In 1996, Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics. The main track and field stadium was built with the intention of becoming a baseball stadium, and the Braves moved in in 1997. By 2016, the stadium was the 15th oldest in baseball, and yet the Braves had decided to move. Welcome to SunTrust Park in the suburbs!
That is one of the most notable features of SunTrust Park. After nearly three decades of new stadiums trying to embrace urban cores (and an Oakland team that is throwing out perfectly good stadium locations just because they aren’t “Urban”), the Braves bucked that trend. SunTrust sits at the intersection of the peripheral loop of I-285, a freeway that circles around Atlanta, and I-75, one of the radiating interstates from the city core. The Braves have said that the stadium is near the “Geographic center of the Braves’ fan base.”
So, was it worth moving into this park? I took a good, long look at it…okay, no, this is based off of one ballpark tour, and one game on May 4th, 2018. Although, since this game set the attendance record at the stadium, I think I got a good night. Ready?
KEY TO THE GRADES: Stadiums are graded here like players, on a 20-80 scale: 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average.
Although SunTrust eschews several of the trends in the 90’s-00’s retro-stadium trend, it does mostly embrace the fake brick-facade on the exterior. The stadium mixes the brick with limestone-like breaks and touches. It does it mostly to great effect.
The most impressive entrance is the 3rd Base Gate, a wide plaza that also features the largest of the “SunTrust Park” logos on the roof. The gate is on the edge of a small hill, allowing that part of the park to view the valley to the west (and be seen by it). An off-balance Phil Niekro statue guards that gate.
That gate is served by the Delta garage. Hey, naming rights for garages! That’s cool, right? No one’s going to get hot and bothered by a garage getting a corporate name.
Almost all the gates have a similar theme, except for the somewhat low-key Chophouse gate, which opens more directly to the park’s outfield area.
Overall, the look is very nice, although the retro feel is killed quite a bit by seeing the obviousness of metal stairways in the brick portals is a clash that I just don’t like. Sure, this is nitpicking, BUT I AM HERE TO PICK NITS AND I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY.
If the exterior feels like forced retro, it doesn’t carry over to the interior.
Although the park has many...MANY different looks in the various parts of the interior, the primary look is a mix of concrete and steel that works very surprisingly well. If Levi’s Stadium looks like a cheap erector set, SunTrust Field feels like a well-engineered arena. There are enough decorations along the concourses the limit the concrete exposure, and the metal support beams feel closer to a renaissance cathedrals buttresses, aligned and repeating diagonals, than mere load-bearing beams.
This is broken up by several “themes” that happen in certain areas. The Luxury Suites and clubs feel more polished and plastic. Any special restaurant/seating area gets a somewhat different look and feel. Some of the special suite rooms are much more plush and feel like lounges for actual adults. And in a few places, like the “Home Depot Clubhouse”, a wood-paneled feel is added.
There are places where the mish-mash feels like too much. Some things feel thrown in there with no partnership. For instance, the center field batter’s eye features trees, a waterfall and fake rocks, with fountains that shoot off after home runs. I mean, yes, Georgia has a lot of nature. More than I expected. But in this suburban stadium that delights in its urban-ness? That just feels out of place and a ripoff of Coors and Kaufman.
The scoreboards are plentiful. There is the one main one in center, and a smaller but still sizable one in left. Add into this smaller boards along the bullpens, and the usual wrap-around boards at the front of the decks, and this ends up a lot of places for info. That’s mostly good, although a weird quirk is that there are no boards with the score or current count between center field and home plate through right field.
Now, remember when I complained about AT&T’s out-of-town scoreboards (and then the lack of info on the main one)? Well, at SunTrust, the secondary scoreboard was the out-of-town scoreboard last year. This year, they are putting advanced info up there. There’s no WAR, but there is FIP. So the out-of-town scores are on the bullpen boards. These are too small to show all the scores, and don’t cycle, so...party foul on them. At least they’ve only had this problem for less than a season, and might fix it.
One nice touch is that the advertising along the outfield walls does not have colored backgrounds, making it much more subdued. More ballparks should try to negotiate that.
The concourses are wide, so I was initially confused about why I’d been told “they’re too small”...but that was because my first impression was in a ballpark tour. Keep reading on them...
The SunTrust field is just a little asymmetrical. The left field foul pole (335) is a little further away than right (325), but it juts out a little sharply to 375 feet before the straight lines start to get out to center field, with a 385 foot left field power alley and a small corner at 402 just before getting to center (400 feet). To right field, the field is a little smaller (375 feet at the power alley). The fence height varies, most of it at 8’8”. But the fence drops to 6’ along the visitor’s bullpen in the left field corner. The closer right field corner has a 16’ high wall until it drops to the standard height in right-center.
I don’t know the math well enough to know if the shorter distance and higher fence makes one field more home run friendly than another, but the park seems pretty even to either side. While the stadium is still very new to get any true park factors from, the park seems fairly neutral, maybe leaning a little hitter friendly thanks to good ball-hitting weather but a little tough on home runs.
From a fan’s standpoint, the shape of the field is…unremarkable. It’s not symmetrical, but not so far off that there are any really notable features, like AT&T Park’s Triples Alley. The players likely don’t have to learn a lot to field it well, there won’t be weird caroms or sharp juts they need to know about.
Everything about the field is just…neutral.
From the seating bowl, there aren’t a lot of views of the surrounding area. The Stadium is kind of on a little bit of a hill, so any vistas are generally lower. What you can see are some suburban-style towers, primarily ones that are part of the Battery development which is part of the park. The two primary ones are the Omni Hotel and the Comcast office building, both primarily glass buildings around 10-15 stories, just outside the park.
Pittsburgh, this ain’t. (There are a couple of other non-descript office towers also somewhat visible).
While it’s kind of cool to see my hotel room from my seat, the view isn’t particularly impressive. The glassy exteriors tend to reflect the lights from the park weirdly, and it doesn’t come off very nice.
From the stadium concourses. The views aren’t much better. There’s close suburban towers on one side, and distant, scattered suburban towers on the other. Honestly, the views to the west and north really feel like Yavin 4 became taken over by pricey suburbs.
Oh, but you can see downtown Atlanta from here. Really! Look! It’s there! Between those other buildings! Really! Look hard!
There are like, SO MANY different seating areas and lounges and areas. There are two different levels of field club, with the extra-special one having seats with small tables between them and mini-televisions! Who needs cup holders?
While those seats are over-cushioned, down the lines the field-side seats are a ventilated mesh. These are really, incredibly awesome seats, especially in a place like Atlanta. They are cool, even after being in a hot sun, and are just soft enough to have a little give when you sit in them.
Otherwise, there are four decks of seats, that are mostly pretty standard. There’s nothing notable about these seats, and almost all of them have great views.
SunTrust is different when it comes to luxury suites. Where as most stadiums have them around most of the stadium in a certain level, SunTrust only has them, on two different levels, directly behind home plate. The second level actually has gaps in the deck that separate the suite sections from the normal sections. Also, apparently the luxury suite sections have special, exclusive clothes you can only buy if you have tickets there. Fancy!
Rather than tons of small luxury suites, the stadium seems to have an abundance of rentable special sections. There’s the Hank Aaron Terrace in left. On the second deck. The Xfinity Roof on the top deck in right (which can be divided into smaller rentable areas or one big one). Under the Chop, a fenced in section field-level in right field, similar to the Portwalk except ZOMG NOT-NOT-NOT-Free prices. The Home Depot “Clubhouse”, which looks like what a treehouse is supposed to look like (right, Oakland?).
However, for all the special must-pay areas, one of the park’s best features is an abundance of standing room sections. At the game I was at, almost every counter, railing, and table was occupied and being used. They all have great views, and are a very nice feature most stadiums should have.
One nice detail: For the Chophouse section and the Under the Chop, the seating areas have small counters for food with refrigerated cup holders, to keep your beer (or non-Coors sponsored beverages) cold.
[Editor’s note: Join us tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of Kevin’s review! Same website! Different Time (10am)! And remember: if SunTrust Field doesn’t get a passing review, the Braves will have to tear it down and start all over again.]