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Atlanta Braves Blog / David O'Brien

Posted: 12:36 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013

Like it or not, Braves' planned move understandable 

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This is a view of Turner Field when it was being constructed as the main stadium for the 1996 Olympics. After the 2016 Braves season, it will apparently go the way of old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which was demolished after the Braves moved across the street to Turner Field in '97.

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turnerfieldView photo
We're not sure if the Braves have any plans to transport their humongous hi-definition videoboard to their new ballpark, but they won't be bringing along the view of downtown, which you couldn't see from most of Turner Field anyway due to the 755 Club that was built atop the left-field bleachers.
NeilYoung photo
Neil Young

How do you feel about the Braves' planned move to a new ballpark in Cobb County?

Don't like it. Should stay at Turner Field.  112 votes

20%

Like the move.  333 votes

60%

Don't like it, but understand why they're doing it.  106 votes

19%

551 total votes

By David O'Brien

  ORLANDO -- When the City of Atlanta takes a wrecking ball to Turner Field at some point after the 2016 season, as the mayor indicates is the plan, it's going to be both sad and absurd.

  How have we gotten to this point, where events can conspire to create this situation? When a ballpark, the kind of brick-and-steel edifice that used to serve a team and its city for 50 or 60 (and sometimes many more) years, will be demolished at an age when it won’t even be old enough to have a drink?

  Born in 1996, dead in 2016. They should put a headstone there, engraved thusly: “Here lies Turner Field. Fireworks every Friday night, but a neighborhood that just didn’t seem right. So the tenants went to the ‘burbs.”

  We’re not going to rehash here this whole rather unfortunate and messy situation between the Braves, the city, and the frustration over the incompetence of people who, years ago, thought it better to rake in parking revenue than build a MARTA stop adjacent to the then-Olympic stadium.

  Or the folly of decision-makers whose idea of jump-starting a planned neighborhood rejuvenation was to build a miniature-golf course across the street. You know, urban Putt-Putt. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  Seriously, sometimes I marvel at the fact that Atlanta really is a great city, considering the whacked-out decisions we make on so many important issues. The lack of intelligent foresight that goes into so many matters of importance, it's staggering.

  But I digress.

  The new ballpark – I’m assuming it’s going to happen, since surely team and Cobb County officials wouldn’t say it so definitively if they weren't absolutely certain, right? – will be beautiful, I’m sure. They’ve got a few years to make sure of that, and if you’re moving from a nice place with a ginormous hi-def videoboard, a view (at least from the upper deck) of the skyline and the golden dome of the State Capitol, across the street from the commemorated site of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, well, by God, you better make the new place special.

  By the way, do you know what was the second-biggest mistake made at Turner Field, after the failure to build a MARTA stop when they had the chance? (The third-biggest mistake, in my opinion, was keeping about 10,000 too many seats in the conversion plans that turned the massive Olympic Stadium to a baseball-only facility right after the ’96 Summer Games.)

   But the second-bigggest mistake? That would be the inexplicable decision to build the 755 Club and all that other rooftop stuff above the left-field bleachers, thereby blocking the view of the Atlanta skyline for most people in the stadium. I mean, seriously. Why?

  You say the setting sun creates a beautiful reflection off the golden dome and downtown glass buildings in the early innings on summer nights? I wouldn’t know. I sit in the pressbox, where you can’t see that.

 Oh, well.

  Like I said, I don’t want to spent a lot of time here today rehashing what we’ve already written and Tweeted about for the past three days. I’ll reiterate my general thoughts on the move to a new ballpark in Cobb County for the 2017 season: I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea of reverting to the 1970s-era way of thinking, of moving a team from the city to the ‘burbs, when almost every major sports team that’s moved within a city since then has stayed in the same area or moved closer to its city center.

  Not that I have anything against Cobb County or the ‘burbs. I don’t live there, but I know a huge segment of Atlanta-area residents do, and an even larger percentage of Braves fans do. And if they can’t make it easier to get more of those fans to come to the ballpark on a regular basis, well, the Braves are taking the ballpark to them.

 I don’t like it, but I understand it. Oh, I completely understand it.

  I don’t blame the Braves, who apparently are going to have to pay only about $200 million of the total construction cost of the new ballpark, less than one-third according to the estimates we’re hearing of roughly $650 million (which will likely rise considerably by the time it’s all said and done, as these things always do). And more importantly, they are going to control the land and development around the ballpark. Yes, more importantly.

  For a team that’s tied up in a terrible TV contract that runs for about 13 more years, when other MLB teams are signing new TV deals worth exponentially more millions of dollars annually, the Braves feel the need to boost revenues wherever they can. This is where they can.

  They don’t feel like they can do much more where they are at Turner Field, where attendance has been stuck in the mid-2 million range and where the Braves wouldn’t control any of the development around the ballpark even if there were any, which there most definitely is not, has never been, and probably never would be.

 You do what you feel like you’ve gotta do. The Braves feel like they’ve gotta do this. And they want to do this. They want to make more money, boost their payroll, increase their ability to remain an elite franchise at a time when most other teams that win as much as they do have higher revenues and bigger payrolls.

  I get it.

  I won’t lie and say I like it. But I completely get it.

  And to the person or persons were who thought that a MARTA stop was a bad idea, compared to parking revenue for what must have seemed like perpetuity: Those parking revenues are going to come to an abrupt end after the 2016 season. Hope it was worth it.

  Twenty years, then Turner Field meets a wrecking ball.

  Meanwhile, Fenway Park was built in 1912 and has never looked better. And they just played their 100th season at Wrigley Field. Of course, each of those ballparks has a subway stop about one block away.

  Dodger Stadium, built in 1962, does not have a subway stop or other convenient public-transportation options. And you might have heard, they have pretty severe traffic and urban sprawl in Los Angeles, just like us, only in a metro area several times larger.

  But the Dodgers also just signed the largest TV contract in baseball history, one that could be worth up to $250 million annually – more than 10 times what the Braves get. Oh, and the Dodgers led the majors in home attendance this past season with 3.74 million; the Braves were 13th at 2.55 million.

  Oh, and the Dodgers’ majors-leading $220 million payroll was nearly 2-1/2 times larger than the Braves’ $90 million.

  So whether or not you like this Braves move, you can at least understand why it’s being made. Right?

  Wren on the planned move: The Braves expect a boost in revenues after they move into the new ballpark in 2017, which leads to natural speculation that perhaps the team could better afford to sign some of its young players to long-term extensions with backloaded salaries that increase at about the same time that team revenues are expected to increase.

   However, general manager Frank Wren said Tuesday that the ballpark situation and planned move probably won’t affect anything he does this winter.

   “That’s pretty long range,” he said. “That’s four years out, so I don’t think that really has many implications in anything we’re doing this season. I think it will start to in the next couple of years.”

    Not that he downplayed the big-picture significance of the planned move to the new ballpark, which he said was about “Keeping us competitive for the long term. As we look at other clubs with bigger and better TV deals and keep moving the needle -- our guys have done a terrific job of maxing at our revenues at Turner Field. I think everyone was looking for other opportunities. I think the ability to generate new revenues, maybe generate additional fan attendance – all those things are ways to move the needle.”

   He said the new ballpark could also be a future recruiting tool of sorts when going after free agents.

   “No question,” Wren said. “You have a brand-new, beautiful ballpark, there’s a lot to be excited about.”

  As for the 2014 payroll, I was told recently that the Braves would probably push it up about $10 million, to the $100 million neighborhood. Wren won’t say anything about that, or about how much money the Braves think they’ll have to spend after all the arbitration raises they’re going to have to give out (which could more than offset the $13 million that comes off the books if catcher Brian McCann signs elsewhere, which seems inevitable).

   “That’s kind of proprietary, what your payroll’s going to be,” Wren said. “Because you don’t want clubs looking at what you have committed and knowing that you have X number of dollars left. Then they have a better sense of what your competitive abilities are at signing players.”

• GM Meetings update: Midway through the three-day GM Meetings on Tuesday, Wren said things were moving a little quicker than at past meetings. While no trade or signing seemed imminent, he said the Braves had talked with more free-agent players’ agents who seemed poised to move quicker than at a similar point in recent offseasons, and to teams that seemed like they might be closer to being ready to make trades.

  “I think in the case of some of the agents we’ve talked to, some of the things are moving at a little brisker pace than they have in past years,” he said. “From a trade perspective standpoint, I think there was a lot of preparation before we got here. I got a good sense from more teams than usual. So I think teams were ready to get this hot stove season going. That’s just the impression I’ve got. We’ve had more substantative discussions than general, like we normally do at the GM meetings.

  “And when you have those less-general conversations, it may eliminate some things, too. Because when the conversation is too general, you kind of hold onto that idea for longer and think there’s something there. In some of the discussions we’ve had, we’ve been able to get right to the point and realize there is nothing there, and we’re able to move on.”

  The Braves would like to add an ace, but know that might not be possible given the price of the few that are available via trade or free agency. It’s probably more realistic that they could add a veteran with mound presence and leadership to their starting rotation, if free agent Tim Hudson signs elsewhere.

  Or, Wren said, they could end up going with five of their own starters if Hudson leaves – Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, versatile rookie lefty Alex Wood or perhaps David Hale, another rookie was outstanding in two September starts.

  “Depending on what happens with a guy like Tim Hudson and other things that we’re talking about, we could have five homegrown guys in our rotation that we like,” Wren said. “A couple of them took big steps forward this year. Medlen was real good the past two years, but Mike Minor took a big step forward, Julio Teheran took a big step forward.

  “We saw a couple of young guys, Alex Wood, and David Hale came up in September and pitched two great games. Beachy should be back. Like I said, we could have a fully homegrown rotation with guys continually getting better.”

  Wren didn’t say it, but it’s known that the Braves are attempting to trade Dan Uggla this offseason, which won’t be easy unless they eat a majority of the $26 million he is owed.

  Wren said the Braves might try to add a veteran bench player. Last week they declined a $1.6 million option on outfielder/pinch-hitter Reed Johnson.

   What they aren’t doing is looking to make a big free-agent splash like they did a year ago, when they signed B.J. Upton and later traded for his brother Justin.

  “We’re not looking to change the face of our team or do anything drastic,” Wren said. “We’ll try to keep the players we can keep and we have a real good foundation for our team already.”

  • Rookie balloting: In case you missed it Monday, Teheran was fifth and Evan Gattis tied for seventh in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting. Miami ace Jose Fernandez won in a landslide, getting 26 of 30 1st-place votes, and was followed by the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig (the other four first-place votes and 25 second-place votes), Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller and Dodgers pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu.

  Teheran got all his points on seven third-place votes, Jedd Gyorko was sixth with two third-place votes, and Gattis and Colorado’s Nolan Arenado tied for seventh with one third-place vote apiece.

 • Where Stan goes, Roy follows: Six years after former Braves president Stan Kasten left for Washington, he hired away Braves scouting director Roy Clark to join him with the Nationals in 2009. And now that Kasten has positioned himself so splendidly as president and part-owner with the glitzy Dodgers, he has once again hired away Clark to come join him in L.A. ESPN was the first to report this week that Clark has left the Nats for the Dodgers.

 • Etc. The planned new ballpark is only about 15-20 minutes from the homes of manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell, who are neighbors in Marietta. Fredi told me he didn’t know until Sunday night that the stadium deal was going to get done (it was announced Monday). I can believe it, considering what I was told by someone else with the Braves – that only five or six top-level team executives were even aware of the negotiations with a couple of Cobb County officials that took place since summer…. The Braves have a home game against the Padres on July 27, the Sunday that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox are expected to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. That game against the Padres is the 10th in an 11-game homestand. I’d make an early suggestion that the Braves play at 4 p.m., if possible, and show the Cooperstown induction ceremony on the videoboard at Turner Field before the game.

• Tuesday was Neil Young's birthday. Enjoy this great tune from the mighty Neil.

“HEY HEY, MY MY (INTO THE BLACK)” by Neil Young

Hey, hey, my, my
Rock and roll can never die
There's more to the picture than meets the eye
Hey, hey, my, my

Out of the blue and into the black
You pay for this, but they give you that
And once you're gone, you can't come back
When you're out of the blue and into the black

The king is gone but he's not forgotten
Is this the story of the Johnny Rotten?
It's better to burn out 'cause rust never sleeps
The king is gone but he's not forgotten

Hey, hey, my, my
Rock and roll can never die
There's more to the picture than meets the eye

David O'Brien

About David O'Brien

David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002, and previously covered the Marlins for the (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel for seven years.

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