Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Home of the Braves?

Here we go. Yet another post NOT about food – unless I can somehow tie in stadium hot dogs, Cracker Jacks and beer. Ever since Monday’s shocking announcement that the Braves are looking to leave Turner Field for greener pastures north of town, I’ve been obsessed. I’ve read every article under the sun, I’ve participated in angry rants on Facebook and I’ve certainly felt the five steps of grief (in a short span of 3 days). Here’s a look inside my brain through each of the steps:

1.  Denial
What??? Surely this can’t be true. I bet it’s a bargaining chip. They’re just trying to get the city of Atlanta to pony up more money. They’re going to stay at Turner Field.

2. Anger
Those greedy bastards! Stupid Liberty Media (the owner of the Braves) – they don’t care about this city, all they care about is money.  How could the mayor just let the Braves go? I guess there weren’t any kickbacks for him and his cronies. Why has Atlanta been so stupid historically with development? What about the history? How can a not even 20-year-old multi-million dollar stadium already be obsolete – disposable? This is an outrage!

3. Bargaining
What can we do to save Turner Field and keep the Braves here? If only the city had fulfilled its promises to redevelop the space around the stadium! If only they hadn’t given kickbacks to corrupt neighborhood “leaders” who squandered the money and kept large pockets of the stadium neighborhoods in poverty. Perhaps we can convince them to stay and invest here?  Maybe it’s not too late!

4. Depression
Oh, it’s all hopeless. The Braves will move away and a perfectly good stadium will sit empty and covered in kudzu. All the progress the stadium neighborhoods have made over the years will vanish. It will be a crime-ridden wasteland. Miles and miles of asphalt in a “bad part of town” – yeah, that’s a developer’s dream. Kasim Reed is lying through his teeth. Our property values are going to plummet. All hope is lost! Asheville looks nice.

5. Acceptance
OK, Braves – if that’s how you want it to be, fine. Go ahead and see if your preferred northern suburban fans turn out for you. Good luck figuring out how to lessen the traffic on I-285 on game day. Have fun with that! Maybe our neighborhoods will be better off without you.

Throughout my stages of grief, I’m continually asking myself: why do I care so much? It’s just a baseball team. The world will not end if the Atlanta Braves never play another game here or in Cobb County. I guess I care because the team was/is part of my community – and hence my identity. For 12 years, I lived just a few blocks from the stadium (now we live just a tiny bit further down the road). I could hear all the cheers, we walked to games, experienced the excitement of opening day and felt the crushing blow of their post-season defeats. I learned how to navigate game day traffic. The boom of Friday night fireworks never caught me off guard. As I became a mother and my boys embraced the sport of baseball, the Braves became even more a part of my life. My 8-year-old couldn’t be a bigger fan and he is devastated. With sweeping arm motions, the poor child said yesterday, “If they blow up Turner Field, it’s like all those memories will just go KABOOM!” And he’s right.

In spite of the traffic, the congestion, the crime that inevitably comes around when 40,000 people are gathered together, the Braves are a part of the fabric of these intown neighborhoods. And yes, the stadium neighborhoods have been screwed over in big ways going back to 1965 when under the pretense of “urban renewal” the city built the Braves’ first home – Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. But, they’ve also benefited in some ways and could benefit even more if the city would actually DO something to renovate the vacant properties they own, kick out slumlords and invest in the area’s future. Just a few blocks from Turner Field are gorgeous mid-century storefronts – boarded up and empty. The Braves want themed development around the stadium? There is so much potential sitting right there. Want someone to blame? Look at City Hall, look at corrupt neighborhood leaders who would prefer to keep people in poverty so they retain their power, look at the Braves who say that their perfectly fine modern stadium needs $150 million in improvements, look at greedy businessmen and politicians who pledge tax dollars without even asking their constituents. There is plenty of blame to go around.

Hopefully by writing this I can make my peace and move on. Hopefully I can stop obsessing and getting my feelings hurt when people call my neighborhood crime-ridden, dirty and unsafe. I just know that I will never feel the same way about the Braves. When I sit in the stands for the next two three seasons (and yes, I will still go because I have a true Braves fan for a son), I’ll feel a little empty as I look out over the skyline and think about what could have been. Even if the city is able to broker a deal for the Braves to stay, I’ll still feel a little empty.

My feelings are hurt. We do our best to attend several games a year. We sit in the cheap seats and don’t spend a lot of money on food and “fan experiences.” We’re there to watch the baseball. My son doesn’t even want to get out of his seat and go to the bathroom for fear he’ll miss something. Isn’t that why we’re all crammed into a giant stadium in the blazing sun or under the blaring lights: to watch men play baseball? With their heat map of ticket buyers and all their metrics on who spends money and how much, the Braves are basically saying they don’t care about fans like us. We’re from the Southside and we’re not rich. They’d prefer a smaller stadium where they can charge more for seats and tack on restaurants and themed experiences to suck more money out of people. Going to a game will be an elite experience. What happened to the love of the game?

So for now, I’m trudging through the “acceptance” phase. What will be will be. Maybe by opening day I’ll get over my melancholy. Or maybe I just need to find a college or minor league team to embrace.

How do you feel? If you could care less, need to vent, need a virtual hug, or think a new stadium is just what the Braves need, feel free to comment here. And I promise one of these days, I’ll get back to food!


  1. Love this, Rachel. I, too, have gone through the five steps. At the end of it all, I'm most sad for my son who loves being able to ride his bike to the stadium when we decide on a whim to get mid-week cheap seats. We've made a lot of memories at Turner Field, and I will miss it as a part of our daily lives. These are the stories that aren't being told...

    1. Excellent. We are right there with you. For me as a youth in East Point, then a family 8 miles OTP off I-85, and now two generations in Decatur and Doraville who attend multiple games, even Spring training in FL, we are a baseball family. We are heartbroken about the move and about the blight and unemployed left behind.

      "We’re there to watch the baseball. My son doesn’t even want to get out of his seat and go to the bathroom for fear he’ll miss something."

      I just had this conversation about all those fan-experience-lovers who arrive late, get up multiple times to shop, and leave early. Not in my family, not in my baseball loving family. So they build it for THOSE people, and I know where we rank after nearly 50 years of love.

    2. Thanks so much for commenting! This is a particularly tough blow for us baseball people!

  2. This is very tough news for the fans of the Braves who live near the stadium. If I were a Grant Park resident I'd strong consider building some kind of buffer zone - maybe knock down a row of empty tenements and turn it into green soccer fields to create some separation.

    But the Braves are leaving for really good reasons, best exemplified by the fact that a fan got shot in the face last May walking home from a game. They are one gang-violence mass-shooting spillover incident away from having an empty stadium and they know it.

    As for traffic, think about it. Do you suppose all those Cobb County and North Fulton County fans on the team's heat map of ticket sales just had smooth sailing down to your side of town to watch the games? Ha! Traffic was *already* horrible for the vast majority of Braves fans. The I-75/I-285 junction is no worse than the downtown connector merger on game day, and when you do get off to go to the game, you won't be surrounded by crack dens.

    I totally sympathize with the downtown fan who is losing their perks of quick and easy access. But 95% of Braves fans don't live down town.

    1. I suspect that the traffic situation won't get much better for anyone. The route situation was bad before, but it's getting much, much worse. Currently, you can come from I-20 or the connector. On I-20 you can get off on Boulevard or Hill Street. On the connector you can get off on Fulton, on University, or really a number of other exits. You can come from Marta and hoof it 3/4 of a mile or take a shuttle from basically anywhere and never have a car on the road. There are options. The new system will have everyone on I-75 or I-285, which are already rush-hour nightmares today. My wife works on Windy Ridge Parkway, which is neighboring the new park location. The traffic ALREADY is maddening. On non-game days, the traffic that far south on the connector and I-20 is much milder, so it's much better to absorb the load. In any case, I'm glad if getting to the games will be easier for you. It just doesn't make much sense to me, and I'm fully aware that I'm completely biased.

    2. Thank you for your comment. I’m aware of the shooting that happened in May. It happened near a friend’s house on a “good street” in Grant Park. There was also a story in the AJC this morning about a boy in Cobb who was almost abducted getting off the school bus. Unfortunately, there is no way to create buffers as you say. Crime happens everywhere. And as for mass shootings, if you look at the news, most of those have happened in the suburbs and even sleepy little New England towns. Yes, we do have more crime problems in the city because we have more poverty. Our city government has let us down by not doing more to combat crime, enforce code violations, hold corrupt neighborhood leaders accountable, provide more services and truly invest in these neighborhoods. I am sad and concerned about the Braves leaving not because it will be an inconvenience for me and I’ll miss the luxury of walking to games, but rather what it will mean for the life of this city and these neighborhoods. It’s clear that many people don’t get what it’s like to live down here. They’d rather make generalizations about public housing, crack dens, gangs, beggars, welfare moms and the like when in reality there are a lot of hardworking people and tight-knit neighborhoods who believe in the importance of diversity, historic preservation, walkability and a thriving city center. The Braves moving to the ‘burbs may be a good business decision for them and maybe it will please a few northern suburban fans, but it’s bad for the city and something I think we will come to regret as a region in the years to come.

  3. Well I think there's a slight bit of good news for you. You mention that you'll go for the next 2 seasons, implying they'll move after that. But aren't there 3 seasons left? They move in 2017, no? Doesn't that mean we still get 2014, 2015, and 2016 in the Ted?

    1. Well, that is a bit of a bright spot. Thanks! I got my years confused. Still will be bizarre -- at least it feels that way now.

  4. And by the way, I love your article. I'm also a local (I live in Chosewood Park, about 1.5 miles from the stadium), and I didn't realize how much it would bother me to lose the Braves to the suburbs until it happened. I can't blame the Braves, I imagine it's hard to turn your back on half a billion dollars, but it still hurts.

  5. What a beautiful essay, Rachel.

    After dealing with many friends moving to the burbs this year, or considering it, I've come to the conclusion that it's apples to oranges. Both have their advantages and negatives. It's sad that some choose to turn this into a class/race issue, like the Braves are too good for the city.

    I wonder if the mayor has ever really spent much time in great cities around the world. He seems to be letting our history and our culture, what makes our city unique, go to the dogs or neglecting them until they move, like the Braves.

  6. My feelings are hurt, too. It's so awkward! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing, Rachel!