A Braves’ New World

Milwaukee Brewers @ Atlanta Braves

2017 Regular Season. Atlanta Braves hosted Milwaukee Brewers at Sun Trust Bank in its inaugural year. It’s a hitter-friendly park. Wind was blowing out and Milwaukee Brewers brought their hitting sticks. On this day, the Brewers mustered runs in the first four innings to win 7-0 and ultimately salvage the last of a 3-game series with the Braves. They’ve been hot on the trail in the NL Central Division since, a thorn on the side of the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. Something unique to Truist Park has been “The Freeze.” Otherwise known as Nigel Talton. He is an Olympic sprinter who races a fan every game in the seventh inning along the outfield warning track. Volunteers are given a head start and can win $100 if they beat “The Freeze.” His plans to compete in the 2020 Olympics were cancelled in the process of qualifying. Maybe he will surface in Tokyo for this summer’s game. As for the Atlanta Braves, they went on to earn a wild card in the 2017 Play-offs and clinched the NL East Division the following 3-years after that. In their short time at Truist Park, Atlanta Braves have been in the Post Season all 4-years. 

Turner Field, the old home field in downtown Atlanta, was only 20 years old. But, the positive economic impact of a baseball stadium on any surrounding development is hard to ignore. Globe Life Field in Texas is the latest example of that. Construction of a new stadium is also a contentious issue in the communities they are built in. Those attractive growth numbers on paper do not always translate well to the bricks and mortar. Tensions bemoan the question “who will pay for it.” But that hasn’t been a deterrent by no means. The trend is that we see more ballparks going up more often. Hence, the case in Cobb County. SunTrust, the naming rights owners, merged with BB&T Bank in 2019 to form Truist Bank. The home of the Atlanta Braves is now known as Truist Park serving as the catalyst to the “2040 Comprehensive Plan, a vision for a new era.” Much energy went into this area 18 miles north of downtown Atlanta. making it a place to live, work and play, a place to attract visitors, residents, and businesses for the next 25 years.

For generations, fans have followed this franchise steeped in history, to the near inception of baseball itself. This oldest continually operating a professional baseball team in America can be traced back to the Boston Red Stockings, established 1871 and evolving to 10 different teams, in 3 different U.S. cities, and in 9 different ballparks. If baseball is still America’s pastime, then this may be the face of the pastime. In that timeline, they’ve won 17 NL Pennants, 20 Division titles and 2 Wild Card berths. Since the inception of the World Series in 1903, they’ve won 3 World Championships; one in each city they played in (1914 Boston Braves, 1957 Milwaukee Braves, and 1995 Atlanta Braves). And in the age of Ted Turner, the Atlanta Braves became “America’s Team” in the eighties and nineties, thanks to the innovations of cable and TBS Superstation. They would broadcast games beyond regional restrictions and across the country.

Four legends of the Atlanta Braves family, who recently passed away, were honored in the 2021 home opener. They all have had an impact on the franchise as well as the game.

  • Bill Bartholomay (1928-2020)

“Mr. B” a pioneer who brought Major League Baseball to the deep south. He was a Chicago Business Executive who joined a consortium that would buy the team. Despite a successful run in Milwaukee, his vision for the future of the franchise was in Atlanta. After legal battles and death threats, there would be a National League team in Atlanta. Bill Bartholomay was instrumental for over 50 years in this endeavor, ultimately partnering with Ted Turner in the 1970’s, the genesis of “America’s Team.” He will be honored throughout the 2021 regular season.  

  • Don Sutton (1945-2021)

In his 22-year Hall of Fame career as pitcher in the Big Leagues is well known. He never played for the Atlanta Braves. But, his first years in broadcasting was in Atlanta (1989). He would eventually become the voice of “America’s Team” for decades on TBS Superstation. Dependable, durable, and consistent are the words the Atlanta Braves use to define Don Sutton. He will be honored throughout the 2021 regular season.  

  • Phil Niekro (1939-2020)

The greatest knuckle ball pitcher of all time, an ace on the staff, a true great on and off the field, a brave to his core, he was an intense competitor who forced his hitters to swing at junk. He pitched 23-years in the big leagues that included 2-tours with the Atlanta Braves. In his first tour, he debuted in 1964 with Milwaukee Braves and was part of that historic move to Atlanta, Georgia. His number 35 will be worn on the caps of the Braves players this year.

  • Hank Aaron (1934-2021)

Model of dignity, an example of excellence in the face of adversity for all Americans to celebrate. April 8th, 2021 marked the 47th anniversary of his all-time home runs record at 715. This was the first time we remembered it without him. In his story, there is a 24-year Hall of Fame career with statistics that will give you brain freeze; just dominant. Through it all, his answer was simple, “keep swinging.” He was a humanitarian whose actions spoke louder than his words, a sense of courage and nobility that went beyond the diamond. His number 44 will be worn on the caps of the Braves players this year.

After a busy winter, Atlanta Braves are still ranked at the top of the NL Eastern Division this year, expected to win +90 games and putting them in a good seed for the post season. But, the elephant in the room will be the recent decision by MLB to move the All-Star Game and MLB Draft out of Atlanta due to recent legislation aimed at voter restrictions to the ballet box. In a statement by Commissioner Rob Manfred (released April 2, 2021) he wrote, “We will continue with our plans to celebrate the memory of Hank Aaron during this season’s All-Star festivities. In addition, MLB’s planned investments to support local communities in Atlanta as part of our All-Star Legacy Projects will move forward. We are finalizing a new host city and details about these events will be announced shortly.” Opinions are split on the issue, a reflection of the polarized society that we live in. But, its simple.

Baseball reflects American culture in many different ways. In hindsight, there have been more than just a few crossroads along the way where social issues were merged with the game. James Earl Jones once said as Terrance Mann in the film Field of Dreams, ‘America has been erased like a blackboard and rebuilt again. But baseball has been the mark of time.” For the most part, the Braves have been a witness to that. Coincidence is more than just ironic that the Braves are in the midst of another contentious moment. In a Braves’ new world, they celebrate the life of  four legends while having the All-Star game and MLB Draft moved out of town on short notice, yet another model of a country divided.