An all-too-quiet walk before Braves’ would-be opener

We baseball fanatics believe opening day should be a national holiday. Communities around the country celebrate the sport’s return in their home city. It makes for some of the more glorious atmospheres in our nation. Perhaps more than any other event on the domestic pro sports calendar, it symbolizes unity.

Friday was the Braves’ opener. Emphasis on “was.” The coronavirus pandemic has paused sports indefinitely. We have zero idea when – or if – there will be an opening day in 2020.

Even manager Brian Snitker said it: This day would hit worse than last Thursday, when the Braves would've opened the season in Arizona. They would've just completed their first road trip in two of my favorite cities, Phoenix and San Diego.

And Friday, they’d be preparing to begin their home slate. To distance themselves further from the last game played at that very ballpark. This evening was going to be the next fresh start.

I’m writing this piece around 2:30 p.m., when I would’ve been driving to Truist Park. Just over an hour ago, I – along with my shorkie, Maestro – strolled through The Battery. What could’ve been an afternoon so full of life, enthusiasm and celebratory alcohol was rather somber.

>> Photos: Truist Park without baseball

What could’ve been an afternoon full of great anticipation – the Braves were among the league’s top World Series hopefuls – was instead a hollow shell. Our walk was peaceful, but The Battery wasn’t supposed to be peaceful today. It was meant for ruckus.

There wasn’t ice cream at Häagen-Dazs. Good Game had no games. El Super Pan was blank. Gio’s was silent, the yellow umbrellas in front folded amongst the bevy of empty silver chairs. The most signs of life were at Antico, where several sought a small bright spot – excellent pizza – in a dark time.

As we continued our saunter, an individual or two would pass by, but the most noise you’d hear was the pitter-patter of Maestro’s feet on the pavement and the Georgia Power Pavilion’s speaker playing pop music in the far background.

We kept goin’. There was nothing to escape at The Escape Game. Certainly no baseball at Baseballism. No reason to sway at the Waterloo Sunset. No reason to be cleaned up at Van Michael (does anyone get dressed up these days? I put my jeans on before walking the dog and it feels like readying for a business meeting).

We passed by the Roxy and its slammed-shut ticket windows. Its theatre lights surrounded a sign with a message we can all agree with: “We Love You Atlanta. Be Back Soon.”

We cut to the right, facing the pavilion and the busiest area of The Battery. There were no sports or social at Sports and Social. The Tavern was quiet. There wasn’t a Fox Sports South set. The Braves’ team store was pitch black, displaying the following:

“In these unprecedented times, we are reminded, the health and safety of our fans, employees, players and the community at large has been, and always will be, a priority for us. With that in mind, the Braves Clubhouse Store has been closed indefinitely. In the meantime, please stay safe.”

We continued past the Terrapin Taproom, which had one gentleman at the counter grabbing lunch. The grass in front of the pavilion … had some life! A trio was doing yoga in the middle of the field, a couple other girls were solo.

Maestro and I headed over to the Chop House gate, adjacent to Terrapin Taproom, and he sat in front of the bars, peering into the ballpark. A sweeper drove by inside the gate, providing some ambient noise. It was otherwise the same as our previous stops: too peaceful.

We made another round, just taking everything in. Normally, the clubhouse would be open right now. Reporters would be gathering their pre-game material. The ballpark intercom would soon be blaring music as players took batting practice.

The Battery was empty hours before the Braves would've been preparing for their home opener against the Marlins on April 3. (Gabe Burns / AJC)

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Fans would be filing into the ballpark, hoping they’re seeing the first home game of an eventual World Series champ. Or at least another playoff participant – many in Atlanta are jaded by postseason failures, so I can’t say everyone would be so optimistic.

The stadium would be flooded with energy. It’d be loud. This is an enthusiastic fan base and the entire south is represented. The Braves would be hosting their favorite punching bag, the Marlins, which means there would’ve been a Ronald Acuna homer or two (and hit by pitch) in route to a win.

Standing at the pavilion and looking at the too-serene scene, it really hits home that none of that is happening. Instead I’ll head back to the apartment and watch the Braves’ special showing that night – interviews with Alex Anthopoulos, Snitker and Freddie Freeman – which the Braves deserve kudos for doing as they try to stay connected with devotees.

I knew this would likely be my last trip to The Battery in … quite a while. As we began pacing towards the red deck, in an act that perfectly suited the emptiness (and this column), the intercom began playing Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day.”

Where is the moment when we needed the most?

You kick up the leaves, and the magic is lost

They tell me your blue sky's faded to gray

They tell me your passion's gone away

And I don't need no carrying on

Stand in the line just to hit a new low

You're faking a smile with the coffee to go

You tell me your life's been way off line

You're falling to pieces every time

And I don't need no carrying on

'Cause you had a bad day

You're taking one down

You sing a sad song just to turn it around

You say you don't know

You tell me don't lie

You work at a smile, and you go for a ride

You had a bad day

The camera don't lie

You're coming back down, and you really don't mind

You had a bad day

It was a bad day, by sports standards. A bad day without baseball. But when this is all behind us, and the nation is recapturing a form of normality, we’ll all smile at the first “Hellooooooo baseball fans” resonating through Truist Park.

While we wait, I wish everybody good health and safety in this difficult time. I look forward to one day bringing you coverage of live sports again.