In a brief changeup (pun intended) from my typical posts, here's an opening day rant about why I no longer cheer for the “Atlanta” Braves.
“You can’t just switch teams like that, asshole”, David argued to me over the phone, “it’s the Braves!”
“OK then, if you’re going to make that argument – name one starting outfielder... no, name one active member of the Braves squad.” [silence] “Tell me the name of the Braves manager.” [silence]
It all started back in late 2013 when the Braves abruptly announced that they were moving their stadium from the revered Turner Field in Atlanta up north to Cobb County. For my non-Georgia friends, Cobb County is where yuppies go to die. Imagine all the worst aspects of suburbia crammed into one place - that place is Cobb County.
Like most major cities, Atlanta has a highway which circumnavigates the city – 285, or “The Perimeter” as it’s more colloquially known, unofficially denotes the boundaries of Atlanta. Some suburban addresses may say "Atlanta" despite being outside 285, but there is a vast dichotomy between Cobb and Atlanta. Everyone knows that if you live OTP (outside The Perimeter), you don’t actually live in Atlanta. The Braves’ new stadium is OTP – in ways more than one.
Calling the move "shady" is a vast understatement – the deal was made without any consultation of the fans whatsoever - solidified and announced to the shock and horror of many longtime fanatics. Braves President, John Schuerholz, even admitted that the deal had to be done secretively because it would not have gone down if the public had heard about it.
Basically, the deal was proposed at a time when the City of Atlanta simply didn’t have enough capital to keep the Braves. The city was already contributing to the $1.2 billion Falcons stadium and couldn’t afford to simultaneously foot the bill for another stadium. Knowing this full well, Braves management asked the city if it could contribute to maintenance costs, and when the answer was an expected “no”, they made plans to go elsewhere.
The deal did not only screw fans who actually live in Atlanta, though – it also screwed every citizen of Cobb County. Along with the added traffic in the already-gridlocked area, Cobb citizens also have to front a fat part of the deal - $300 million in fact – and they have no say in it.
This is how it all went down – without consulting residents, the deal was solidified and the Cobb County Commission announced that they would be using portions of property taxes to pay for the stadium. Since they were using existing taxes, they didn’t even need to enact a referendum and thus didn't require a countywide vote. The County Commissioners voted at a public meeting where opponents were prevented from speaking, and just like that, the deal was set and no one could do anything about it.
They tried to rationalize the move a variety of ways, but ultimately it was a shady, under-the-table deal that was a slap in the face to many fans.
Access: The main claim was that the new stadium provided better access to the fan base, which they argued resided mostly north of the city. They argued that Turner Field lacked highway access, which is a gross inaccuracy given that it's in walking distance to three of Atlanta’s major highways. Sure, public transit access wasn’t the simplest – it involved taking already-notorious MARTA and either walking 20 minutes or taking a free shuttle to the stadium. That being said, it still had public transit access – something that the new stadium had no proximity to. Also, the new stadium was plopped in one of the worst-trafficked areas of the south… without conducting ANY traffic studies before finalization.
Maintenance: Turner Field was reportedly in need of roughly $150 million worth of repairs (replacing seats and upgrading lighting), and even more money to improve fan experience. That being said, I never expect stadium seating to be sparkly-clean or uber-functional, and I never had issues with the lighting or environment. Sure, the stadium may not have had that brand-new shine of newer facilities, but it had character.
Surrounding Area: Admittedly, Turner Field had its issues – it wasn’t in the best part of town, but that added to the overall experience. It wasn’t a Braves game if you didn’t have a crackhead waving you into a questionable parking spot. Sure, there were many struggling people in the vicinity of the stadium, but I fondly recall memories of sharing straight-from-the-bottle swigs with homeless people as we yelled the Braves chant in sync with their bucket-drum percussions. It wasn’t ever dangerous – it just had a certain urban quality that you don’t get from most venues. It was part of the experience. When they decided to move the stadium, it was not to move closer to their fanbase, it was to move away from this part of town. They had full opportunity to reinvigorate and reinvest in the area, and they decided not to.
Adding to the false reasoning and shady tactics, there are other changes that have similarly irked me. Management quickly began trading and selling our best players for prospects – hoping the young talent would quickly develop and earn us a pennant run right around the time when the new stadium opened. I understand that rebuilding is a process in sports, but when you get rid of your fan favorites for prospects who may or may not pan out (cough cough, Hector Olivera), it’s questionable. This all came to a head when they traded hometown hero, Jason Heyward, despite his request to stay in Atlanta.
Also, the new stadium DECREASED seating capacity. They claim that this was done to make the stadium seem louder and appear fuller. What this really did? Allowed them to jack up ticket prices. I had season tickets in 2013, and I got a steal of a deal - landing general admission seats to every game for just under $400. Similar packages now go for nearly $700. Braves ticket prices are now 4th-highest in baseball.
I’m pissed. Turner Field was less than 20 years old and it still had a ton of life in it. I don’t even care about the sustainability aspect – this is simply emotional. I loved that place. It was the backdrop of my childhood, my college years, and my post-college days. I happily remember when I was a child seeing a fan get kicked out of a game for the first time – a vividly-wasted man screaming repeatedly at the top of his lungs “I HAAAAATE THE YANKEES! GOOOOO BRAVES!!! FUCCCCK THE YANKEES.” We were playing the Marlins.
I remember heated playoff games, squeezed into the standing-room-only section of the upper deck with close friends, shouting until our voices were hoarse, spiking our freshly-purchased 24-ounce Coors as soon as Chipper railed a home run to take the lead.
I remember Chipper’s last game. I remember Bobby’s.
I remember teaching a vendor how to shotgun a beer in the Blue Lot. I remember walking to the stadium on weeknights when I had season tickets – never once getting mugged or hassled or even feeling endangered – sipping roadbeers on the stroll and taking in the whole experience – the smell, the people, the camaraderie, the feeling of spring and baseball in the city.
Sports loyalty is sometimes criticized as a weird concept – I mean, it's a bit odd that year after year the players change, and in no two years are you actually cheering for the same "team" - you’re cheering for a jersey. But for those who understand sports, the feeling is much more than that – it’s a feeling of pride, a feeling of connection. And when the Braves moved to Cobb, my feelings of pride and connection also transitioned elsewhere.
So now, I announce that my loyalty has shifted to the team of my new hometown – the Colorado Rockies. I hear your dissent – yes, I know what loyalty means. But in the words of the wise poet, Dwight Schrute: “Look I’m all about loyalty… but if there were somewhere else that valued loyalty more highly.. I’m going wherever they value loyalty the most.”
I now cheer for a team whose stadium sits proudly in the center of the city. I cheer for a team who is named after the mountains in which we live. I cheer for a team who doesn’t change stadiums just because the old one has a few dings. I cheer for a team whose opening day is basically a city-wide party full of debauchery and celebration. I cheer for a team who doesn’t pick up and move when it gets the opportunity to take advantage of its citizens. I cheer for a team whose stadium is called Coors Motherfucking Field.
Don’t get me wrong - I’ll always love the times I had as a Braves fan. I’ll always look up to Chipper and Javy and Andruw and Heyward and McCann. I’ll always think of Bobby Cox as Atlanta’s Grandfather. I may even one day go to a game at Sun Trust Park. But the Braves that I once knew and loved are no longer in Atlanta, and neither am I.