Following a long but uneventful drive from south Jersey to Atlanta on Friday (with us dodging thunderstorms from the DC area through South Carolina), we settled into our hotel in suburban Atlanta. We arrived too late to catch the Braves’ Friday night game vs the Chicago Cubs, but we expected that would occur, following a 13 hour drive.
1. Downtown Atlanta
After breakfast at our hotel, we decided to explore downtown Atlanta. Never having been to Atlanta (other than changing planes at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport), I wasn’t sure what to expect. For some reason, I believed that Atlanta was a jewel of the South, perhaps fostered by descriptions of the city from more than 100 years ago.
What I found, however, was something altogether different. Downtown Atlanta was in fact an urban area, much like any urban area in the US. Once we found parking, we walked around the Centennial Park area. It was a sun splashed and warm morning, not as humid as expected, making our walk more comfortable than anticipated.
While walking through the park, we were approached by a group of young men. They were obviously attempting to intimidate us, momentarily blocking our way. One of the young men gave my digital camera a long look, as though it was something he might want to take from me. Being from New Jersey, we simply ignored them, and they moved on. Any illusion I might have had of Atlanta being a jewel of the South was shattered in that moment.
Annoyed but undaunted, we continued to explored the park. Views from the park included the CNN Building and the Georgia Aquarium. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Georgia Aquarium is one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Having seen aquariums across the country, I didn’t believe this one was better than the others I’ve seen, and didn’t give much thought to visiting. After learning more about it, I wish I had stopped in for a look.
Our next stop was the Underground City section of downtown Atlanta. Originally designed during the 19th century as a depot for bustling train traffic, the Underground City opened in what would be its new form in the late 1960s, becoming more of a center for shops and restaurants. For years, I’d heard of the Underground City, but visiting it showed us that it was little more than a sprawling mall, not unlike we’ve all seen in our own cities. Following a cursory visit, we exited to find some lunch.
After lunch near the Underground City, we continued to explore Centennial Park. Eventually, the heat and increasing humidity wore me down, and the tour of downtown Atlanta was cut short. My opinion of Atlanta was lowered during our short visit. In fairness to the city, we covered a very small portion of Atlanta, and probably did not represent the area as a whole. It was not my intention to denigrate the city; I simply reported what I saw.
2. Turner Field
Prior to the scheduled 715 pm start of the Cubs/Braves game, there was a softball game commemorating the 1991 Braves squad. The celebration drew a large crowd to Turner Field that evening, resulting in parking adjacent to the park filling before we arrived. We were directed to a satellite parking lot a few blocks from the stadium. Quickly we discovered that the neighborhood surrounding the park was not so nice, though we didn’t feel particularly unsafe, as we were walking with a large group of people toward the stadium. However, we later learned that someone was shot in that very parking lot shortly after we left it.
Even though we arrived at the ballpark well ahead of the first pitch, we didn’t have much time to explore the park before the beginning of the softball game. The game pitted members of the 1991 Atlanta Braves (the first Atlanta baseball team to get to the World Series) against a team of “legends”. As might be expected, there were a number of players from the 1991 team on the field, with some playing and other simply there to join in the celebration.
On the field, John Smoltz hit a two run home run and made an over the should catch in support of a 7-7 time against a team of “legends” from that time frame. The 1991 Braves were managed by Bobby Cox, and there was a pre game video tribute to Ernie Johnson, a long time Braves’ TV and radio broadcaster, who passed the night before. Not surprisingly, the length of the softball games, as well as the preparation of the field, resulted in the MLB game starting late.
At first look, Turner Field appeared to be a typical MLB stadium. Originally built for the 1996 Olympics, the stadium was converted for use as a baseball stadium in time for the 1997 season. Turner Field had three decks from foul line to foul line, resulting in a capacity of 50,000. The entire lower concourse was continuous, allowing us to take pictures during our brief walk.
Given our time constraints, we located the nearest concession stand to pick up food and drinks, then headed out to find our seats. Despite a nearly packed house, we were able to secure fairly good seats for the Saturday night contest. The hot and humid afternoon was transitioning into a warm and muggy evening with light winds; in other words, a typical August night in Atlanta.
The night’s pitching matchup featured Randy Wells starting for the visiting Cubs, with veteran Derek Lowe starting for the hometown Braves. Lowe was struggling through a brutal 2011 campaign, sporting a 5.05 ERA and on pace to lead the NL in losses. Wells’ season was mediocre at best, and would be out of the MLB in less that two seasons.
Considering the quality of the starting pitching, we expected a high scoring affair, especially in the heat, which fosters an environment in which the ball carries. However, we were pleasantly surprised that the score was 1-1 entering the top of the fifth inning. The Cubs scored three runs off Lowe in that frame, who then surrendered two more in the top of the sixth to end his night.
Meanwhile, Randy Wells was effective, tossing six innings arms leaving on the long side of a 5-2 score. The Cubs tacked on three runs in the tops of the eight to seal the victory. The lone bright spot for the Braves was Chipper Jones, who has three hits in four at bats.
Many of the 49,000+ in attendance stayed for most of the game, which resulted in a slow exit from the ballpark. Though we didn’t get much of a chance to explore Turner Field this evening, my initial impression was that it was a typical MLB ballpark with no frills or extras. We would get a better look at the ballpark the next afternoon.