Last year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums. It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April. So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.
Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.
Rankings like this are inherently subjective. I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites. I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support. I only care about the building and the location. I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.
30. Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)
29. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland Athletics)
28. Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)
25. Turner Field (Atlanta Braves)
Turner Field was a little like Atlanta itself: generic, artificial, and a derivative of something more authentic. That sounds a little harsh, and it is, but there was nothing remarkable about Turner Field, much like there is nothing remarkable about Atlanta. Both the stadium and the city have everything you need, but neither of them are very unique.
Years ago, the State of Georgia passed a law giving generous tax breaks to Hollywood studios filming in the state. If you’ve noticed a proliferation of TV shows and movies with an Atlanta backdrop (The Walking Dead, almost every Marvel movie), that’s why. On one level, it’s a basic financial transaction between corporation and municipality. On another level, it works. Atlanta easily passes for Generic American City for any film project where the location in fungible. Atlanta is there, it fills the frame, but it doesn’t overshadow what’s in the foreground.
Turner Field was Generic American Ballpark. It had a pleasant brick exterior, exposed steel in the concourse, all the modern concessions, and a giant video screen. But it was difficult to pinpoint–other than the incessantly grating tomahawk chop music–anything about the place that stood out.
Turner Field, of course, is the only stadium in this 30 Stadiums in 30 Days countdown I refer to in the past tense. The Braves played their last game there last fall, and the stadium is being repurposed for Georgia State football. Atlanta will be moving to a stadium, well, outside Atlanta to neighboring Cobb County, closer to the team’s suburban fan base. The new stadium, SunTrust Park, will be a multi-use development with office space, apartments, restaurants, a movie theater, and a bowling alley. The strategy–and it’s not a bad one–is to generate income 365 days a year. It’s the latest trend started to some degree by the Cubs and Tigers to benefit from non-baseball revenue near the site of your home ballpark.
But enough about the new place–back to Turner Field. The stadium owes some its awkwardness to its origin. It was initially constructed as the home stadium for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. In an impressive display of civic efficiency, it was immediately converted to a baseball-only facility for the 1997 season. The renovation was so complete, you’d never know it was constructed for track and field and not baseball. In 2005, Turner Field was upgraded with the largest video screen then in existence along with LED displays, which frankly were oppressive to the eyesight.
Turner Field was built within walking distance to the Braves former home, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium near downtown Atlanta. The near is critical there because Turner Field was near a lot stuff, but adjacent to nothing. For the fan, there was nothing more to the gameday experience than the game–no walkable restaurants, bars, or anything else. It was just a sea of parking lots. The new stadium project will attempt to remedy that, and then some.
The outline of the old Fulton County Stadium outfield wall is still marked in the Turner Field parking lot. This is noteworthy because the Fulton County outfield saw one of the most famous moments in baseball history, Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Aaron is omnipresent throughout Turner Field, along with several other notable figures in Braves/Georgia baseball history, like Phil Niekro and Ty Cobb. Along the second deck in the outfield, the Braves displayed 14 pennants, signifying one of the most impressive feats in baseball history–14 consecutive division titles, including five pennants and one World Series win in that stretch.
Most of that recent success took place at Turner Field. Nonetheless, attendance dwindled, some theorize because of the stadium’s inconvenient location. So after 20 years–adolescence for a baseball stadium–it was abandoned. It speaks to the fans’ affinity for the place that very few tears were shed. Atlanta can, and will try, to do better.