The Atlanta Braves have set a hallmark for excellence with their on-field play and their ballpark lives up to the high standards set by the franchise.
Turner Field is one of only two modern ballparks to be built as an afterthought for baseball, as it was originally an 85,000-seat stadium that served as the centerpiece of the 1996 Summer Olympics. But unlike Montreal’s disastrous Olympic Stadium, erected for the 1976 Summer Games and an eyesore during the Expos tenure there, Atlanta was able to turn Centennial Olympic Stadium into an ideal venue for baseball after the Summer Games were history.
The end result of the transformation turned a large, fully enclosed stadium into a beautiful baseball-only facility seating 50,528. As an added bonus for the Braves, the ballpark didn’t cost the team a dime since it was a gift from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG).
Renamed Turner Field, after former Braves owner (and manager…for one game) Ted Turner, the Atlanta Braves began play at The Ted in 1997. The ballpark is located on the southern edge of downtown Atlanta and fans face an attractive skyline that’s visible from anywhere in the upper deck.
But the first thing fans will notice at Turner Field is the high-definition video display board. Towering above the batter’s backdrop in center field, the can’t miss scoreboard is 71 feet tall by 79 feet wide and features high definition images so vivid that they jump out at fans in a three-dimensional manner. Built by Mitsubishi, the most dazzling scoreboard in the Major Leagues came with a $10 million price tag and made its debut in 2005.
Directly behind the scoreboard is the Grand Entry Plaza, which features an open-air market of concessions options that include Skip and Pete's Hall of Fame Barbecue, named after popular Braves announcers Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren. The Fan Plaza is almost always crowded because the vast majority of Braves fans enter Turner Field through one of the outfield gates.
Turner Field’s other top destinations all reside in the outfield, tops among them the Chop House bar and restaurant above the right-center field seats. The Chop House features a large outdoor patio that always fills up well before the game starts and remains packed throughout, regardless of attendance and weather conditions.
The sizeable Coca-Cola Sky Field was built on the left field roof of Turner and fans pack the railings for great views. Sky Field has a dirt basepath for kids to run on, a 38-foot high Coke bottle covered with baseball equipment, and a concession stand that used to sell Cokes for just $1.50, but now charges regular price.
Since it’s about 550 feet from home plate and 90 feet above the playing field, fans aren’t likely to ever see a baseball reach Sky Field, but in the late ‘90s Coke offered a $1 million prize for the first fan to catch a ball up there. When Mark McGwire came to town the place was a madhouse, but no one ever came close to cashing in on the prize.
Six retired numbers (including Georgia-born Jackie Robinson) line the façade of Sky Field and the five players from the Braves organization, which includes their years in Boston and Milwaukee, have their picture and number printed on the outfield fence. In order of their appearance from left to right on the wall, the Braves have retired the numbers belonging to Warren Spahn (#21), Dale Murphy (#3), Eddie Matthews (#41), Phil Niekro (#35) and Hank Aaron (#44).
Aaron hit all but 22 of his record 755 home runs as a member of the Braves and the team paid tribute to him by naming their exclusive restaurant/special events center after his famous accomplishment. Directly below Sky Field, the 755 Club is open year-round and is a hot spot for corporate functions, weddings, and even proms. Entrance into the 755 Club on game day requires a special pass, in addition to the ticket you need to get into Turner Field.
Aaron’s honors extend outside the confines of Turner Field, which happens to reside at 755 Hank Aaron Drive. In the parking lot across the street from the Ted is the original section of outfield wall that Aaron hit his record-breaking 715th home run over. Standing in the middle of the parking lot built on the site of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the wall still has the commemorative baseball-shaped marker celebrating Aaron’s historic homer on it.
Back inside the Ted, the Braves celebrate the history of their franchise at the Braves Museum. Located behind aisle 134 on the lower concourse, the museum is open year-round and features hundreds of artifacts from the team’s history. Admission is only $2 on game days.
Befitting of a stadium built to host championship level athletes and events, the Braves finished in first place in the N.L. East in their first 9 seasons at Turner Field. Pennants from each of Atlanta’s 16 division titles are on the façade of the open-air, tiered seating restaurant in left-center field. The pennants have completely filled the façade, so one can only wonder what would’ve happened had the Braves extended their run of 14 division titles in 2006.
Although the Braves finally faltered in the standings in 2006, attention to the fan experience at their ballpark is probably tops in the Majors. The Braves make a great impression upon entrance by handing out a free fan guide filled with information about the Braves, their opponent and Turner Field. No other team features so many between innings promotions and fans wanting a distraction during the game will find plenty of interactive activities at Scouts Alley in left field.
Due to a large seating capacity and somewhat apathetic fan base, Turner Field only sells out a few times a year. With plenty of inexpensive tickets available and good seats unused, there’s no reason to pay top-dollar for a seat since you can buy a cheap one and move rather freely about the ballpark thanks to the normally lenient ushers.
With the exception of the far-away seats in the right field upper deck there aren’t any bad spots in the house, although the best seats in the upper deck get rather dark for night games since there is no stadium lighting tower behind home plate.
Parking is plentiful outside of Turner Field. There’s no point in parking in the pricey official team lots when there are various secure “gypsy lots” on the other side of the interstate that charge only $5. If you don’t mind a 15-minute walk, park your car at the State Capitol building, located about one mile from Turner Field. A secret to most fans, the surface street parking there is free on weekends and after 6 PM during the week.
A decade after the Olympics were held on the same grounds, one of the lasting legacies from the ’96 Games remains visible outside Turner Field, where the Olympic cauldron still stands. A few other mementoes from the Olympics can be found on the walk from the Capitol to the ballpark.
Unlike most ballparks, the Ted’s main gathering and entrance point isn’t behind home plate, which is why just about all of the parking options start north of the ballpark, beyond the outfield. When arriving at the ballpark's north end, fans will notice an attractive exterior of brick and limestone. A large, paved area called Monument Grove is located outside the ballpark. The Grove is a meeting place for fans and features statues of Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro and Ty Cobb.
Development around Turner Field is minimal, and besides one bland sports bar, any post-game activity will involve getting in a car and driving into the city whose skyline serves as Turner's backdrop.
While the Braves have earned the unfortunate reputation of fading on the playing field when it matters most, the home of the Braves doesn’t leave fans disappointed. With its unique history and fan friendliness, Turner Field is a comfortable ballpark that exudes southern hospitality on a big league level.