Loren Smith’s Sports Column: Braves Outing

Published 2:53 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2023

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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.