Big crowd of UGA fans helps Braves test SunTrust Park

As SunTrust Park’s official opening day draws near, the new Braves stadium got its final test run Saturday from Georgia Bulldogs fans.

A crowd announced as 33,025, mostly wearing Bulldogs red, explored the ballpark and watched Georgia lose 6-1 to Missouri in an SEC game.

The announced attendance represented tickets sold for the game, a fundraiser for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. It was the second most tickets sold for any game in NCAA baseball history, topped only by 40,106 for the Houston-San Diego State game that opened the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park in 2004.

Saturday’s actual crowd in the stadium was smaller than the announced figure, but it appeared to be around 25,000, very impressive for a college baseball game by any measure. Many of the fans in attendance split their time between cheering for the Bulldogs and checking out the stadium’s attractions.

The game was the second played in SunTrust Park, following a Braves-Yankees exhibition March 31, and the last until the Braves formally open the stadium at 7:35 p.m. Friday against the Padres.

“It’s beautiful,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said of the stadium. “You look at all the details, and it looks like they’ve taken bits and pieces from every park around major league baseball and kind of taken their favorite things and put them all together.

“It’s high tech, and it has got all the bells and whistles. And I think it’s going to be a great place for the Braves to play.”

Despite the outcome, Georgia players, many of them Braves fans, appreciated and enjoyed playing in the big-league ballpark.

“It was amazing,” said designated hitter Michael Curry, who had three of UGA’s four hits and scored the team’s only run. “It was a really fun experience for all of us. It’s a shame the outcome wasn’t what we wanted it to be. It was a heck of a crowd.”

The game was the finale of a three-game series between Georgia (14-19, 4-8 SEC) and Missouri (23-9, 6-6). The teams split the first two games at Foley Field in Athens on Thursday and Friday.

Braves officials approached Saturday’s game as an opportunity to assess stadium operations and were pleased with the results.

“We’ve gotten good reports,” Derek Schiller, the Braves’ president of business, said during the game. “We’ve got good (lessons) as well. … We’re going to have more signage outside come Friday than there was today to make sure people understand how to get to whatever parking location they’re going to.”

Schiller said several stadium glitches exposed during the March 31 exhibition have been solved, "and most of them were relatively easy."

Concession stands, premium club spaces and other amenities were open throughout the 41,000-seat stadium Saturday, although the Chop House restaurant beyond right field was limited to a private event.

Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz roamed the lower-level concourse before the game. Although he was wearing a cap, some fans recognized him and congratulated him on the stadium.

“They reach out and say thank you,” Schuerholz said. “I didn’t design it, and I didn’t build it, but I’m part of the organization that made the determination this is what we wanted.”