Braves break in ‘beautiful’ new ballpark with first practice

Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte takes in his new home from the dugout while the team holds its first workout at SunTrust Park on Thursday. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte takes in his new home from the dugout while the team holds its first workout at SunTrust Park on Thursday. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

The Braves don’t know yet how their new ballpark will play. Those details will come into focus as the Braves play games there over the next several weeks, starting with an exhibition against the Yankees on Friday.

For their first workout at SunTrust Park on Thursday, the Braves took in the big picture of the stadium’s features and aesthetics.

“It’s just beautiful,” Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte said. “It’s different. From the clubhouse, weight room and come out and see this beautiful stadium: the LED lights, the background. It’s beautiful. It’s amazing. I just want to start playing games and have fun out there.”

The Braves begin play at SunTrust Park in Cobb County this season after 20 years at Turner Field, near downtown. The Braves played their final spring training game Wednesday afternoon, arrived at SunTrust Park that evening, and then took the field for fielding and batting practice Thursday afternoon.

Shortstop Dansby Swanson, a Marietta High product, said the new ballpark was “astonishing” when partially lit Wednesday night.

“It lit it up in a different way,” Swanson said. “I didn’t even want to take pictures or video or anything because it wouldn’t do it justice. And then today, it doesn’t really get any nicer, if we’re being honest. It’s pretty special.”

The scenery at SunTrust Park is much different than at Turner Field. Spectators at the old park could see the downtown skyline in the distance from the higher seats. At the new park, office buildings and the under-construction Omni Hotel shadow the stadium and dominate the views from every seat (except for those in a field-level club area under the right-field stands).

Braves second baseman Brandon Phillips said he will miss Turner Field. He said he has fond memories of that stadium while growing up in Stone Mountain. He also typically hit well there as a visiting big leaguer.

But Phillips, in his first year with the Braves, said he’s impressed with SunTrust Park now that he’s seen it.

“Coming out here and seeing the new SunTrust Park, this is a great landmark for Atlanta,” Phillips said. “They really needed this. Turner Field, it was really nice also, but for them to move this stadium out there I see why everybody is bragging about it. It’s a beautiful thing.”

A handful of fans and media, plus a few construction workers, watched the Braves’ first practice in their new park.

The Braves took infield practice before hitting, and the consensus from infielders was that ground balls roll quickly.

“It is fast,” Phillips said. “It is bumpy. But it’s nice. It’s a nice park, period. The infield is just really fast. It’s still early, we can work on it. Other than that, no complaints about the stadium.”

There was a strong wind during the workout that generally seemed to be blowing out to right field. It remains to be seen if that was unique to the day and time or if strong winds will be a regular feature at the ballpark for night games.

Braves outfielders spent time getting used to the new dimensions and angles in the ballpark. Inciarte and right fielder Nick Markakis examined the right-field wall, which has exposed brick on its upper portion.

“If that ball bounces and nobody is backing up, it is going to be an inside-the-park (home run) for sure,” Inciarte said.

For Braves players, the comfort features of the new stadium probably rank second in importance to how it will play. They gave it rave reviews for its spacious and posh clubhouse.

“I’ve never been in a clubhouse with a pool table right in the middle,” Phillips said. “Sleeping areas, saunas in there. Everything in there you can think of. It’s like a kid in the candy store. I hope we don’t get real comfortable in the clubhouse and can keep our focus on the field.”