I caught my first glimpse of SunTrust Park, the sparkling new home of the Atlanta Braves, the same way, I suspect, that most baseball fans do: While inching along an interstate highway clogged with a horrific late-afternoon traffic jam.
Of all the new experiences and features baked into baseball’s first new stadium in five years, this is one that hits you first: Few other parks require as much forethought about transportation and parking as one situated at the intersection of Interstates 75 and 285, among the most congested thoroughfares in the country. Weeknight games begin at 7:35, a half-hour later than at most stadiums, as a concession to the difficulty fans should expect to encounter reaching the suburban ballfield, located 10 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta.
There is some irony in the fact that one of Turner Field’s biggest drawbacks was its distance from MARTA, Atlanta’s rail line; SunTrust Park, which rose out of acres of land that was empty fields just two years ago, essentially dispenses with public transportation altogether, and requires that parking be purchased in advance for most lots within walking distance.
Braves baseball won’t be an impulse buy for most fans, in other words.
The effort is worth it, though, because once you arrive, you are immersed in a baseball-themed village that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred declared, upon touring the $1.1 billion project, “a model for other organizations.” Just as Camden Yards begat a generation of modern stadiums that evoke traditional venues and values, SunTrust Park figures to encourage teams to think a lot bigger, and consider new revenue streams, when designing new homes.
It’s called “The Battery Atlanta,” and it’s essentially a small city with a ballpark at its heart. More than a dozen restaurants and sports bars line the streets of the 10-city-block development outside the park’s gates. There’s a theater across the way, already booked with concerts. An Omni Hotel is under construction, with balcony views of the playing field, and an office complex looms in right field. There’s shopping sprinkled throughout, including a Braves team store, of course, but also clothing boutiques and accessory shops.
And more than 500 apartments occupy much of the complex, with the Braves as landlords, hoping to draw young professionals with rents running from $1,200 a month to three times that.
The ballpark itself is beautiful, too, of course, and probably will seem familiar. It was designed by Populus, the architects who blueprinted Target Field and more than half of the other current MLB parks over the past 30 years, and who have the form down to a science by now. The seating bowl, dug into the ground so all four decks feel intimately close to the field, has a capacity of 41,149, with unobstructed views everywhere. Important for these times: Its Wi-Fi service handles big crowds with little strain.
There are plenty of nice touches, too: glassed-in seats at ground level in right field, a unique vantage point; a Braves “museum garden” behind home plate that richly covers the franchise’s history (including its Boston and Milwaukee forerunners, something the Twins don’t do with their Washington Senators past); and a kids playground behind center field that features a climbing wall and a zip line.
SunTrust Park is a developer’s dream, and a way for the Braves to earn money from their new home on the 284 days a year that there’s no game. The team has targeted an affluent, suburban fan base, and delivered for it an appealing blend of baseball and other leisure activities. It succeeds in its primary purpose very well: While you’re there in Georgia’s 90-degree heat, eating, drinking and enjoying a Braves game, you can feel your cash melting away.
The Twins were sellers at the trade deadline, a busy day around the AL Central. Here’s who was added and subtracted:
Indians: They made offers for Brad Hand, Justin Wilson and Zach Britton, and even pursued Yu Darvish. But the defending AL champs settled for Joe Smith, a righthanded sidearmer who spent 2009-13 with Cleveland. Smith is effective when healthy, but with All-Star Andrew Miller injured, the Indians hope to make another move in August.
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Royals: Their free-agent signing of ex-Cubs lefty Travis Wood was a disaster, but Kansas City turned him into useful starter Trevor Cahill, who immediately improves their rotation, and relievers Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter. Then the Royals brought in Melky Cabrera from the White Sox to help offset Alex Gordon’s terrible season.
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Tigers: Like the Twins, they sent their closer, Justin Wilson, to an NL team to be a setup man; Wilson will work ahead of Wade Davis for the Cubs. For Wilson and catcher Alex Avila, they received switch-hitting third baseman Jaime Candelario and a Class A pitcher. Bigger news coming? Justin Verlander could be dealt in August.
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White Sox: Their sell-off continued at the deadline, with ex-Twins righthander Anthony Swarzak dealt to Milwaukee, lefty reliever Dan Jennings sent to Tampa Bay, and soon-to-be-free-agent outfielder Cabrera off to Kansas City. The best of the haul: A.J. Puckett, a Class A righthander who was the 67th overall pick in the 2016 draft, from the Royals.
Another indication of the growing prevalence of strikeouts: Eight of the longest strikeout streaks in Twins history have come in the past four seasons. Most consecutive games with at least one whiff:
21 Byron Buxton, 2015
19 ByungHo Park, 2016
18 Miguel Sano, 2015
17 Miguel Sano, 2016
17 Chris Colabello, 2014
17 George Mitterwald, 1971
16 Miguel Sano, 2016
16 Brian Dozier, 2015
16 Joe Mauer, 2013
16 Tim Laudner, 1984
Entering Saturday, Joe Mauer needed only four hits, walks or hit by pitch to become the Twins’ second-most-frequent player to reach base, surpassing Kirby Puckett. The Twins’ all-time leaders, with hits, walks and HBP:
3,072 <CHARENTITY>7</CHARENTITY>Harmon Killebrew (1,713, 475, 38)
2,810 <CHARENTITY>7</CHARENTITY>Kirby Puckett (2,304, 450, 56)
2,805 <CHARENTITY>7</CHARENTITY>Joe Mauer (right) (1,679, 867, 21)
2,718 <CHARENTITY>7</CHARENTITY>Rod Carew (2,085, 613, 20)
2,613 <CHARENTITY>7</CHARENTITY>Kent Hrbek (1,749, 838, 26)
2,424 <CHARENTITY>7</CHARENTITY>Tony Oliva (1,917, 448, 59)
1,856 <CHARENTITY>7</CHARENTITY>Justin Morneau (1,318, 501, 37)
1,784 <CHARENTITY>7</CHARENTITY>Chuck Knoblauch (1,197, 513, 74)