“If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there is a man on base.” ~Dave Barry
Game Three. Atlanta. Braves vs Nationals.
Turner Field shouts out Baseball! There is an enthusiastic, early arriving, tailgating crowd as we walk from the parking area toward the centerfield gate. “Turner Field” appears in a neon, but very vintage sign above the red-bricked, arched centerfield stadium entrance. This is the home of the Atlanta Braves, we remember. The home of the ominous-sounding, possibly ethnically insensitive Tomahawk Chop. Home of the team that won their division for an incredible 14 out of 15 seasons from 1991 to 2005! Some of this I know because there were a few years in the 90’s when a decent Houston Astro team scratched and clawed their way into the playoffs, only to have the Braves thump them out of the way. But I’m over that now. So, where was I? Oh, Atlanta. And here we are, in one of the most baseball-enthused and heritage rich environments we’ll encounter. Yeah, we’re excited. And yeah, this feels like baseball!
Just outside the centerfield entrance is an attractive brick-surfaced plaza known as Monument Grove, with statues honoring Hall of Famer’s Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro, Warren Spahn, and Ty Cobb, along with 4 foot tall numerical monuments throughout the plaza honoring the Braves’ retired numbers. Early-arrivers are milling about the plaza, taking it all in, posing for photos by their favorite son’s number. Looking across to the other side of the fence, you can’t help but notice a larger than large close-up photo outside the centerfield wall of Aaron’s 715th. The actual ball. You absolutely know by now that you’re in a baseball stadium that honors the history of the game. And you’re thrilled to be here.
Once inside, we check out the eats in the inside-the-stadium portion of the centerfield plaza, and make plans for later. As we make our way around the concourse toward our seats behind home plate (no, still not those home plate seats), a gentlemanly stadium greeter approaches us with a welcoming smile, his finger gesturing back and forth between the two of us. ‘You two are an interesting looking couple,’ he says. By now, we are firmly committed to our Rays/Astros look. ‘We’re a house divided,’ I answer back. We tell him about our baseball journey, and he beams. ‘What a fabulous trip!’ he says, and then asks us where we’ve been so far. ‘Well let me point out a few things about Turner Field,’ he says. He graciously tells us about the Atlanta Braves Museum, located in the concourse behind home plate, tells us the best places to eat, and shows us the way to the Sky Field in centerfield, with its fabulous views of the playing field in one direction, the Atlanta skyline in the other. And along the promenade atop the centerfield wall, a 90-foot base path with grass and the same dirt the players slide in, where you can do your own running and sliding. He hopes we enjoy the game. ‘And welcome to Atlanta Braves baseball!’
While waiting in line for our fully loaded and peppered sausage dogs just before the game, one of three guys also waiting for sausage dogs (the cooks were probing the sausages with meat thermometers, and I was ok with that) struck up a conversation with Vicki about her Tampa Ray outfit. Said his buddy, gesturing, was from Tampa. Vicki joking asked the buddy from Tampa, fully decked out in Atlanta Braves shirt and ball cap, if he didn’t have the nerve to wear his Tampa stuff. ‘Sure I do!’ he laughed. Vicki then told them about our trip. They looked at us, and at each other, wide-eyed. ‘No! Really? How cool is that?’ one said. ‘I’m jealous!’ the first guy said. ‘I’d love to talk my wife into that!’ the third one added. They were beside themselves, excited by the prospect. The three of them had their sandwiches by now, and the one who had first struck up the conversation approached me and shook my hand, bro-style, and told us to have a great trip. Another Braves fan standing near me, who had earlier told me the fully loaded and peppered sausage sandwich was the best food in the house, also turned and shook my hand, and wished us well on our trip.
We are smiling as we head to our seats.
We’re in the Terrace Infield section behind the Nat’s dugout, looking down the 1st base line. Great seats. More so than in Miami, we feel like we’re in an outdoor stadium. A good feeling. The giant scoreboard in centerfield, though new enough to feature the large hi-def tv screen and the latest in electronic scorekeeping, still maintains a vintage look, complete with the ‘Braves’ cursive logo and tomahawk sitting on top.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington’s young star, pitched for the Nat’s tonight! He gave up a lot of leadoff baserunners, but worked in 8 strikeouts in 6 innings to hold the Braves to two runs. The Braves shortstop, Andrelton Simmons broke the 2–2 tie in the 7th with a sac fly, and the Braves snapped a 4-game losing streak, winning 3–2.
After the game, we headed toward the Team Store behind centerfield for our Braves hat pins. We had someone take our picture in front of a giant baseball just outside the store. Then a young couple in Braves wear walked up and asked us to take their picture. Actually, just the girl asked. The guy didn’t seem to want to involve us. He said something about our being Rays and Astros fans, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to do that. And he backed up a step. Vicki said, ‘Wait, there’s a story!’ He backed up another step. ‘It’s a good story!’ she said. He stopped stepping backward, and she explained about our baseball trip. ‘Cool!’, the young woman said. ‘For f****** real?’ the guy said. ‘That’s badass!’ We were allowed to take their picture. As they headed for the store, she told us to be careful out there. He added, ‘What a cool trip!’ With an extra piece of enthusiasm thrown in there somewhere.