I met my wife at an Atlanta Braves game.
Well, not AT the Braves game. She had two tickets to see the Braves, I was new in town and looking for friends, and she invited me to meet up with her and for us to go see the game together. We piled into her now departed Nissan truck on a hot summer day in the small garage apartment she was living in, and took in the game. Baseball isn't a sport I'm into, but I had to admit it was quite the experience seeing a baseball game live - something you don't quite get in a football stadium unless you're watching a high school team.
There's a certain level of intimacy - sitting in the open sun, relatively close to the action: for $30 you can get half decent seats and be near enough to watch the game but far enough out to take it in at once. A breeze comes in over the crowd, there's the scent of hot dogs and beer, and occasionally a politically incorrect "native drum" starts up across the way from the other side of the outfield. It's a better experience for a game I don't appreciate as much, than sitting in much more expensive seats a half mile away from a football game, watching the players look like ants.
And there was intimacy between us, as well. We held hands, talked about ourselves and our lives between at bats, realized we both felt we were more than friends. I had food poisoning the following day from the stadium food, and stayed home. She came over with soup. Within a while we were officially dating, and after some twists and turns I found a way to keep my employment but move back to Atlanta. Now we have a small home on the outskirts of the city as a married couple. We've seen a few games since then - even though she knows I'm more of a football guy, and the Atlanta Braves were last relevant when Alanis Morrissette screeched that WE WE WE OTTA KNA-HA-OHHHH, it's been a regular part of our lives to park near the stadium just off the I-20, and walk past vendor after vendor selling bottles of water or peanuts enroute to the game.
That's coming to an end.
On November 11, 2013 the Atlanta Braves came out of left field with the announcement that they were leaving Turner Field to go and play in a brand new stadium being constructed for that purpose north of the city in Cobb County. Given that Atlanta proper is Fulton County, it means that they really aren't the Atlanta Braves any more. This was also a surprise to Fulton County and to Atlanta, neither of whom were aware that the Braves were considering a relocation, and had zero opportunity to put in a counter-offer or even come up with a package to keep the team in-city.
The stadium they were occupying had been built as part of the Atlanta Olympics - remember that when cities take on expensive white elephants in the quest to be relevant, they always, always, always explain that even though we're giving a private enterprise a shiny big new stadium at taxpayer expense AGAIN, remember, don't look at the millions of dollars and your tax increases - we're going to keep the building for years and years and years and years hold everything from games to Scout Jamborees to conventions to everything else there. And then within a decade or two, they conveniently forget those promises (oh, those were made by someone else) and it's time to blow up or implode or otherwise remove that building and build a shinier one. I remember only vaguely that the Seahawks in Seattle had the King Dome built, told the taxpayers yes, yes, it's a lot of money, but think about the tourism and the conventions and so forth and it'll last 100 years - and imploded it about two decades later, because "it just wasn't good enough anymore", and they needed a parabolic reflector to deafen the 49ers whenever they came to town. The billionaire co-founder of Microsoft put it to the public vote to see who'd pay for it: the Seattle voters rejected buying Paul Allen a new plaything, and the City of Seattle quietly ignored that vote and built it for him anyway. They're all exceedingly lucky they got Marshawn Lynch and a Superbowl - and all is forgotten.
But the Atlanta Braves haven't won a pennant yet, and that's yet something else that's picking up sticks out of Atlanta and moving away from where the black people live and is moving out to where the white people live. And the black people are more than aware of why this is happening and don't appreciate it. For all the ambient hassle they had to put up with with the noise of games and horrific traffic during game times, there was at least SOME economic activity, and the homeless and poor did get a few shekels out of drunk frat boys hurling the last of their change at them.
There's a dark shadow over professional sport regarding race relations in this city. The Atlanta Thrashers were sold to Canada (like the Flames were), with the black mayor refusing to do anything to keep the team, asking, in essence, who cares about hockey? Well, the Gwinnett Gladiators do a pretty good business and hockey is actually a thing in the white communities around the metro Atlanta core. The race of the mayor was cited as reason for this attitude in sports bars and so forth, and not in the most charitable of terms, either.
Even basketball has had the same sort of problem. The owners of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team (who also owned the Thrashers) had an internal marketing report leaked in which the racial makeup of Atlanta was cited as a reason as to why basketball isn't really economically viable in the city. To paraphrase the report: your average black Atlantan would rather wear a baseball cap he bought at Lids for whichever team is winning or has cachet (Lakers, Warriors, Heat, etc.) rather than support the city, and is so broke he can't or won't buy tickets. Unless of course, it noted bitterly, a big name team comes to town, then they buy out the cheap seats and cheer for the other team. As for the whites in the area who have money, they have no interest in navigating the traffic into the scary, dangerous and very black downtown Atlanta. Whether it actually said that or not, that's how it was re-transmitted: and both white basketball fans and black professionals with money were greviously insulted. The fact that the Atlanta Hawks got a LOT better weighed into the team being able to weather that eye-poke, but still.
The reason for Atlanta sports being so trashed upon in this city is that Atlanta is a miserable place to be a sports fan. The Braves were last relevant when Kurt Cobain was musically relevant, the Atlanta Falcons are on track to be the ONLY member of the NFC South to have NEVER won a Superbowl, the Thrashers came and went without anyone really noticing, and the Hawks are good now, sure, but they've never won whatever it is basketball people win as a Superbowl. Nothing to do with how nice the stadiums are. The Falcons sell out the Georgia Dome, even though it's a hole.
Oh, speaking of which - they're going to abandon the Georgia Dome for a shiny new stadium for the Falcons, again, public expense - to house the Atlanta Falcons and the brand new announced MLS team: the Atlanta FC soccer club. People mocked the fact that the proposed design for a retractable roof resembles mechanised labia majora - but some are very deeply hurt that some historically important black churches were razed to the ground to acquire the land, with the present pastors and so forth paid off to allow the demolition, decades of history and deep roots in the community be damned. Some are even more hurt at the indifference or lack of knowledge that the churches were displaced for this. To hell with black history, we want Hispanic money. The new location is conveniently a bit further away from the blacker neighborhoods but still close enough to downtown to be called the Atlanta Falcons. There's that at least, right?
So now, the Braves are moving, and the mayor and citizens of Altanta found that out by watching them announce it to the rest of the country on ESPN. They start their 2017 season in the new facility, which means that the traffic around I-285 (already the most dangerous highway in North America) and the I-75 (which runs all the way up to Detroit) will be a much, much worse massive snarl and nightmare. But it will have the absolute latest in "fan experiences", including better screens, interactive exhibits, shopping, gourmet food, on-site condos for the moneyed millennials, hotel space and of course - it's close to the Cobb County Galleria mall. In a badly telegraphed move, they also said it was supposedly because the old space didn't have easy MARTA access (even though the new facility has ZERO MARTA access, making that argument laughable) but also because the new facility would be closer to "their fan base". In short, Cobb County is very white and has money, and we want people coming in to be greeted by high-rent stores and a sushi bar, not black guys selling bottled water out of coolers.
It would be far too expensive and inconvenient to refurbish the stadium, even though it's the 14th newest stadium in MLB. But not too expensive to completely rebuild in an area where there needs to be significant tax breaks and government money incentive to build a new stadium. Once again, we have white flight taking money and jobs out of the city, and moving them to the suburbs where inner city people of color can't get to them.
But what it also means is that going to see the Braves suck won't be for $25-$30, with a Toto cover band playing during a lull in the game, and a breeze coming in over the I-75. The walk to the park won't be through a multi-ethnic neighborhood where people grill better and safer hot dogs on the sidewalk, Cadillacs and Priuses and beater trucks are parked in the open air with a guy with dreadlocks and an apron taking the money - and there's a huge man running a barbecue in the parking lot of a boarded up convenience store. It won't be the kind of place where a broke boy and a broke girl can sit in the mezzanine, hold hands, and decide this is going to be a thing - both coming to see the game AND also making a life together. It'll be a slick, multi-branding, $30 parking and $150 tickets to walk past video games and a mall to see the first pitch being thrown type of affair. Soul sold out in favor of the mighty buck.
My wife bought me a T-shirt. It's in Braves colors, Blue, red and White. It has the Tomahawk logo and the Braves font. You have to look carefully to see it doesn't say "Braves" - instead it says "Fuck Cobb County."