Oh how I wanted to hate this park.
Turner Field was a perfectly fine place to watch a game and moving out of a 20-year-old stadium seemed utterly wasteful. Sure Turner needed millions in infrastructure upgrades, but surely that’s more cost effective than a brand new park? Some claim the premature move was because the Braves believed their fans would feel more comfortable in a stadium in a “safer” neighborhood. Others believe that the city of Atlanta, after throwing money at the Falcons’ new palace, dragged their heels for too long and lost a game of chicken with the Braves. Regardless, it seemed too soon to punt on the old park.
I’ve never been a big fan of suburban parks. I believe a sports team reflects its city, and they should do so in the city. Furthermore, suburban parks are usually “drive to’s” meaning you’re severely limiting your beer consumption. As well, the best baseball experiences are found in thriving neighborhoods where the festivities can start pre-game and continue post-game; suburban parks are usually surrounded by parking lots. The Braves decided they would overcome the latter issue by manufacturing a neighborhood around the park. Before visiting “The Battery”, the concept of an artificial and contrived neighborhood experience got a big “Ugh” out me. I was hoping for it to fail.
But then I went to Suntrust Park (now called Truist Park after Suntrust’s merger with BB&T Bank). And I had a ball in spite of myself. It’s a nice place.
Exterior aesthetics 7/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 9/10; Sightlines & seating 9/10; Amenities & entertainment 10/10; Flow 4/5; Celebrating history 5/5; Scoreboards 5/5; Grand entrance 5/5; Sense of place 5/10; WOW Factor 21/30. Total 80 points divided by 2 for 40.
The extras give this a good score. The actual structure is nice but unremarkable. As we’ve seen, what makes for good amenities changes over time. But a ballpark’s physical presence is supposed to last a long time (though in Atlanta, maybe that’s only 20 years).
- The entrance from the Battery sets the mood nicely. There’s a plaza to people watch and play catch, a spherical LED display board, a stage for bands and other pre-game entertainment, and a sense of grandeur with signage and displays.
- Some of the in-stadium concessions have exterior entrances allowing you to grab a signature bite BEFORE even entering the place
- The Braves historic exhibit on the lower level, Monument Garden, is the best in-park baseball exhibit in MLB. I think it’s even better than the Yankees Museum because it’s out in the open, available for anybody to stroll through and look at. A combination of artifacts, memorabilia and statues are on display in this walk-through exhibit that can take some time to go through if you savor every piece.
- The Chophouse seats in rightfield have chilled cup holders and USB plugs to charge your devices. That’s better than my man cave set up!
- The awning covering the 400 level seats provides needed shade and also lights up blue and red at night for a pleasant visual effect
- Some of the premium infield seats are mesh chairs with personal arm rests. The lighter chair fabrics can be a Godsend on those scorching southern summer days.
- The field is viewable from all levels of the park from the concession areas
- The kid’s area here is impressive and include a rock climb and a zipline (!). Plus there are life-sized bobbleheads throughout the park.
- The centerfield scoreboard is state of the art
- There are several social spaces to gather, play cornhole and not watch the game
- The premium clubs are quite swish. I saw them when I took a stadium tour and was impressed.
- On the Hank Aaron Terrace, you’ll find the bat used to hit Home Run 715 as well as the ball (plus other cool stuff)
- The stadium’s exterior architecture can best be described as non-offensive red brick faux retro. The stadium itself lacks any real meaningful signature architectural highlight. It’s pleasant enough to look at, and nobody will complain about some polarizing architectural oddity. But it’s pretty meh. The statues of Braves greats add a little flare, but the building itself is “fine”.
- The panoramic view from the inside is also pretty generic. As with many suburban parks, there aren’t as many cues to let you know where you are. The Chick Fil-A cow and the Home Depot treehouse are really the two big indicators; not exactly the B&O warehouse or view of the St Louis arch. It doesn’t scream Atlanta.
- Somehow, they managed to botch the concourse width and create a bottleneck on the first base side of Monument Garden as you approach the team store. There, the concourse narrows to 15 feet and early game traffic can get plugged. You’d think a suburban park with no space constraints would never have concourses that are too small.
Bottom line is that the home of the Atlanta Braves offers amazing stuff inside a nice a fairly generic structure. Any “Wow” factor comes not from the postcard view, but from the experiential extras.
The suburban location doesn’t give a sense of space. But the food does. You know you’re in the South.
Like with Turner Field, there’s a Waffle House and Chick Fil-A. Local purveyor Fox Bros BBQ offers their smoked treats to hungry carnivores. Intentional Wok offers a well-respected dumpling as well as other high-quality Asian foods. Taco Factory does solid Mexican and The Slice takes ballpark pizza to a better place. High Road Craft Creamery handles ice cream.
One of the cooler ideas is the Taste of Braves Country highlighting many of the great regional cuisines of the south. You can get a Pimento cheese patty melt (South Carolina), smoked hog sandwich with slaw and vinegar sauce (North Carolina), Nashville hot chicken (Tennessee), Blackened catfish po’ boy taco with comeback sauce (Mississippi), and/or a fried tomahawk pork chop sandwich with white barbecue sauce (Alabama). These delights are scattered at a variety of concession stands throughout the park, allowing you to do an Easter Egg hunt (if said hunt was sponsored by your cardiologist or Lipitor).
My personal fave: The H&F Burger. Whether you wait two innings for one inside or arrive early and get one before entering the ballpark, this is a must. The Holeman and Finch Public House burger was once rated the best in America, and even though these double stacks are made in much higher quantity, they manage to be a pretty faithful replication of the beloved original. Best stadium burger on a list that includes Shake Shack, AJ Bombers, Burrata Burger, Bash Burger, Crowd Cow, Lil Woody’s, Red Cow and Hodad’s. It’s one of the best concessions in baseball, and responsible for an extra point on this score.
The beer selection INSIDE the park isn’t as strong as the beer outside the park in the Battery bars. MillerCoors has a virtual lockdown here, minimizing the presence of most small brewers and limiting the craft beer options. Terrapin, an Athens brewery that was bought, serves as the de facto craft beer brand of the ballpark and offers some delicious IPAs and bocks. And complaining that you can “only” get Terrapin is a bit like complaining that you can “only” eat bacon.
There’s a fully operational experimental brewery, ATL Brew Lab, located inside the Terrapin Taproom. This place adds to the variety of options by churning out some interesting stuff including a passion fruit IPA I enjoyed once. I presume MillerCoors is hoping for another Blue Moon which started in the MLB’s OTHER on-site experimental brewery at Coors Field, and while they’ve yet to hit the motherlode, they make good things here.
NEIGHBORHOOD 7/10 (with a sigh)
Suburban parks normally get killed here. My personal ethos says this should be a 5 max given that it’s a completely planned community owned partially by the Atlanta Braves for the sole purpose of revenue maximization. But were I to base this solely on how much fun I’ve had on game days, this would likely be a 9 or 10. So I settled on a 7.
The Battery works on game day and keeps getting better every year I return; the place has now rounded into form. It’s as authentic as Universal CityWalk or Downtown Disney, but it’s very much oriented to baseball and baseball fans. Some places are more upscale but nothing is snooty. It’s all designed for good sized crowds seeking a good time who share a communal love of baseball/The Braves. There are now 17 different places to grab a bite and a drink in this “neighborhood” which rivals many ballpark scenes. And when you talk about seamless transition from neighborhood to ballpark, it doesn’t get much more seamless than this one; the inside and outside often merge as one.
Because so many of the lower infield seats are premium, ticket prices are higher than average. Parking will also set you back. Concessions are actually is a little cheaper than most.
Other than Dodger Stadium, no stadium is harder to get to than Truist Park. Public transit is purposefully difficult (apparently, many affluent suburbs didn’t want MARTA to connect them to the inner city) so you need to take multiple steps. You’re better off driving or taking an uber.
But even THAT is not easy given Atlanta’s notoriously lousy traffic. Night games start half an hour later than most other places because the Braves know that navigating traffic after work to get here will take at least an hour from downtown, and they want you to still spend some time in the Battery.
Stadium Dude normally does not advocate staying in the burbs when visiting a city, but ballpark travelers should strongly consider a hotel that’s walkable or which offers a shuttle that’ll get you close.
Atlanta gets hot and sticky in the summer, but so does much of the country. It’s nice in April, May and September, and night games are pleasant.
Atlanta is a notoriously bad pro sports city; college football is the game in these parts. That said, of the pro teams representing the ATL, the Braves have the widest fan base. Many travel from distance to see their team, and they come loud. Since moving to the new park, attendance has been good. And despite living in a woke age, they still Tomahawk Chop (which, in an odd way, I sort of respect even if I don’t chop myself).
The Braves also do a nice job with making the in-stadium sponsored promo pieces fun. Spot the Chick Fil-A cow is a clever promo (fan with camera in the outfield has to zoom in on the mascot sitting in the stands somewhere). The derivative Home Depot tool race is goofy enough to make me smirk. RaceTrac’s Fan vs The Freeze is awesome. And for a more subtle promo that I just love, Mizuno offers a free glove rental for the game, great if you have a kid and are sitting in foul ball territory (plus the gloves they lend out are top notch).
The above average atmosphere score also accounts for the myriad of things you can do and places you can hang. And it’s one of the only teams to feature a drumline.
And to my chagrin, I must admit that The Battery works as a way to make a Braves game an event. You could show up as early as say 3pm and spend 2.5 hours bar hopping, then grab an H&F burger before the gates open, enter the stadium and check out all the amenities before first pitch, watch the game, and pop into one of the Battery pubs one last time before calling it a night around 11pm.
The only downside of these marathons (other than finding a way to get to wherever you’re sleeping) is that you may run into a few over-served young southern gentlemen. I’ve seen more than a few visibly hammered dudes with horizontal striped shirts and side parts stumbling or being dragged out of here by his crew. (It’s not as bad as a football game and shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the evening unless you happen to be sitting right next to a group of these chuckleheads, but it’s noticeably common.)
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Three fun ATL eateries:
- Varsity (Midtown. Vintage drive-up hot dog place for great slaw dogs.)
- Heirloom Market BBQ (Cumberland. Korean BBQ meets Texas BBQ in a great takeout place 2 miles from the park)
- Vortex (Little Five Points, but there’s also one in Midtown. Great burgers and a bit of a punk attitude. 21 and over. )
Three places to imbibe before the game:
- Punch Bowl Social (Battery. 25,000 square-foot tri-level sports bar with Scofflaw on tap.)
- Yard House at The Battery (great national chain right across from main entrance.)
- Taps at Ph’East (Battery. Surprisingly strong beer list in the bar area of this Asian restaurant.)
One bar in the area worth hitting:
The Porter Beer Bar (Little Five Points. A brilliant beer bar that’s been open since 2008.)
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- SweetWater Brewery (Armour Junction. Large fun busy place making well-known brews.)
- Red Brick Brewery (Hanover West. Local gem with distinction of being Georgia’s first craft brewery.)
- Scofflaw Brewing Co. (Bolton. Nationally-acclaimed brewery on ATL’s west side.)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- World of Coca-Cola/Georgia Aquarium (Centennial Park. Two world class attractions side by each. Allow 2hrs each.)
- Martin Luther King Jr Historical Site (National Park just east of downtown commemorating the man and the movement.)
- College Football Hall of Fame (Centennial Park. Impressive and interactive museum dedicated to the south’s true sports passion.)
Truist Park (nee Sun Trust Park) may be a defining stadium much like how Camden Yards reset the standard in 1992. The Braves’ model is one in which the team not only gets baseball revenue, but a bigger cut of the revenue generated by baseball. Truist Park is a destination that’ll eat up the better part of a day (including travel time to and from) with lots to do inside and outside the park.
It’s perhaps the ultimate 21st Century ballpark: one that de-emphasizes purely visual aesthetics for over-the-top experiential aesthetics. It’ll be interesting to see how well this place holds up, but for now, the most amenity-rich stadium in baseball finds itself in the upper half of all ballparks.