It’s the way of the sports world: You build a new ballpark/stadium — or, some cases, essentially have one built for you – and you’re handed an All-Star game. We’ve seen it before. We’re about to see it again.
Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, awful as it was, had one. (Hank Aaron hit a home run.) The Omni, long gone, had one. (Randy Smith of the Buffalo Braves was MVP.) Turner Field, since repurposed and renamed, had one. (Chipper hit a home run.) Philips Arena, since refurbished and renamed, had two. (One for the NHL – anybody remember the NHL being here? – and another for the NBA.) Mercedes-Benz Stadium, open not yet two years, has already had one. (Juventus of Serie A beat the MLS All-Stars in a shootout.)
All the above were staged in downtown Atlanta. Our next All-Star game will be held in Cobb County, which is surely what Cobb chairman Tim Lee, since voted out of office, had in mind. MLB made the official announcement Wednesday that the Midsummer Classic and ancillary events will grace SunTrust Park, which was no shock. The AJC’s Tim Tucker reported as much last week.
For the Atlanta audience — which has just seen our city play host to everything worth hosting, from the Olympics on down — this is more of the same. For Cobb County, it’s brand-spanking new. Over three days in 2021, an Atlanta suburb will become the focal point of North American professional sports.
Said Commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking of SunTrust Park and The Battery Atlanta: “It’s the best in baseball.”
Said Chipper Jones: “There’s not a more beautiful place to watch a baseball game.”
Said Cobb County commissioner Bob Ott, in whose district the complex sits: “It’s a great day in Cobb County. SunTrust Park and The Battery have become a destination … (The All-Star game) is a feather in the cap of the partnership between the Atlanta Braves and Cobb County.”
Maybe you’re among those who can’t abide the thought of the Braves not being based downtown. Maybe you’re among those who hate the way Cobb County went about wooing and winning the team. I get that. (Full disclosure: I’ve lived in Cobb County for 35 years and am a resident of Ott’s District 2.) But you can’t say that the Braves’ move hasn’t worked for both club and Cobb.
Said Braves chairman Terry McGuirk: “You look around today. The commissioner said to me, ‘You can’t have anything bigger and better. This is the best All-Star announcement we’ve ever had.’ ”
(Note: All-Star announcements used to be done via press release. The ceremonial aspect is a new deal.)
McGuirk again: “The commissioner keeps saying this is the model he wants for MLB. People stay late and come early.”
The Braves left downtown because nobody came early and stayed late at Turner Field. (Well, that and Cobb County agreeing to spring for half the new stadium.) Cobb wanted the Braves because landing one of the 30 big-league franchises was the suburban county’s ticket to, er, the big leagues. A prime tract of real estate – bordered by I-75, the Perimeter and Cobb Parkway – was sitting mostly barren. Look now.
Ott: “The Braves had their 265-days-of-the-year plan (meaning those days the Braves don’t play).
McGuirk: “Three of Atlanta’s 10 top-grossing restaurants are in The Battery. How many restaurants are there in Atlanta? Ten thousand?”
As nice as The Battery is, there’d have been no Omni hotel, no Wahlburgers, no Antico Pizza without a major-league team as anchor tenant. Cobb needed the Braves, and the Braves needed Cobb. “The naysayers doubted The Battery,” Ott said, and us Cobb Countians had doubts about the wisdom of plopping ballpark/Battery into the already congested Cumberland/Galleria area. But again: Look now.
Ott: “The impact on the surrounding area has been phenomenal. The halo effect has been tremendous.”
Granted, this is what the Braves and Cobb elders are supposed to say. And the Braves could have built a new ballpark downtown and they’d be getting an All-Star game – though maybe not as soon as they have. McGuirk suggested the Braves jumped the queue, as it were, after MLB held its owners meeting here last fall and those owners took a gander at the team’s new digs. “That had a big effect,” he said.
On Wednesday, MLB affixed its imprimatur to the biggest prize it can award. It said yes to the Braves and Cobb County, which mightn’t sound like a big deal to those who live in Fulton and DeKalb and Gwinnett, but for those who made this move happen it came as an affirmation.
“We saw it a little bit with the Super Bowl when we had ‘A Taste of the NFL’ at the Galleria,” Ott said. “But now we get to host the main event.”
A half-dozen years ago, who’d have seen this coming? Not Ott. “I was elected to office 11 years ago,” he said, “and back then I’d have said, ‘No way.’ ”
And yet: On this day, the District 2 commissioner shared a stage with Manfred, McGuirk, Governor Brian Kemp, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Tom Glavine, Phil Niekro, John Smoltz, Chipper and Andrew Jones and – oh, yeah – Hammerin’ Hank. Cobb County has been the home of a big-league club for two years and two months, but never has it felt bigger-league than Wednesday.
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