The water feature beyond center field was in operation. The name plates were in place above many players’ lockers in the clubhouse. And the field cried out for a baseball game.
The Braves opened SunTrust Park for a behind-the-scenes media tour Tuesday, three days before the ballpark will be opened to season-ticket holders for an exhibition game Friday against the New York Yankees and 2 1/2 weeks before the April 14 regular-season home opener against the San Diego Padres.
“If the season started tonight, we could do it,” Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said at the start of the tour. “That’s the degree of readiness we’re in right now.”
But McGuirk said Friday’s exhibition game, with about 20,000 fans expected in the 41,000-seat stadium, will be a good test for the venue.
“We want to try everything out,” he said. “There will be some adjustments in the two weeks until the opening day, of course.”
Many features of SunTrust Park are well-known by now, such as the cantilever design that pushes some seats closer to the field, the three-level Chop House restaurant beyond right field and the large canopy that will provide some cover from sun and rain. But here are glimpses of other parts of the stadium, some not previously seen:
The Braves’ clubhouse
With a pool table in the middle of the room, nine flat-screen televisions, rich wood walls and plush sofas and chairs, the Braves’ 3,000-square foot clubhouse bears no resemblance to the spartan locker rooms of decades ago.
Lining the walls are 42 large lockers, many already assigned to players.
“I call them, like, individual player condominiums,” Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz said of the locker spaces. “They have special lighting. They have special wiring for electronic gear. It will be, literally, (the players’) little home away from home.
“This is all a byproduct of input from the players,” Schuerholz said. “We did considerable one-on-ones with them to find out what it is they want in their clubhouse, and we built it that way. … These chairs and these couches and these televisions and all of the things that will go on in here is a way to help them relax and be calm and cool and collected before the games start and go out and play good baseball.”
Across the upper portion of the back wall of the clubhouse, there’s a reminder of the team’s history and goal: an image of the World Series trophy and, in large bold type, “1995 WORLD CHAMPIONS.”
The water feature
A water feature in the “batter’s eye” area just beyond the center-field wall likely will be one of the new stadium’s more telegenic elements.
The area includes four large evergreen trees (green giant arborvitae), smaller plantings, boulders, two ponds and a water fall. Water falls off a ledge from the upper pond into the lower pond. A fountain shoots streams of water 50 feet into the air, toward the main video board, from the upper pond.
The feature figures to have a game-presentation role in celebrating home runs, wins and the like.
The Braves took inspiration from a similar setup in the same area of the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, one of many MLB stadiums from which features were borrowed.
“There are so many pieces of this stadium which are taken directly out of other stadiums’ success factors and incorporated all around,” McGuirk said.
Unlike Turner Field, SunTrust Park doesn’t have a stand-alone Braves museum. But a well-appointed space in the main concourse behind home plate, Monument Garden, will display many highlights of franchise history.
The key portion of the space was curtained off from view Tuesday — the spot where the new Hank Aaron statue will be unveiled at a fundraiser Wednesday night. Behind the statue will be a sculpture made of 755 baseball bats in honor of Aaron’s career home-run total. A video screen will play an Aaron biography.
Monument Garden also features a collection of Braves jerseys through the decades, various trophies and an interactive exhibit on the team’s retired numbers.
A “memorable moments” exhibit includes Sid Bream’s knee brace. When fans approach it, audio will play of Skip Caray’s call of Bream sliding home with the run that sent the Braves to the 1992 World Series.
Other artifacts of franchise history are spread throughout the ballpark. For example, the bat and ball from Aaron’s 715th home run, which broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing career record in 1974, are displayed in the Hank Aaron Terrace above left field.
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