- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

The Quick & The Ted (Atlanta 2017)

I’m still trying to confirm that Veterans Day has an April Fools component to it, because the bit I read Monday about the Braves moving out of currently 17-year-old Turner Field three years from now [1] makes for quite the doozy, the whopper and the priceless gag. Hats off, fellas, I wanna say.

But it’s apparently real, not just real weird that a ballpark that opened in the same generation that spawned still relatively new Citi Field is going to disappear from the Mets’ schedule before it can celebrate a 20th anniversary. That’s the plan, anyway, and the plan isn’t just drawing-board spitballing. It’s as done a deal [2] as these things can be without being done. The Braves have their spot picked out. The commissioner’s on board [3]. The mayor whose municipality is being abandoned doesn’t seem terribly upset [4]. Though you can find dissenters [5] as easily as you can find a comments section, the general reaction by those who root for the team involved doesn’t indicate mass outrage. The Braves specified some reasons for the shift — impending maintenance costs, stubborn traffic flow, fan base residency — and, well, there it is. See y’all up Cobb County way in 2017!

It’s still real weird. The one thing I haven’t read in any of this is a complaint about Turner Field. I don’t mean our “why can’t the Mets ever win there?” complaints about Turner Field, dating back to when the park still carried an echo of its Olympic beginnings and the Mets constantly settled for silver, but an actual problem anybody has with the place itself. At worst, Turner gets dismissed as sort of ordinary: too big to be intimate, not idiosyncratic enough to be charming, no longer new enough to be novel. My one in-person experience with it [6] found it quite ideal for a Sunday afternoon of baseball. I’m not sure if that counts as “fan experience,” but it worked for me in April of 1998.

Granted, time flies like Marlon Byrd [7]. 1998 was to Turner Field what 1965 was to Shea Stadium, just its second year of operation. Nobody in 1980 New York was leaning on the World’s Fair era to appraise Shea Stadium, which is the chronological equivalent of where the Ted is in 2013. As it happens, the home of the Mets had just received its first genuine facelift in its 17th season on the job. Imagine Nelson Doubleday or his highly limited [8] partner Fred Wilpon had stepped up in November of 1980 and said, “We’re leaving Shea for somewhere nearby come 1984.”

Actually, that might have won some plaudits considering Shea lacked for maintenance in the 1970s, which is why the paint job and reseating of 1980 was so welcome. Nevertheless, it was inconceivable that the Mets or anybody else would’ve had a spare stadium deal up their sleeve less than two decades into the life of the current one. It was enough to get Shea to start draining better and maybe install some artificial turf (a plan that was announced and thankfully forgotten post-Jets).

I’m trying to summon some objective-observer dismay over what the Braves are doing, because giving up a perfectly lovely 17-year-old ballpark is so counterintuitive, but it’s not coming. The smooth sailing toward Atlanta’s Cobb County conclusion seems almost gentlemanly when compared to most other stadium replacement transactions. Strip away a few phrases of nonsense about how Some Company’s Name There Field will contain amenities for the ages (they’re already referring to the unbuilt facility as “world-class,” which we should recognize as code for catering to the luxury lounge crowd), and this move — from a distance — sort of makes sense.

Whatever isn’t wrong with the ballpark “experience,” it’s fair to include travel as part of your day or night out. If negotiating Atlanta traffic is intimidating enough to keep customers from spending their time and money at the Ted, and you’re responding by creating a less onerous path to the park by setting up shop closer to the most optimal Interstate interchanges, then I suppose going to see the Braves just became a better experience. If your best P&L estimates factor in maintenance as a going concern — something the Cubs traditionally understood while the White Sox never did, which is why there’s still a Wrigley Field after 100 seasons but Comiskey Park expired after 81 — and you can plan accordingly amid your prospective sweetheart deal, maybe you won’t have to kick this stadium to the curb c. 2037

Or maybe you will anyway. Maybe the Braves, whom despite my divisional animus for them [9] I’ve generally considered a Cardinals Lite in terms of organizations that know what they’re doing, are innovators here. Maybe this is just what we do as a society. We pay lip service to landmarks but we can’t wait to do it over an ever newer phone. Commercials encourage us to drop our digital devices in crappers and such so we will feel entitled to purchase the model that emerges next week. Nothing’s wrong with the old one. It’s just not as astounding as the one we could have.

I guess Turner Field isn’t, either.

Yet this development continues to be weird. Choosing a ballpark site based strictly on driving considerations strikes me as sadly retro. The Braves didn’t like that Atlanta’s version of a subway, MARTA, didn’t make a stop directly adjacent to Turner Field. Indeed, as I discovered on my lone pilgrimage, I had to get out somewhere and hop on a free shuttle bus. It wasn’t a biggie. Now they’re going somewhere that has no MARTA — not just the stadium but the entire county. It’s also a little strange to watch a team pack its bags in the city and ship them to the suburbs, reversing the tide of history that began in earnest when Camden Yards opened in 1992.

One size doesn’t necessarily fit all regions, however. What worked beautifully in Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver and some other urban landscapes didn’t exactly click in Atlanta, where the Braves have been right around the heart of the city since 1966. I’ve read their location described as south of downtown, leaving it shy of where the action is. Turner Field going up next to where Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was didn’t ignite neighborhood growth or complement anything that was in progress. Though the previous joint was demolished to provide parking for the current model, one of the plagues the Braves wish to leave behind is not enough spaces for cars. It’s a very anachronistic Connie Mack Stadium/Polo Grounds-style gripe.

The bulk of their ticket-buyers are in a different (more affluent) section of the greater Atlanta area? Bringing the ballpark to those people could be interpreted as the ultimate in home delivery, but it also underscores the inability of the Braves to matter to the people who’ve lived directly around them for 48 seasons. Those folks (less affluent) have had more pressing concerns than paying to go see a baseball game. It’s a shame it’s too expensive or not compelling enough an outing for those who could theoretically walk to Turner Field and simply buy a cheap ticket for their home team. The club has loads of data presumably born of credit card data regarding who antes up to attend. Remember when baseball was cash and carry and you didn’t have to carry all that much cash?

The Braves feature a map on their dedicated ballpark site to make it head-slappingly obvious that they should be where they’re going. You see such a large red blob [10] surrounding NEW STADIUM that you can’t possibly imagine why they’d remain at Turner Field. I assume such a map is possible to construct and perhaps already exists to show the geographic dispersal of Mets customers. I doubt ZIP Code 11368 is where a plurality of us live but I assume it still functions all right as a hub. Nothing has ever developed around the Mets’ slice of Flushing, but the Wilpons seem determined to change that (their Metsville schemes [11] have been disseminated, but call me when these real estate machers have a shovel in the ground).

Would the Mets be theoretically better served in their own version of Cobb County…which I would guess would be Nassau as opposed to Queens? I’m a Nassau County resident with the mortgage to prove it, but my answer would be no. I suppose if the Mets could figure out a way to erect a ballpark a town or two over from where I type, I’d hypocritically applaud their demographic foresightedness, but your team being from somewhere stable has got to count for something, at least in the land-line values system I instinctively call up. The Mets are from Flushing, a spot logistically accessible to all and just inconvenient enough to everybody. They d/b/a as the New York Mets. They belong in the City of New York, even if the bulk of their acolytes might have to schlep a little more than Braves fans will from 2017 forward.

Atlanta’s not New York (no kidding) and the Braves aren’t our problem, save for 19 times a year. I’d say good luck to them on their startling new venture except the Braves do fine without our well-wishes. Maybe they really are leading-edge on this issue. The Wrigleys and Comiskeys are exceptions. Just within the unfriendly confines of the N.L. East, Shea lasted 45 seasons, the Vet 33, Atlanta Fulton-County 31. The Marlins couldn’t wait to get out of the rotatingly named football stadium where they were shoehorned for 19 lonely seasons and the Expos had far less luck playing in an Olympian stadium for 28 seasons than the Braves ever did. Sooner or later, they all got vacated. Turner Field — despite providing more ideal baseball acreage than any of the above — is just choosing sooner.

The Braves like to tout their status as the world’s longest continually operated sports franchise [12], having been around in one form or another in one city or another in one stadium or another since 1871. Yet for all that longevity, they are a relentlessly itinerant operation. Boston was a problem because nobody came to their games. So they moved to Milwaukee. Everybody came to their games in Milwaukee until they didn’t. Within 14 years of arriving in Wisconsin they were Georgia-bound. Very few people were coming to their games in Atlanta, yet they forged a following far from the plethora of Peachtree Streets because their owner put them on a local TV station that wasn’t really local [13]. They called themselves America’s Team, they moved into yet another stadium — their fourth in 46 seasons — and they seemed permanently set, or as permanent as the world’s longest continually operated sports franchise could be on the cusp of the 21st century.

Y’know what I remember being hyped as a really big deal when Turner Field opened? That beyond center field there was a wall of televisions beaming into the Braves’ ballpark every other game going on in the majors. As a Mets fan away on a business trip, I was delighted to leave my seat for an inning and turn my attention to a game going on at home. I wonder if the Cobb County park will have anything like that.

They probably won’t need such a contrivance. If people don’t want to pay attention to the Braves, they can just check their phones. Goodness only knows what they’ll be capable of showing you by 2017.