It is a strange feeling to “already” be saying goodbye to Turner Field after 20 years. I’m not sure if it because I now regularly refer to things 20 years ago that seem recent or because I’m used to stadiums lasting much longer than that. After all Wrigley Field of the Cubs celebrates its 100th birthday this season.
The Braves took over the stadium that was built for the 1996 Summer Olympic games but the city of Atlanta did not follow through on commitments to build out the area around the stadium, so they are taking their product elsewhere.
In 20 seasons at Turner Field, the Braves had 15 winning seasons. They made the playoffs 12 times and once more missed it on the last day of the season. They had ten first place finishes and 5 times won more than 100 games. Only the Cubs won 100 games this season, who of course beat the Braves in the 2003 playoffs with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.
In an interview with the Hall of Fame, Greg Maddux noted: “…we always had a packed house there. They were chopping every night, and everybody kind of caught the fever. I remember talking to fans who said they followed the Braves all their life and never thought they’d see this.”
On that field Chipper Jones played all but two of his seasons of his soon-to-be Hall of Fame career. Hall of Fame pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz formed not arguably but THE best trio of pitchers in MLB history for the longest tenure. They pitched the Braves year after year into the playoffs. All managed by Hall of Fame Manager Bobby Cox. Yet, the only World Series games played at The Ted they lost to the Yankees in as part of a 4 game sweep in 1999.
Now the Braves move into fancy new SunTrust Park for 2017, a state of the art stadium built within a mini-city of entertainment and eating establishments in the suburbs.
Ironically 2016 was by far the worst season for the Braves as they were in complete rebuild mode for their new ballpark to begin a new era. The Braves have done an incredible job of passing “the Braves mantle” throughout the years. Dale Murphy, who won the NL MVP Award in 1982-3 was Mr. Brave through 1990. That year he was traded and David Justice became the team leader as the Braves started their professional sports record of division titles in 1991.
Justice in 1995 helped bring a World Championship to Atlanta with his Game 6 World Series home run, the same year a rookie named Chipper Jones started playing.
Chipper held the mantle for the Braves until Freddie Freeman came along in 2011 and finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year Award to teammate Craig Kimbrel. Chipper retired in 2012 and as the Braves rebuild, Freddie has remained and will carry the mantle into Suntrust Park.In 2016 Freddie blasted a career high 34 home runs and hit .300 again while playing excellent defense. With 6 years remaining on his contract, he isn’t going anywhere.
Teams need an identity, and as much as Chipper Jones and John Smoltz and that pitching defined Turner Field Freddie will lead the Braves charge into Suntrust Park. Just how much success the Braves will be able to duplicate in their new home remains to be seen, but I expect them to contend quickly with some great trades in the past year and a half to build up that farm system and rebuild the Atlanta brand of pitching and signing the right free agents.
While people talk about the changing free agency landscape, how the Braves conditioned differently and built their system around a certain style of play, John Smoltz thinks it is easier to describe than that: “…the reality is – and I was there the longest so I can speak to it – we wanted to play. It’s not measurable; they can’t feel it, they can’t touch it, so they don’t talk about it. But it is real.”
My personal favorite Brave to watch in The Ted was Andruw Jones. Growing up watching the Braves on TBS I quickly fell in love watching Andruw and his patented face first dives on loopers over second in shallow center. I only realized how hard that play was after he left and no one else could make the play. My favorite play of his was this catch he made in 1999 against the Astros.
So long Turner Field, here’s to hoping SunTrust Park lasts more than 20 years and brings another Championship to Atlanta!