Opinion: A season opener that stands apart


“Love is the most important thing in life. But baseball is pretty good, too.”

Yogi Berra

I’ve had a love affair with baseball for as long as I can remember. Make no mistake about it, I was never going to make it to the big leagues. In fact, I felt lucky just to have survived a somewhat unremarkable (and injury-plagued) Little League career.

But the game has always held a special place in my heart – whether it was learning how to “score a game” with my Dad at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, or soaking in the soft breezes of Elliott Bay and the spectacular views of the Space Needle at Safeco Field in Seattle, or sneaking away from a business trip some 15 years ago to marvel at the ballpark in San Francisco, then venturing out the next night to catch an A’s game at the Oakland Coliseum.

Over the years, there were trips to Camden Yards, Jacobs Field, Three Rivers Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium and Citizens Bank Park, to name a few. A few years ago, when dad and I took a trip to Michigan, we were fortunate enough to catch a game at Comerica Park in Detroit. We stood on our feet as Justin Verlander took a no-hitter into the top of the ninth. A picture of us taken from our seats along the first-base line sits on my desk.

Baseball, as Walt Whitman said, is “our game … the American game.”

Given all of that, it’s easy to get excited about a home opener. It’s even easier when that first home game of the season happens to take place in a beautiful new stadium. (Of course, not everyone is happy that the Braves have left Turner Field.)

Since the team announced it was moving to Cobb County, we’ve kept a watchful eye on how that deal came together and how much it really cost taxpayers. That, after all, is what our readers expect from us.

At the same time, we also owe it to our readers to help them make the most of their trip to SunTrust Park. How am I going to get there, particularly with the mess on I-85? Where should I eat? And what about all of the new attractions around the new stadium?

To mark the opening of SunTrust Park, we’re kicking off a week of special coverage.

It begins on today’s front page, where reporters Scott Trubey and Tim Tucker team up to examine how the Braves’ move to Cobb County marks an inflection point for the region. The Braves transformed Atlanta into a major-league city. What do fans, local business leaders and the region’s movers and shakers have to say as the official debut of SunTrust Park inches closer?

Inside, we’ll take a deeper look at the development around SunTrust Park. What’s completed? What’s to come as the season unfolds? And what can fans expect when they visit the park for the home opener?

As an added bonus, you don’t want to miss a special eight-page pullout that’s like nothing we’ve done before. Inside that pullout, you’ll find 10 fun facts about SunTrust Park. Did you know, for instance, that SunTrust Park will be the nation’s most technologically advanced ballpark? Or that one of the kid-friendly areas features the first-ever zip line and climbing tower inside a professional sporting venue? Or that the monument garden is anchored by a Hank Aaron statue?

That pullout section also offers a unique look at the 1.5-million-square-foot mixed-use development known as The Battery Atlanta, and it includes a transportation guide on how to get the ballpark.

Throughout the week, the bulk of our coverage will focus on those kinds of tips for getting around. A few weeks ago, we had several reporters document their trip to the ballpark. Our conclusion? The traffic wasn’t that bad. But that was long before the collapse of a portion of I-85, which has added another dimension of complexity for getting to the ballpark. So our traffic updates will be more important than ever.

While you’re enjoying today’s newspaper, you’ll see that most of our Sports section is dedicated to the opening of SunTrust Park. We took the same approach with the section on Super Bowl Sunday. In fact, we’re using the same artist who drew the illustration of Matt Ryan, and many of our plans for this week are modeled after all of the things that worked so well during the Falcons’ Super Bowl run.

Inside the Sports section, you’ll find more information on creating new memories at SunTrust Park – from what to expect at the ballpark to where to shop and relax.

Our coverage continues throughout the week.

We’ll take you onto the field and answer the question that’s of much interest to fans and players alike: Is SunTrust Park a hitters’ park or a pitchers’ park? We’ll look at how technology will help shape the fan experience. While we’re at it, we’ll examine one of the biggest trends in stadiums in recent years – the creation of “gathering spaces” rather than traditional seats. How is this trend reflected at SunTrust Park? From a financial perspective, we’ll try to gauge just how much of an attendance boost the Braves might see as the result of the new stadium.

On Friday, we’re producing a special issue of our Go Guide section and creating the Ultimate Foodie’s Guide to SunTrust Park. Our dining editor, Ligaya Figueras, and her team will share top picks – from where to find the best eats at the concession stands at SunTrust Park, to dining at The Battery Atlanta, to finding the perfect craft beer to accompany that perfect ballpark hotdog.

And, of course, we’ll offer an extensive recap on Friday night’s unveiling: We’ll capture the pomp, the pageantry, and, yes, even some of the issues, that come with opening a new ballpark. Not among the lucky fans who have an opening night ticket? No worries. We’ll tell you who threw out the first pitch. Who sang the national anthem. What fans thought of the new park. And we’ll offer our observations on what went right – and what areas can be improved upon as the season continues.

The beginning of baseball season is always special. Throw a new ballpark into the mix and that experience becomes even more magical.

Such is the beauty of baseball.

“In baseball,” said Ernie Harwell, who grew up in Atlanta and went on to become a famous sportscaster, “democracy shines its clearest. The only race that matters is the race to the bag. The creed is the rule book. And color, merely something to distinguish one team’s uniform from another’s.”



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