Additional thoughts on the Braves’ move

Just 3 short seasons left to enjoy the Ted

Just 3 short seasons left to enjoy the Ted

Throughout the day, I’ve stopped what I was doing to scroll through my Twitter feed, listen to Atlanta sports talk radio, and read through the endless number of news stories regarding the Braves’ stunning announcement that they are leaving the city of Atlanta and Turner Field for Cobb County. After nearly 9 hours, I believe I’ve started to process the decision and provide a few rational thoughts before my day comes to an end.

First of all, I’m not particularly thrilled with the Braves moving to the suburbs. While it brings the Braves closer to the fans that attend games on a regular basis, it puts them in the middle of endless sprawl with nothing aesthetically pleasing about the surrounding area. Sure, the Braves are promising a massive multi-use complex, which was completely lacking at Turner Field, but the new park won’t have the gorgeous Atlanta skyline in the background (a driving factor behind Turner Field’s lack of outfield lights), nor will they be anywhere close to downtown. The team points to Colorado, San Francisco, and Cincinnati as key examples of what they want for the new stadium and other developments. What those parks have in common that the new Braves’ park does not: they’re in the cities.

Sadly, I haven’t traveled to Denver to see the Rockies, nor have I been to San Francisco to see the much loved AT&T Park, but I’ve been to Cincinnati and they did a damn good job redeveloping the area around Great American Ballpark, in the middle of downtown Cincinnati, along the banks of the Ohio River. Before the game I was able to walk through the streets of downtown, enjoying the sights and sounds of a big city before making my way back to the park for the game. There’s plenty to do for the fans and you still get to see Cincinnati’s large skyline, including the huge Great American building looming over the stadium that bears its names.

At this moment, we have no idea what the new park will look like, nor do we know what we will see when we gaze beyond the outfield walls. Hopefully it’s something that makes up for the glaring absence of the Atlanta skyline.

With all that said, I completely understand the Braves’ desire to get the hell out of Atlanta.

According to yet another great piece from the AJC  (note: it’s behind a paywall) on the move, city officials mention negotiating with the team for 18 months. Apparently the Braves wanted $100 million in infrastructure improvements and really wanted to see the area around Turner Field redeveloped (something we can all agree needed to happen), wanted to choose the developer, and earn revenue from the redevelopment project. The kicker: if the city didn’t agree, the Braves would look elsewhere. Apparently, the city considered this blackmail and negotiations stalled.

The proposals to redevelop the lots around Turner Field made news several months ago, and many of the designs were promising. They featured shops, restaurants, town homes/apartments, parks, ball fields, and one even had a ferris wheel. It looked great and I was hopeful the team and the city would agree on a proposal and begin the process of hiring a developer. Months passed and we heard nothing.

That was until today.

While the Braves were in secret talks with Cobb County officials, they couldn’t be happy with the news they saw coming from Atlanta. While they struggled to get the city to back any redevelopment plans of any kind, they saw Mayor Kasim Reed become a huge advocate for the Atlanta Falcons’ attempts to build a new Georgia Dome. Mayor Reed claimed that a new Falcons stadium would help redevelop the blighted Vine City area, provide a world class facility for the Falcons that could attract a Super Bowl, and other major events.

Now, I’m not sure if any of you are familiar with the Georgia Dome, but unlike Turner Field it sits on a MARTA (the local mass transit system) train line, is within walking distance to many of Atlanta’s major hotels and tourist attractions including the World of Coke, the Georgia Aquarium, and soon, the College Football Hall of Fame. Turner Field is next to a Holiday Inn, some bar called the Bullpen, and a lot of boarded up houses. Oh yeah, there’s a KFC nearby.

Ultimately, the Falcons got their stadium, backed in part by $200 million from the city’s hotel/motel tax. The Braves on the other hand were accused of blackmailing the city. I’ll give you this, Arthur Blank could be a better negotiator than Braves president John Schuerholz. Blank is co-founded of one of the world’s largest retail stores, is one of the richest men in Atlanta, is a large political contributor, and might very well have better business acumen than a man who’s spent most of his career building baseball teams. Whatever it may be, Arthur Blank got a stadium in the city, and John Schuerholz is moving the Braves to Cobb County.

Sadly, the coming days and weeks are going to be a nightmare for fans. The city is likely to push back hard against the Braves, claiming they were trying to extort $450 million from the city and pushed an untenable scenario on City Hall. Residents of Cobb County might not take kindly to the fact that someone’s taxes might go up in order to cover the estimated $450 million (although that figure is in dispute) in public funds to build the new ballpark. Whatever happens, we’re likely to see wall-to-wall news coverage as the details get worked out and it could be a political nightmare for all parties.

Despite his victory for the Falcons, Mayor Reed has lost a second professional sports franchise under his watch (don’t forget, the Thrashers left Atlanta for Winnipeg in 2011) and losing a team that called downtown Atlanta home for 50 years might not look good if he seeks another office after his second term as mayor is complete. Cobb County, a rather conservative county, could receive large amounts of flack from citizens over the expected cost of the stadium, especially when the county’s school system faces budget cuts almost every year. The Braves could also face fallout for the perception that they abandoned the city in favor of the suburbs.

Whatever happens, the Braves’ situation was untenable. It’s damn near impossible to get a game from the northern suburbs without sitting in endless streams of traffic. A lack of dining and entertainment options outside the stadium give you one of three options: tailgate, bring food into the stadium, or spend big bucks to eat ballpark food. Unless you are tailgating, when you get to the stadium, you go straight inside, and when the game is over, you went straight back to your car, negotiate traffic once again, and head home.

Not exactly an “experience.”

Despite trying to redevelop the areas around the park, it seems like the two sides were just unable to come to a deal and the Braves were forced to act. The team is dealing with difficult economic circumstances, and they need to improve their situation now. The Braves’ are facing lower payrolls (although their 2014 payroll is expected to rise slightly), smaller crowds (especially Monday through Thursday when school’s in session), and the inability to spend money to make money (if you think this team can currently afford to keep Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Craig Kimbrel longterm, you’re delusional) forced the Braves’ hand. It was time to act, even if it was as extreme as moving to Cobb County.

We have a tendency to jump to conclusions when a story breaks and today was no different. Hyperbole filled social media as fans were reacting with a  range of emotions from anger to joy. Most, like myself, were just shocked. I yelled “WHAT?!?” so loud this morning that I’m pretty sure my neighbors thought something serious just happened in my apartment. Little do they know how much I love my Braves.

Honestly, we don’t know what this means other than starting in 2017, you won’t be watching the Braves in Turner Field anymore. The Braves’ final season at the Ted and in downtown Atlanta marks their 50th anniversary in the city of Atlanta. Perhaps it’s a fitting time to end the Braves’ exile in a part of Atlanta separated from the rest of the city by the Downtown Connector and it will give us all the chance to reflect on 50 years that gave us Atlanta’s first Major League Baseball team, 16 division titles, 5 NL pennants, a World Series, Henry Aaron’s 715th home run, Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones, Dale Murphy, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and host of other great players, memories, and moments.

It’s not the end of the Atlanta Braves, but 2016 marks the end of an era for the city, the fans, and the team.

Rather than bickering over the move, or sitting in the comfy confines of our suburban fortresses awaiting the team’s arrival, let’s head down to the Ted for three more seasons of great baseball. Who knows, we might win a playoff game or two before the Braves close the book on their time in the City Too Busy To Hate.

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