As Braves leave Turner Field behind, what is this stadium's legacy?

BY foxsports • October 2, 2016

ATLANTA -- They took the field, one by one -- and in one raucous moment, a Hall of Fame trio -- again manning their old positions, in what stood as a reminder on a sun-soaked picturesque fall day of the legacy the Braves have forged along Capitol Avenue.

There was Chipper again at third base, Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine on the mound and Andruw, in centerfield, too, as Turner Field paraded out greats at each spot. Finally, manager Bobby Cox walked out to join them Sunday, a celebratory reunion to start the final game at the stadium.

"I was sitting out there (and) I told Bobby 'there's about 16 more you could run out there,'" said Braves interim manager Brian Snitker. "It's phenomenal to me."

This stadium provided the brunt of the 14 consecutive division titles, and at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium -- now a nearby parking lot -- came a World Series title and a cultural touchstone of a moment as Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth.

Now, a new era of Braves baseball. One that came with a link to that past, as Aaron helped deliver home plate some 13 miles north to SunTrust Park following a 1-0 win against the Tigers.

As a postgame ceremony with speeches, an infield filled with fans representing the states of Braves Country (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee), one final tomahawk chop and a firework display, the lights fell for the last time on this converted center stage of the 1996 Olympics.

With that conclusion comes a question with a complicated answer: what, exactly, did Turner Field mean for this franchise?

"You look at all those flags up there and it's been a great part of Braves history," said Snitker, who has been with the organization since 1977 and was third base coach from 2006-13. "There's been a lot of great moments, a lot of great games, a lot of unbelievable Hall of Fame players that have come through here, a manager, that have performed on this field."

Nine division titles came in the stadium's first nine seasons, with two more in 2010 and '13, including the 1999 National League pennant and it hosted the 2000 All-Star Game. Since Turner Field opened in 1997, the Braves had the third-highest home winning percentage in baseball at 55.5 (950-668), trailing only the Yankees (58.6) and Cardinals (56.6).

The stadium saw a laundry list of unforgettable moments, with Andruw's walk-off walk in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series in 1999, and his Spider-Man catch, Chipper's 400th home run and Smoltz's 3,000th strikeout among them.

It provided the arrival and departure (and in a few cases the returns, and again the departures) of the Baby Braves, as well as the stars that will carry the team into its new home in Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Co.

"I think there's going to be a lot of people for a long time that's like 'Man, I watched Chipper and Smoltz and Glavine, all those guys play on this field right here,'" Snitker said, "and brought their kids and young people that came as teenagers and they're going to tell their kids about it, like 'Back at the Ted I got to watch those guys play.'"

It's going to have a lot of memories for a lot of generations."

And also its share of heartache.

When the Braves moved from Fulton County Stadium after the 1996 season, they did so having played in back-to-back World Series, winning it all in '95. NL pennants, in bunches, seemed a given. But Atlanta would make just one more Series appearance, in '99, when it was swept by the Yankees and it would drop the next eight playoff series. The most difficult to swallow of those setbacks came in the 2012 Wild Card Game against the Cardinals, of what's better known as the Infield Fly Rule.

That loss would stand as Chipper Jones' final game, underscoring another bit of the Turner Field story.

Chipper, along with Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz and Cox, all saw their numbers retired in ceremonies on the park's infield, and in 2001, when Time Warner merged with AOL, Ted Turner's involvement with the franchise's decision making ended, and in 2006, the franchise's run of division titles was snapped.

This place, while a springboard to extending the success that was started across the street at Fulton County Stadium, is ultimately about its end.

But that's the life cycle of baseball, and the Braves began the transition to what it hopes is a new run of sustained contention at the end of that last era. Freeman and Teheran overlapping with Chipper, and the likes of Dansby Swanson joining them as the crown jewel of a restocked farm system.

Those pieces were all on display in the Turner Field sendoff.

Teheran tied a season high with 12 strikeouts with a walk and three hits allowed over seven scoreless innings, Freeman drove in the game's only run on a sacrifice fly in the first inning, and Swanson set off a rally-killing double play in the eighth.

"It's kind of an emotional thing," Freeman said. I've spent so many seasons here, my big league debut and everything. I'm always going to remember this place. There's a lot of special, special moments for me and I'm just happy we won the last game."

Cobb County calls, an expansive new-age home away from where Aaron, and the 90s dynasty in their times redefined a sport in Atlanta.

There's wistfulness in what the Braves leave behind, especially from a former Georgia senator, who would walk past a construction site on his way from the Howard Johnson to the Capitol Building each day the senate was in session.

He was there when the Braves reached the 1992 World Series when a determined and churning Sid Bream slid, when they won a title three years later, and was there for countless games after the move to Turner Field.

President Jimmy Carter was in attendance Sunday as well, Rosalynn at his side. The two popped up on kiss cam one final time, and were in a sea of fans chopping and chanting as Jim Johnson struck out Justin Upton (himself a former Brave) to seal Atlanta's win over Detroit.

"I've had a lot of personal pleasure and joy and honor whenever I've been participating in one of the momentous events that the Braves have experienced," Carter said.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, 'Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,' is out now, and 'The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners' will be released Nov. 22, 2016.

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