Loren Smith’s Sports Column: Braves Outing
Published 2:53 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2023
ATLANTA – Even when the Braves come up short, an outing at Truist
Park can still be a resonating affair, especially when the weather is good,
and the team is headed to the playoffs.
I never take in a Braves game that I don’t reflect admiringly on the
setting that is the ballpark and the surrounding Battery which have to be the
best in baseball.
Truist seats 41,000 in the coziest quarters you could imagine. At
some point there had to be a drawing board and what the architects and
designers dreamed up became reality. There literally is not a bad seat in
the house. The sightlines are inspiring, and the fan experience is over the
The game and the team’s success will always bring about the core
objectives of coming to the park, but it doesn’t hurt that the ancillary
agenda is always making someone’s day.
I have always been energized by the pre-game routine. Go down on
the field and watch batting practice as the ballpark begins to come to life.
You are watching lefty Matt Olson bang balls into the Chop House
bleachers in right field and later the Phillies Bryce Harper doing the same
and suddenly the organist brings the stadium to life. Organ music is
traditional at all baseball venues and probably dates to the late 1800’s.
Organ music doesn’t get on your nerves. It keeps you in the best of moods
and is worth the price of admission.
Once at Fenway Park in Boston, I remember the organist playing
country music. I was mesmerized. When I reached the press box later, I
found my way to the organist’s cubicle and thanked him. That was
something to write home about.
Truist Park could not be more inviting. It still overwhelms from the
brilliance of the lighting to the perfection of the grass on the field and the
bordering skyline—the Omni Hotel, Life Brand software, Comcast, and
Xfinity with outfield signage highlighted by Coca-Cola and Delta, two giants
on the home front.
It brings a curious smile when hotel guests at the Omni come out
onto their decks to watch the game. Were they travelers who happened to
check in while the Braves were in town or did they rent rooms to enjoy their
own private suite and “turn in” at the ball park. I want to do that someday.
What is so compelling about a Braves home game is that there is so
many options for one to enjoy. You could come to the battery for a mini
vacation even if you did not take in a game.
Going down onto the field for batting practice naturally is about the
crack of the bat as players work to keep their eyes on the ball, hoping that
when the game begins, they can groove the ball for real.
Adults, many wearing the jerseys of their favorite players, along with
kids, flock to BP, hoping to become the beneficiary of a photo-op or, if they
are extraordinarily lucky, an autograph. In the BP comingling for a game
last week were Mike Cheek, his grandson, Nolan Zaepfel, and Matt
Brinkley of Athens. Shall we say a good time was enjoyed by all.
A suite holder, Jeff Grant, provided game tickets. Included on the
guest list was Elaine Wheeler, the mother of Zach Wheeler of the Phillies.
Zach, who now makes his home in Canton, grew up in Dallas (Georgia).
His mom always keeps score when she watches his games, but in
her own style. She brings small loose-leaf notebooks along and records
every pitch. “I have been keeping score of his games since Zach was in
high school,” she said as everybody near her was screaming for the Braves
to send her son to the showers.
She understands the local passion which she and her husband,
Barry, expect when they attend Braves-Phillies games. She was calm and
reserved and displayed little emotion, but you knew that, inside, her
emotions had to be saliently signature—for her son.
Her family is a baseball family. Barry played amateur baseball for 15
years, and Elaine played competitive baseball after having kids to the
extent that she put a playpen in the dugout during weekend tournaments.
A conversation with a big leaguer’s mother, talking between innings,
was a fun experience. And what about the drive home? Piece of cake with
Matt Brinkley behind the wheel. I was in bed by 11:00 p.m.