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Will Turner Field Be The Only Casualty?

As I have written, I am disheartened to see the Braves leave Turner Field after just 20 years. Turner Field might not be Camden Yards or Fenway Park, but it’s a better venue than most ballparks that survived much longer.

If the length of a ballpark’s life were contingent on its greatness, Tiger Stadium in Detroit and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore would still be standing, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City would have about 30 years left, and that crazy Olympic Stadium in Montreal would never have been built.

That is, of course, not the way the world works. It’s just that it seems to me that Turner Field deserved more than 20 seasons.

It is ultimately a business decision that is driving the Braves’ departure, even though unlike the Rays, the Braves were willing to live up to a contract that they signed. But after a frenzy of post-Camden Yards new ballpark building where location in the heart of the city mattered, it’s possible that other teams could see the flaws of that model and change the game again.

The Braves reasons for leaving Turner are numerous: it’s difficult to get to from the northern suburbs where their season ticket base is; there isn’t, according to the Braves, an acceptable public transit option; the neighborhood is shady and fans are advised to leave the area after the game; and the city never embraced the new ballpark and its surroundings after promising a Baltimore-like resurgence. There isn't much to do in the area after a game.

The sticky point of most of these arguments, to this observer anyway, is that the footprint of Fulton County Stadium, which was the Braves home for longer than Turner will be, is located in the Turner parking lot. In other words, the Braves have been in the same location for half a century, and now it’s a problem?

There are easier ways to get to Turner Field from the north than using I-75. (Shameless plug coming!) I detail them in the Turner Field E-Guide. Coming in on I-20 from the east I had no trouble at all (granted, I was early, but I still couldn't believe people complained about the access). If you think traffic is bad driving to Turner Field, try taking I-83 into the heart of Baltimore on a Friday night. Or sharing I-76 in Philly with Jersey Shore traffic.

I’m not saying Atlanta traffic isn’t bad, it most definitely is. But it’s not the only city with rough traffic on the path to its baseball venue.

As public transit to the ballpark goes, I didn’t find the MARTA Braves Shuttle all that horrible. It was cheap, easy to use and filled with Braves fans. Yes, it always required a transfer, as would getting to Wrigley Field from any train line except the Red or Brown Line, or getting to Citi Field from Manhattan without using the more expensive LIRR. The Braves Shuttle was no worse than the PATCO-SEPTA combination I use to get to Phillies games.

Bad neighborhood? Camden Yards recently hosted a game with an empty ballpark in the wake of riots in the city. Just a few years ago an outside ballpark vendor was shot to death just up the street from Yankee Stadium. I had a Comerica Park vendor tell me that he abandoned his usual downtown Detroit parking spot after his car was broken into for the fourth time. Most inner city ballparks aren't in the best of fact, the hope for improving a neighborhood is often stated as a reason why they're put there.

I think you see where I’m going with this. If a suburban county will offer a baseball team hundreds of millions to build a venue in a better neighborhood with easier access, will team owners approaching the end of a lease stay attached to the historic location of their current ballpark?

Done laughing?

The Orioles are bound to play in Camden Yards until 2021. That isn’t that far away, but it’s a long enough time to see the success of the Braves’ new location. The Indians' lease at Progressive Field ends in 2023...and you can bet they will be looking at all of their options if their current attendance numbers don’t improve by then.

And as the Rays are demonstrating, teams can ultimately back out of what they decide was a bad deal for them. How long will it be before the Marlins start to try to wiggle out of their lease?

The baseball world will be watching the fortunes of the Braves in their new Cobb County home. If it’s a success financially for the team, you can bet that Turner Field won’t be the only casualty in the world of suddenly much more disposable baseball homes.

And that's a shame.

Sometime around 1993 I was talking with my father about the state of the game. He expressed disdain for the Orioles and Baltimore replacing Memorial Stadium. I said, “I agree, but Dad, Camden Yards is great.”

He said, “Yeah, and in 15 years they’re going to tear that down and build a new one.”

I used to think there was no way that would happen.

I’m not so sure now.

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