Braves set to move on, but memories will remain
Success seen at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Turner Field won't be forgotten
ATLANTA -- The Braves? Moving? Days later, this news still is sending shock waves around baseball and beyond. Team officials announced Monday they will relocate for the 2017 season from Turner Field in downtown Atlanta to Cobb County, which is a northern location about a dozen miles away. Just so you know, I live in Cobb County. I have more than a few thoughts on the matter, but at the moment, there are too many loose ends and not enough tight ones for a deep conversation.
No worries. I'll discuss what I know for sure, which is: With such a move by the Braves, there will be a slew of memories left around Capitol Avenue, where spanking new Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was waiting for the Braves in 1966 after they bolted from Milwaukee. Turner Field eventually came along courtesy of the 1996 Olympics. In the aftermath, with the greatest of ease, the Braves and city officials turned it into a Major League ballpark for the 1997 season.
The transformation was so smooth that the Braves got the upgrade in their facilities they were seeking without spending a lot of money, and baseball traditionalists got a chance to preserve history.
Turner Field was placed less than a half block from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Not only that, the spot of the former stadium was turned into a parking lot that nevertheless contained an outline of where the old diamond was located. Better yet, the landing spot for No. 715 was immortalized forever. That spot was where Hank Aaron's homer dropped from the sky on April 8, 1974, against the Dodgers to give the legendary Braves slugger the career home run record over Babe Ruth.
You can't get enough of Aaron regarding the Braves, and he is synonymous with that area of Capitol Avenue. During a poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the mid-1990s, most of those responding wanted the Braves' new ballpark named after Aaron. Instead, the honor went to Ted Turner, the Braves' owner at the time who was instrumental in making the Braves into the baseball version of America's Team. But the portion of Capitol Avenue that runs by Turner Field was renamed "Hank Aaron Drive." In addition, Turner Field's address became "755 Hank Aaron Drive" in honor of Aaron finishing his career with that home run total.
Yes, Aaron was huge, but he also had teammates who added to the baseball aura around Capitol Avenue, and they ranged from Eddie Mathews to Orlando Cepeda to Rico Carty. With help from the thin air of the city, combined with the strange wind currents indignant to that saucer-shaped facility and the direction of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Aaron and those other Braves slammed enough homers out of the place for it to become nicknamed "The Launching Pad."
How home run friendly was Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium? Well, in 1973, Aaron joined Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson as the first trio of teammates to hit 40 or more homers in the same season.
It wasn't just those blasts toward the ozone that folks remember about that Capitol Avenue area. It was Phil Niekro making his knuckleball famous within those city blocks along the way to the Hall of Fame. It also was Dale Murphy spending a stretch in the 1980s as baseball's top player, and he had a couple of National League MVP Awards to prove it despite playing for shaky teams. Speaking of shaky teams, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium is noted for that, too, because more than a few games on Turner's SuperStation featured tons of empty blue seats to go along with tons of Braves losses during much of the 1970s and '80s. Even so, folks watched anyway, hoping for a miracle someday involving the guys with a tomahawk across their chests.
Then it happened. ... The Chant and the Chop. That duo already existed for Florida State football games, but in a baseball sense, it was born with the Braves during the early 1990s right there along Capitol Avenue. It came out of nowhere, and so did the Braves evolving into a consistent winner. You could attribute it all to Bobby Cox operating as general manager during the late '80s and John Schuerholz continuing Cox's smooth work in the front office when Cox became the full-time Braves manager in 1991. It also helped the Braves' cause to have future Hall of Fame pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
There also were non-Cooperstown guys such as David Justice, Mark Lemke, Ron Gant, Steve Avery and others converting the Braves from nothing to something in a hurry. That said, when you think of splendid baseball moments around Capitol Avenue, two names are never far from the tip of your tongue -- Sid Bream and Otis Nixon.
There was Nixon in the summer of 1992, running like crazy for a fly ball over his head in center field at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and then he climbed the wall with a mighty leap and made the catch. Then there was the Bream moment that October. When everything seemed lost for the Braves trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS against the Pirates, the packed house at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium began stomping, chopping and chanting so fervently, you thought the place would crumble. It nearly did after Bream forgot he was the slowest player in baseball, raced around third from second on a single to left and somehow slid home ahead of a throw from Barry Bonds to push the Braves into the World Series.
The move to Turner Field continued to feature the majesty of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, and it also is where Chipper Jones intensified his run toward the Hall of Fame. Plus, the Braves watched their record streak of division titles reach 14 at Turner Field as the chopping and the chanting moved across the street.
Now the chopping and chanting will move across the county.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.