 240, 312 and 326. They have pizza stand The Slice at 107, 150, 215, 239, 313 and 343; Braves Big Bits are at 113; 1871 Grill at 113, 141, 215, 239, 313, 331 and 343; Smokey Q (barbecue) at 113 and 343; Potato Cutter (fries) at 138; Field of Greens (Vegetarian) at 148; Centerfield Market at 149; Taco Factory at 151 and 313; Sandlot Sandwiches and H&F Burger at 155; Waffle House, a great Southern tradition, at 311; The Carvery (sandwiches) at 312; Dessert Dugout at 320 and 331; Fry Box at 320; and Sausage Haus at 347.

According to a recent Thrillist article on the best food at each big-league ballpark, the best food at Turner Field was the Buffalo chicken and waffles, which could 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.)
Why in the name of Julia Child would anyone
from north of the Mason-Dixon Line eat this crap?

Team History Displays. Just to the foul side of the left field pole, on the facing of the stands, at roughly the same place in which they were placed at Turner Field, the Braves have placed their retired numbers: 3, Dale Murphy, 1980s outfielder; Number 6, Bobby Cox, 1990s and 2000s manager; Number 10, Larry Wayne Jones Jr., a.k.a. Chipper Jones, 1990s and 2000s 3rd baseman; Number 21, Warren Spahn, 1940s and '50s pitcher; Number 29, John Smoltz, 1990s and 2000s pitcher; Number 31, Greg Maddux, 1990s and 2000s pitcher; Number 35, Phil Niekro, 1960s, '70s and '80s pitcher; Number 41, Eddie Mathews, 1950s and '60s 3rd baseman and '70s manager; Number 44, Hank Aaron, 1950s, '60s and '70s right fielder; and Number 47, Tom Glavine, 1990s and 2000s pitcher (known to Met fans as "the Manchurian Brave"). The Number 42 of Jackie Robinson is also displayed there.
Both Joneses, Chipper and Andruw, become eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame next year. I suspect that, when Andruw is elected, the Braves will then retire his Number 25.

Aaron and Spahn were named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999, which was introduced in a ceremony at Turner Field before Game 2 of the World Series. That same year, they, Mathews and Maddux were named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Players. In 2006, Braves fans chose Aaron as their representative in the DHL Hometown Heroes series.

Notations for the Braves' titles are on the light towers in right field: 1914, 1957 and 1995 World Champions (1 won in each city); 1914, 1948, 1957, 1958, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1999 National League Champions (with their 12 Pennants won in Boston in the 19th Century not mentioned); 1969, 1982, 1991, 1992 and 1993 National League Western Division Champions; 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2013 National League Eastern Division Champions. (They began in Boston in 1871, moved to Milwaukee in 1953, moved to Atlanta in 1966, were put in the NL West in 1969, and in the NL East in 1994.) Unfortunately, I can't find a photograph that shows them clearly. 

But inside the concourse, there are banners for the 3 World Series won, and the plaques for the members of the Ivan Allen Jr. Braves Museum and Hall of Fame (named for the Mayor who built Fulton County Stadium, allowing for the Braves' move).
The Hall's 30 members include the following:

* Boston-era players Spahn, Herman Long, Charles "Kid" Nichols, Walter "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, who was selected for the 1st 4 All-Star Games, including being the only Brave selected for the 1st All-Star Game in 1933; and Bob Elliott, the only Boston Brave to be named NL Most Valuable Player, in 1947.

* Milwaukee-era (1953-65) 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 (1966-present) 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.

There is no notation in the ballpark for the Pennants won by the Southern Association's old Atlanta Crackers. And, let's not forget, while the fact that most of the Braves' Atlanta 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 had in their 1st 53 years, and a rate about as bad as the Chicago White Sox (5 in their 1st 104 years), Cleveland Indians (5 in their 1st 115 and 3 in their 1st 94), and Philadelphia Phillies (5 in their 1st 125 and 4 in their 1st 110).

Behind home plate, Monument Garden includes statues of Aaron, Spahn, Niekro, Cox, and the greatest baseball player ever to come from Georgia, although he died before the Braves arrived: Ty Cobb. (Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia, but was just 1 year old when his mother moved him and his siblings to the Los Angeles area.) The Cox statue is brand-new, dedicated with the new ballpark; the others were at Turner Field; the Cobb, Aaron and Niekro statues were placed outside Fulton County Stadium in 1965, 1982 and 1987, respectively.
Photo of the Aaron statue outside Turner Field.
The pose is from his 715th home run, April 8, 1974.

Incidentally, Cobb County was not named for Ty Cobb, but rather for Thomas W. Cobb, who served Georgia in both houses of Congress and was later a judge. Ty may have been a distant relative. The County Seat, Marietta, was named for Judge Cobb's wife.

Stuff. The Braves Clubhouse Store is inside the Right Field Gate. 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 now 25 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. (Perhaps too long a 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 or The Essential Games of Turner Field.

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 Falcons, 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 Braves are wearing sleeve patches commemorating SunTrust Park's inaugural season. They 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 to SunTrust Park, 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 Home Depot is based in Atlanta, and they sponsor a "mascot race": People dressed like tools. (Save your jokes.) 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.

They have a new race: "Beat The Freeze." It's a variation on the now-traditional minor-league race where a kid goes up against the mascot around the bases. It goes from foul pole to foul pole, and a fan gets a 200-foot head start on The Freeze, a.k.a. Braves grounds crew member Nigel Talton, a former high school track star in a neon green costume.
Unlike minor-league mascots racing kids,
where the kids have to be allowed to win,
The Freeze never loses.

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.

Atlanta does have a bit of a crime problem: While you'll probably be safe downtown, in Underground Atlanta, or on the subway, you don't want to wander the streets late at night.

Near SunTrust Park, there are shopping centers to the south (Cumberland Mall and Akers Mill Square) and west (Heritage Pavilion and Cumberland Square North), but if you're looking to get a postgame meal, these are likely to be closed by the time the game lets out.

There are a few restaurants adjacent to the ballpark's grounds. Beyond the right field gate are Terrapin Taproom and Fox Bros BBQ (apparently, that's 1 establishment, not 2), Yardhouse, and Antico Pizza Napoletano. Beyond the left field gate is a cafe called Voctoria's. (That's not a typo: It's not "Victoria's.")

To the west, U.S. Route 41, a.k.a. Cobb Parkway, and it has lots of familiar names: McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's IHOP, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Del Taco, Zaxby's, Steak & Shake, Applebee's, Panda Express.

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 of downtown and 7 miles north of the ballpark, 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. (They have exactly 4 posts since 2011.) 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 in 2011, 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 new MLS team, 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 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. Known simply as Atlanta Stadium until 1974, it was in what's now the parking lot north of Turner Field.
The old stadium hosted the World Series in 1991, 1992, 1995 and 1996, the last 3 games there being the Yankees' wins in Games 3, 4 and 5 of the '96 Series. It hosted NFC Playoff games in 1978 and 1991, the Peach Bowl from 1971 to 1991, and 2 matches of the U.S. national soccer team: A win over India in 1968, and a win over China in 1977. It also hosted the Beatles shortly after its opening, on August 18, 1965.

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.
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. The next home of the Braves is at the intersection of Capitol Street SE and Love Street SE, but the official address is 755 Hank Aaron Drive SE. Unfortunately, the MARTA subway doesn't 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 had a hotel within a 10-minute walk of the ballpark, you weren't going to walk there. the Number 55 bus goes from Five Points Station, the centerpoint of MARTA, to Turner Field.
Turner Field in its original configuration,
as the 1996 Olympic Stadium

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.
As seen here, with the outline of the
original configuration still in place at the north end.

The Braves played the 1999 World Series there, and hosted the 2000 All-Star Game. But it never became as treasured as some of the other neo-retro stadiums, such as those in Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia. And, while much of it retained features from Fulton County Stadium (such as the blue fence with the yellow line on top, and the yellow distance markers), the Braves didn't build up the same kind of history there: 10 Division titles to 7, but only 1 Pennant to its predecessor's 4, and no World Championships.
Instead of being completely demolished, the stadium is, once again, being converted, into a 30,000-seat football stadium for Atlanta-based Georgia State University. Since they won't need as much parking, part of the parking lots are being converted into student housing and retail property. And the school's new baseball field is being built on the site of Fulton County Stadium, so that the Aaron 715 marker will be in the exact same place on the field that it was at the old stadium.
Artist's rendering of the baseball complex

Construction on the converted facility, still with the working name of Georgia State Stadium, began in February, and the 1st Georgia State football game there is set for August 31 of this year.
Artist's rendering of the football complex

* 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 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 will host Super Bowl LIII in February 2019.

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.

With the loss of the Thrashers, the nearest NHL team to Atlanta is the Nashville Predators, 247 miles away. Atlanta would be 10th in population among NHL markets, but don't count on them ever getting another team after losing 2 within 31 years.

* 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 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, so that the tree was no longer in fair play. Although it never happened during a regular-season professional game, in exhibition games both Babe Ruth and Eddie Mathews hit home runs that hit the tree.

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.
* Dahlberg Hall. Formerly the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium, this structure opened in 1909, and was the longtime home of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra until 1968, when Woodruff Arts Center opened. In 1970, it was the site of Muhammad Ali's return to boxing, after his legal exile. He knocked Jerry Quarry out in the 3rd round.

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.

From 1924 onward, Franklin D. Roosevelt had a retreat at Warm Springs, which became known as the Little White House when he became President in 1933. He died there on April 12, 1945. 401 Little White House Road, 73 miles southwest of Atlanta.

Atlanta also has 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.

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.)

The most famous movie scene ever filmed in Georgia wasn't any scene in Gone With the Wind (that was filmed in Hollywood), but the town square scene in Forrest Gump. That was filmed in Chippewa Square, at Bull and Hull Streets, in Savannah, 250 miles southeast of Atlanta. The bench has been moved to the nearby Savannah History Museum, 303 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Most of the movie was filmed in Beaufort, South Carolina, 42 miles to the northeast, 287 miles southeast of Atlanta, and 71 miles southwest of Charleston.

*

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.

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