Disappointing. That's what Coolray Field is. For what was spent, the suburban Atlanta home of the Atlanta Braves' Triple-A team should be so much more than what it is, but the stadium in Georgia's Gwinnett County is so run-of-the-mill it's shocking.
Fast-tracked to the tune of $64 million, with the fast-tracking tacking on many millions, Gwinnett County had a mere 10 months to build a ballpark in their city of Lawrenceville to pry the Braves' Triple-A team out of Richmond, Virginia, where they had been for 43 years. Coolray Field was successful in that endeavor. But success has not been the standard this ballpark has otherwise set.
Combining a ho-hum design with a lousy location, just getting to the undistinguished ballpark isn't easy for anybody living very far south, east or west of it, thanks to the almost daily traffic tie-ups courtesy of Spaghetti Junction, the nearby notorious interchange of interstates 85 and 285.
While the choice of location pretty much takes full advantage of the most impressive of Atlanta's infamous traffic jams, the hard-to-reach ballpark fails to impress with its features. It's fair to say the signature one is the large retaining wall that spans left field. But it's simply a lengthy and tall beige stone wall that is actually a very short distance behind the outfield fence, so it's not functionally charming like Fenway Park's Green Monster, nor does Gwinnett's wall have any kind of moniker that it goes by.
Nice touches are also hard to come by. For example, though the light towers light the field just fine, they look like the light towers you find at high school football stadiums. While that can be considered irrelevant, not angling the stadium seating down the outfield lines toward the infield is a startling oversight, especially since that had become a commonplace practice before this place was constructed. Similarly, don't come here expecting to find drink rails on the concourse that overlooks the sunken playing field, as there's generally nothing behind the last row of seats except for open space.
Also missing is any auxiliary scoreboard for the folks sitting in right field. The only scoreboard in the stadium is behind them, and its shape is an oddity. So rather than the standard-for-a-reason horizontal scoreboard, you'll find a vertical one here, and that means the digital line score is compressed to fit the screen size.
The stadium itself is unbalanced. Seating extends all the way down to the left field foul pole, but comes up a couple sections shy of the pole in right. A lot more people can sit on the grass hill that takes up all of right field, opposed to the little bit of it that is in left-center. And in the upper level, twice as many suites extend down the first base side of the ballpark as can be found on the third base side. All of that stands in stark contrast to the playing field, which is quirkless and perfectly symmetrical.
Filling the berm, seats, suites, and the plentiful standing room around the field has been a problem for the Gwinnett Braves, who have struggled to draw fans ever since day 2. Capacity is 10,427, which was the opening night crowd at what opened as Gwinnett Stadium, but having more empty seats than filled ones is the norm, and by their second season, which was the debut of the stadium's present name, the G-Braves were selling so few tickets that they ranked next to last in the category in the 14-team International League.
No statistic is more telling about the place than that.
To be fair, I had high expectations for this stadium and my disappointment of it has a lot to do with that. Since it came into being, Gwinnett Stadium/Coolray Field has been the closest minor league ballpark to me. The firm hired to design it, HKS Architects, has, in my well-traveled opinion, on the whole done a better job at drawing up ballpark plans than anybody else among those with enough experience to have a portfolio, but their vision that was executed here, most likely because of haste, was far too basic for a talented team that has excelled in producing novel designs elsewhere.
Granted, it's not that I think Coolray Field is a bad ballpark, so much as it isn't really a good one. And it's just hard to praise ordinary, especially when the price tag was extraordinary.
Location and Parking
The stadium is a short drive from I-85. Just take exit 115 and go east on GA Highway 20/Buford Drive. Parking is plentiful and paved lots encircle most of the stadium. The cost to park in one is $5.