When I watched the Atlanta Braves on television during the 2017 season, I excitedly tuned in to see the various camera angles of brand new SunTrust Park. As a guy who loves MLB stadiums, I become like a kid in a candy store when a new park opens. However, my usual enthusiasm for the debut of a baseball gem was more subdued with SunTrust Park. After a couple games of scouring every shot provided to me by Fox Sports, I tweeted out my thoughts.
From what I saw, the Atlanta Braves ballpark was just basic. No quirks, no landmarks, no identifiers. Oh well, I thought, its true personality must be hidden from television cameras. It must take an actual visit to SunTrust Park to see how it separates itself from other stadiums in Major League Baseball.
This assumption proved to be both right and wrong.
After catching a game in SunTrust Park this past weekend, I can report that it is pretty much exactly what I gleaned from watching games on TV: It is basic. Not that “basic” is a bad thing. SunTrust is a clean, organized facility with the best Wi-Fi network in professional sports (they say everyone in the stadium could post a selfie to social media simultaneously with no lag time). But it definitely doesn’t stand out from older parks, nor does it have any distinguishing features to give it its own unique personality. To some, it might be easy to look at the new park and compare it to Turner Field and ask did we really need a new stadium in the first place?
Here is the truth: Although SunTrust Park itself might be underwhelming, people will quickly realize that they could have just built a giant cardboard box and seen an improvement from the old gameday experience. You see, it isn’t about the inside of SunTrust Park, it is about what surrounds it.
By far, out of the many MLB stadiums I have visited, the community district that surrounds SunTrust Park is the best of them all. The Atlanta Braves didn’t move to give fans a world class ballpark, they moved to give fans a comprehensive gameday experience in a safe area.
The Battery is an area of bars, restaurants, and shops that anchors the ballpark. Spanning a few blocks, the area leads up to the outfield gates and includes plenty of green space and a music venue. Before and after games, The Battery’s streets are filled with fans, entertainers, and vendors.
Sidney and I had an absolute blast. We took an Uber right up to the edge of The Battery and then went exploring. We hung out on the rooftop of an entertainment venue/bar called Punch Bowl Social and watched as Braves and Brewers fans walked up and down the sun soaked streets. We listened to a band while carrying our beers wherever we wanted. We stood on a bridge that runs above The Battery and took in some pristine people watching. We enjoyed various juggling, dancing, and singing acts taking place right in front of us.
An atmosphere that mixes a festival feel with sporting passion, we conceded that the situation outside of Turner Field couldn’t deliver an ounce of what we were experiencing outside of SunTrust Park. I can honestly say that the location change, in my mind, justified the need for a new ballpark.
Shifting quickly back to the stadium itself, please don’t think that SunTrust Park is a total dump –– it isn’t. Like I said, it is beyond adequate, it just won’t “wow” you. But the effort put forth to make the game enjoyable will. The promotions that take place between innings are fresh and engaging. The food is delicious (I had chicken tenders and fries). The video board is crystal clear and the sound system state of the art. But make no mistake about it, the draw of SunTrust Park is what goes on beyond the outfield wall. Don’t Blink.