April 10, 2005: Atlanta, Georgia
I am not sure if it was the decade of Atlanta Braves dominance over my New York Mets or the Mets 0-5 record, but I wasn’t very excited to visit Atlanta during the Sun Belt Ballpark Tour. All of these notions were unjustifiable. After spending time in Atlanta and Turner Field, it is safe to say I was wrong. Mike and I began our odyssey to Atlanta after spending some time in St. Petersburg, Florida. We expected to be on the road for six to seven hours and were on schedule until I jinxed our ride when I noticed a sign that said: Atlanta 240 miles. After seeing this sign, I said, “Only three more hours.” What followed was six more hours of driving that resulted in the creation of Rock Opera. Rock Opera is when I sing rock and some rap songs as if I were a part of the Three Tenors. Hey, you try spending 10 hours in a car and staying sane. Our drive was made even worse by the fact that we spent time listening to the Atlanta Braves beat up on the Mets. Once Mike and I arrived at our Sheraton Hotel, located in Buckhead, we changed and went out to see what Buckhead’s bar scene was all about. Mike and I checked out a few bars, but settled on Makos. Makos was a wild place with a great crowd. It provided instant relief for the two weary road trippers. Makos was the best bar Mike and I have been to during the Ballpark Tour. By FAR!!!
As soon as I woke up the next morning, slightly hung over, I was hit with the excitement of visiting Turner Field. Even though the Mets were 0-5 and the Braves dominated the series, I felt it was necessary to wear my New York Mets jersey and take any abuse that came my way. Mike and I spent our pregame driving around downtown Atlanta. Atlanta is the New York of the South. It is a cosmopolitan city that is home to one of the busiest airports in the world. Atlanta was also home to Maynard Jackson, who, in 1974, was sworn in as Atlanta’s first African-American mayor. During Jackson’s three terms Atlanta grew into the city that it is today. He oversaw the creation of Atlanta’s rapid transit system, MARTA. More importantly, Jackson improved the lives of Atlanta’s African-American community by instituting affirmative action programs wherever possible. These programs empowered African-Americans in Atlanta like never before.
Another key figure in the history of Atlanta is former Braves outfielder Hank Aaron, who, on April 8, 1974, broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record when he sent an Al Downing pitch over the left center field wall. This home run was Aaron’s 715th and cemented his place as an immortal in baseball history. His home run was hit at the Braves’ former home, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, whose left center field wall was left in place when the stadium was demolished.
The current home of the Braves, Turner Field, was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics. After the Olympics left town, Turner Field, named after then-owner Ted Turner, underwent a face lift when it was redesigned to fit a baseball diamond. The Ted’s main entrance, located in left field, is very welcoming and is full of activities for fans of all ages. Mike and I were impressed with Turner Field’s design and sightlines. During our Ballpark Tour, it has become customary to view the game from different angles, but with the pitching matchup of two future Hall-of-Famers, the Mets’ Pedro Martinez and the Braves’ John Smoltz, I did not leave my seat the entire game.
The 36,601 in attendance were treated to the best pitching matchup of the early season with Martinez and Smoltz equaling each other inning-for-inning. Going into the 8th, Smoltz had struck out 15 Mets and was cruising, but after a single by Jose Reyes and a sacrifice bunt by Miguel Cairo, he allowed a two-run home run to Carlos Beltran, putting the Mets up 2-1. This signaled Smoltz’s exit and was the beginning of a memorable Mets rally. Cliff Floyd welcomed Braves reliever Tom Martin with a solo shot to extend the Mets lead to 3-1. After another pitching change, Mets third baseman David Wright hit the third home run of the inning, a two-run shot, padding the Mets’ lead to 5-1. A four-run lead was more than enough for Pedro Martinez, making his second start for the Mets, as he pitched a complete game two-hitter. To add insult to injury, the Mets added another insurance run in the 9th to win it 6-1. It was an amazing feeling walking around Turner Field after the Mets shocked the Braves and their fans. Seeing the team fight back after being shut down by John Smoltz was something I will never forget. It was a perfect ending to the Sun Belt Ballpark Tour.