I wish I felt a deeper sense of loss for Turner Field as home of the Braves. I wish I did, but I don’t. The Braves inherited it from ACOG after the 1996 Olympics, and somehow it always felt that way to me – a ballpark built not as a ballpark but as the venue for Muhammad Ali to light the caldron and for Michael Johnson to run fast and, sorry to say, for the sawed-off Juan Antonio Samaranch to snub his nose at our city.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t find myself sitting there on a summer night watching Chipper hit or Maddux pitch thinking, “Gee, I wish Carl Lewis were here instead.” Some really great Braves played really great baseball at 755 Hank Aaron Drive. Of the famous 14 consecutive first-place finishes, Turner Field was home for nine. That said …
The place was never quite a fortress. The Braves graced the World Series four times in their final six seasons at the outdated spaceship across the street. They reached it once while based in its successor. (And got swept.) It was unfortunate that Turner Field became known mostly as the place where visiting teams held October celebrations and Braves fans picked that month to stay home. The shoe, alas, fit.
A list of visiting teams that clinched a postseason series at Turner Field: Marlins in 1997, Padres in 1998, Cardinals in 2000, Diamondbacks in 2001, Giants in 2002, Cubs (!!!) in 2003, Astros in 2004, Giants again in 2010, Cardinals again in the Infield Fly game of 2012. Every single time the Braves faced elimination in their ballyard, they were in fact eliminated. There was no Cabrera/Bream game at Turner Field, no Glavine one-hitter/Justice home run.
The one truly memorable-for-Braves-fans game staged at Turner Field was a wild one, and it did yield the only National League title of the TF era. Facing the hated Mets of the odious Bobby Valentine, the Braves blew a 5-0 lead and seemed destined for a Game 7, but they tied it in the eighth, tied it again in the 10th and won in the 11th on, of all things, Kenny Rogers’ bases-loaded walk of Andruw Jones. (Ball 4 was nowhere close.)
But that careening night yielded to a string of October humiliations, to the Giants of Bonds holding off the Braves on a night when Chipper hit into a ninth-inning double play and my computer was stolen from the auxiliary press box in left field. (Digression: The guard stationed in left field informed me it wasn’t possible that my laptop had been purloined. I asked, “So where is it?” He told me the guy sitting next to me might have taken it. So if you see Chuck Dowdle walking around with an antiquated Compaq, call Crime Stoppers.)
The Cubs, who hadn’t won a playoff series since 1908, won one here; the Astros, who’d never won a playoff series, won one here. As excruciating as it was for Chris Burke to hit the 18th-inning homer in Houston in 2005 and for Fredi Gonzalez to leave Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen in L.A. in 2013, there was a consolation: As least those clinchers didn’t come here.
Best Braves player in Turner Field’s two decades: Chipper, then Andruw, then Brian McCann. Best Braves pitcher: Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, in no particular order. Best Braves fielder: Tie between Andruw and Andrelton Simmons. Best Braves closer: Take a wild guess. Best Braves manager: Take another. Coolest moment I saw in person: Jason Heyward’s Opening Day home run. Most ghastly moment: Poor Brooks Conrad’s third error.
I say again: There’s a part of me that wishes I’d get misty-eyed over this ending, but I know I won’t. Turner Field wasn’t where they alit when they became Atlanta’s Braves, and the siren song of Cobb County rendered it temporary housing. It was a nice enough stadium for 20 years. Provided we can ever get to it, SunTrust Park will be nicer.