For all the talk of off-field changes fans can expect when the Braves move next year to SunTrust Park, an on-field change will affect play and likely become a signature feature of the new stadium: the outfield wall.
“We decided to have some personality in the wall — how it’s designed, how it looks, how it plays,” said Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz, who had considerable input into the field design.
At Turner Field, the outfield wall is the same height all the way around — eight feet, four inches. At SunTrust Park, the wall height will vary — six feet in the left-field corner; eight feet, eight inches in left-center and center field; 16 feet from right-center to the right-field line.
The tall wall in right field is expected to have a noticeable impact on play, as well as on aesthetics. The lower 10 feet of the wall will be padding, but the top six feet will be brick. Home runs will have to clear the brick. Right fielders will have to play caroms off the brick.
“It’ll be interesting when the right fielder goes back for a ball and the ball is above the pad and he can’t quite catch it with his glove and it bounces off the brick,” Schuerholz said. “(Right fielders) are going to have to get used to making that play, so that’ll be neat.”
The right-field wall also will have two openings in the padded portion, each 40 feet wide by 8 1/2 feet high, that will allow fans in the lower level of SunTrust Park’s three-level “Chop House” restaurant to watch games at field level through vinyl-coated chain-link fencing. The Chop House’s 2,000-square-foot lower level will be dubbed “Below the Chop,” which the Braves envision as a gathering or party space for about 100 fans.
“One thing we have seen and learned from all of our tours of other ballparks … is that there is a lot of character built into the outfield walls,” Derek Schiller, the Braves’ president of business, said this week. “It can can be in the form of different wall heights and in not having uniformity in the curve of the wall.
“We wanted to have our own distinctive character to the outfield. I think one of the things that helps define a ballpark and a ballpark experience for fans is the outfield. … I expect all of right field to be a signature item (of SunTrust Park).”
The height of the right-field wall, almost twice as high as at Turner Field, will be mitigated by a shorter distance from home plate. At The Ted, the right-center wall is 390 feet from the plate. At SunTrust, it will be 375 feet away.
Schuerholz expects the Braves’ Freddie Freeman and other left-handed power hitters to welcome the change in right-field power-alley distance, but “they may have to put a little more loft on the ball to get it out.”
Other SunTrust Park dimensions include 335 feet down the left-field line (same as Turner Field), 385 feet to left-center field (compared with 380 feet at Turner), 400 feet to straight-away center field (same as at Turner) and 325 feet down the right-field line (compared with 330 at Turner). SunTrust Park’s deepest points, just to the left and right of straight-away center, will be 402 feet.
As always is the case with a new stadium, players will be eager to learn whether the new place plays as a hitter’s park or a pitcher’s park.
Braves general manager John Coppolella posted on Twitter during spring training that it “will be similar to Turner Field, but slightly better for hitters.” Schuerholz, who recently moved from the position of team president to the advisory role of vice chairman, said it will be “fair” for hitters and pitchers.
“If a pitcher makes a mistake, a hitter ought to be able to hit a home run. If (a pitcher) makes a good pitch, he ought to be able to get an out,” Schuerholz said. “I think Turner Field is a very fair ballpark. I think this will play fair as well.”
The Braves and their architects reviewed wind studies from nearby Dobbins Air Reserve Base in making design decisions, but there’s always some mystery about how a new baseball stadium will play.
“We don’t know what impact the buildings in the (adjacent) mixed-use development will have on the flow of air into the ballpark,” Schuerholz said. “We’ll find out when we play in it.”
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