"I can make this march and make Georgia howl."
- General William Tecumseh Sherman
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Jersey had seemed like a dormant giant, sleeping off it's golden years in some closet somewhere. Put into apparent retirement by Jonny Dubs, the plan was to ride it out in a frame hanging in some hallway or restaurant. Sadly, promises by Tom Garfinkel to house it in Petco Park never amounted to anything as Garf was dismissed with authority and we all were saddled with the Dee years. I assumed the jersey was resting peacefully, but perhaps it needed to feel alive again, to feel the bonds of the Sisterhood once more. I asked Jonny Dubs if the jersey could have one last whirl. After all, there was a failed campaign to get a discrete Padres brick installed at the Braves new stadium opening this year with none other than the Padres playing on inaugural weekend. I go on at least one big trip a year to see the Padres with a friend from high school, and this one was perfect. Jonny Dubs relented and, with sexually explicit images in the windows of Les Girls in the background, met me to make the exchange in Point Loma with his kids at Cotixan Taco Shop. I held the jersey up to my nose and inhaled the odors of all the previous Sisterhood members. It was pleasant, but musky. Just how I like it.
The plan was to attend the Friday and Saturday night games. This was to be a top shelf experience. Using points, we'd booked first class travel, rooms at the Buckhead St. Regis, and through the grace of god, had tickets to the Delta Sky360 Club for both nights. At the stopover in Houston, the jersey had a chance to get some air in the KLM Crown Club, paired with a fairly mediocre St. Arnold's amber.
The story all week was how terrible the traffic was going to be getting to Suntrust Park. If you're not aware of the history of Suntrust Park, the Braves used to play in Turner Field, located next to downtown. For a variety of reasons, no development occurred nearby the stadium, so minimal bars, restaurants, or stores nearby. There are also a host of theoretical racial issues related to wealthy suburbanites not wanting to come into the "inner city" stadium. Throw in some major controversy of Cobb County, home of Suntrust Park, backdooring in $300M of public funding for a new Braves stadium, while granting the team development rights to the entire area around the stadium for mixed use construction (aka The Battery, more on that later). When you hear Cobb County, this is the equivalent of locating the Padres stadium in Escondido. On top of that, Atlanta has notoriously bad traffic. If you've never left San Diego and think traffic is bad here, you are blind to how bad it can be, with Atlanta leading the list of awfulness. Throw in a freeway collapse on I-85, and we were terrified of the 8 mile drive from hotel to stadium. While Turner Field had the MARTA train stopping there, Suntrust Park has no such transit access. Long story short, it wasn't as bad as expected. Uber drivers all weekend were all astonished at how smoothly the Braves had handled ingress into the parking areas. The Braves cleverly invested in $10's of millions of dollars of pedestrian bridges directly into the stadium that cross multiple interstates to allow for easy access to parking and tailgating, as well as a short, direct route into the stadium.
Suntrust Park was derided on social media for being generic. Aerial views of the empty stadium show bland green seats, and unfinished office towers next to it. And from that viewpoint, sure, it's a little generic. But I came away impressed with the facilities. Of the newer ballparks I've been to, I'd rank AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Petco Park ahead of Suntrust Park, while I'd put Nationals Park, Ballpark At Arlington, Chase Field, and Citizens Bank below it. There are a lot of little things that aren't apparent from blimp shots that I really enjoyed about Suntrust Park. They had a real commitment to celebrating their history all through the park. The Braves devoted about 100 yards of concourse space to an expansive Monument Park featuring things like celebratory champagne bottles, trophies, awards, and most impressively, a display of 755 bats representing each of Hank Aaron's home runs. There are even little things like little pieces of history on concession stands, player photo displays in souvenir stand windows, and commissioned wall art and murals of a variety of Braves players. All of these details are the type of things that make you realize how lacking the Padres Hall of Fame is, and how great it could be.
The food and drinks are good, but not the best. There are the basic ballpark food options like hot dogs and nachos, but they also have some Southern barbeque stands that looked great. For me, I was most excited for the fact that they have a Waffle House, up on their Xfinity Deck (300 level section). The Decatur, GA chain holds a special place in my heart, and it thrilled me that hash browns, covered and topped, were a ballpark option here. They also have Atlanta-based Chick-fil-a in the park, and reasonably priced. I heard that Ted Leitner made a point of saying concession prices must be through the roof (newsflash Ted, your employers' concessions are priced through the roof). Tallboy beers were $8, and I found the food to be ~$3-4 less than prices at Petco.
Suntrust Park, similar to Petco Park's Omni and Lexus Home Plate Clubs, has two main behind-home-plate clubs. The difference is both Suntrust clubs, Delta Sky360 and Suntrust, are all inclusive for beer, wine and food. The Omni Club at Petco is a club by name, but really has no ancillary benefits other than access to your own cash bar or ability to buy a $30 buffet. After getting our tickets checked, hands stamped, and walking through the door, we were met by throngs of Opening Day crowds and a beautiful display of Silver Slugger awards, including old friends Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Ron Gant, and Justin Upton. The Club features two bars, a large buffet area, and a ton of seating. A pro tip, the main bar looks nice, but the secondary bar features 7 taps of Terrapin beer, probably the best beer option in the park. Available only at the ballpark is Terrapin's Hopsecutioner IPA aged with Mizuno baseball bat wood, and dubbed Chopsecutioner. It tasted like Hopsecutioner. The buffet has a taco bar, cocktail shrimp, all kinds of pasta, desserts, and a large sushi display (interestingly not kept on ice and served at room temperature which was dubious); pretty much what you'd expect at your local Sizzler. The club is filled with history as well. Along with the Silver Sluggers, there is a display of Gold Gloves, which include the star of On Jeff Ears and old friend Jeff Francoeur. From what I could tell, the ticketholders for the Delta Club were primarily middle aged portly men that owned local HVAC and plumbing companies.
Did I mention they had an attractive girl that walked around shucking oysters for customers? Because they had one of those.
The seats were plush and had in-seat service, and the Braves made sure to lay out a bunch of foam tomahawks to use for their godawful chant. The Braves attempted to give the Padres a run for the money as "team of the military" with a flag that covered the entire field and flyovers for each of the weekend games, including an impressive A-10 Warthog flyover on Saturday night. We settled in to see the tailend of the inaugural game pageantry for the first pitch in Suntrust Park history, Julio Teheran pitching to Manuel Margot.
The picture is great as long as you mentally block that Margot flew out on this pitch. The game itself, in fact all of the games that weekend, weren't great, but had their moments. We got to see an Austin Hedges home run which I celebrated with a flagging erection. We also, after getting to meet his family in town from Mississippi in the concourse, got to see Hunter Renfroe homer on Saturday. There was not an abundance of Padres fans. Not counting the 10 or so Renfroes, I counted 6 fans of the Padres, five of whom were wearing brown.
The jersey received a lot of attention from Braves fans and Suntrust Park staff. My friend wore it on Friday, I wore it on Saturday, and we told the tale of the Sisterhood countless times with many promises from people to Google it later. The staff in particular loved that we flew all the way to Atlanta with the jersey for a regular season game to their city. I've been to a lot of these clubs in various cities, and without a doubt, Atlanta had the nicest, most caring staff. In fact, after being told about the jersey on Friday night, the staff managing entrance to the exclusive Suntrust Club hunted down the 42 patch that is now adorned on the #SotTJ and found us on Saturday night (Saturday's game was on Jackie Robinson day). After the Friday game, after loading up on free beers, harassed these two amazing staff members until they finally let us in to look at the Suntrust Club. It was nice, but it paled in comparison to the Petco equivalent, to the extent that Suntrust Club attendees have to leave and go into the Delta Sky360 Club for more food and beer options. I hope they have showers in the Suntrust Club so their attendees can wash off the stench of upper middle class after those sojourns.
After going into the Suntrust Club, we snuck into the press room.
We stayed in Buckhead, which I guess is the upscale suburb. But it's really just an area with a bunch of new development filled with every chain that exists to attract affluent customers. Think a Palm steakhouse across the street from an Anthropologie next door to a W hotel. It's nice and safe, but corporatey and lacking character. The criticisms of Suntrust Park for being generic were a little overblown. Blimp shots aren't the way to judge the ballpark, and I found the concourses to be very much full of character and history. But if anything, the corporatey, overly segregated into private clubs nature of the ballpark reflects the affluent suburbs, like Buckhead, that the ballpark now resides within. But that's also the world we live in. We see it in San Diego where corporate sponsorships infest every corner of Petco Park. In fact comparatively, Suntrust Park has a fraction of the garish advertising signs and overbearing sponsorships that Mike Dee installed at Petco Park. The designers really seemed to pay attention to what modern BASEBALL FANS want from a park (as opposed to what non-baseball fans want, which is what we so often find in San Diego). Dedication of lucrative concourse space to a massive open air museum is something you do for your baseball team's fans, not for casual fans out for a good time on a Friday night and looking for a mojito to slam after Cocktail Fest (sponsored by Southwest Airlines). Tickets on non-inaugural game nights are affordable, and even the Sky360 Club is an incredible value for the $100-150 prices I saw on Stubhub. In my opinion, Suntrust Park is well worth a visit for any baseball fan, and if we're being totally honest, I may not call it a better ballpark than AT&T Park, but I had a better time at Suntrust Park than I did at AT&T Park.
The Braves and Atlanta media have written a lot about the Battery, which is the adjoining mixed use development. The Braves were granted development rights by Cobb County for this area and built a huge complex of restaurants, bars, hotels, condos, offices and apartments. This is the real cash cow for the team, as they are claiming tons of ancillary revenue and development profits. It also creates a pre and postgame destination for fans, which Turner Field was sorely lacking in. To me, the coolest part was that it was all an open container zone. People walked in with ice boxes and enjoyed some beers. We are all Americans and feel free in general, but you never feel more free than when you walk past a cop on Bourbon Street holding cocktail and realize you don't need to hide it. That's how it felt in the Battery. As for the Battery itself, I'm not one to get too excited for a Yardhouse and a Todd English franchise restaurant, although they did have a Terrapin brewhouse as well (caveat that Terrapin is owned by Big Beer now). Terrapin Brewhouse is unique in that they have a production brewery onsite, titled The Brew Lab, where they can make small batch beers that are only available at the ballpark. It struck me how great an idea it is, and how this should have been a slam dunk idea for Petco Park, but hey, we have Bumble Bee Tuna corporate offices in the Showley Candy Factory at Park at the Park, so we got that going for us, which is nice.
Now onto the most important part of this trip. Deadspin's Drew Magary wrote a post a few years ago crowning the Southern fast food chain Cook Out as "the best value in drunk eating". I was aware of Cook Out before, just from many visits to North Carolina and the fact that my wife is from there, but I'd never set foot in one. Imagine my delight when I found that there was a Cook Out location in Atlanta's West Midtown neighborhood, only a ten minute cab ride from our hotel. As a self proclaimed guru of regional fast food chains, I had to go to there and get the full experience. After the Saturday night game, we Ubered from Suntrust Park to a bar in West Midtown to get properly sauced to get the full Cook Out drunk eating experience. After a few pitchers of Grapefruit Sculpin (Ballast Point is widely available here, which shouldn't be surprising since they are Big Beer), the time had come. We stumbled a half block to Cook Out and were met with this beautiful sight.
Like the Sirens call to Odysseus, the red neon and char smoke billowing out of Cook Top left us no choice but to enter the hallowed doors. To summarize what Drew Magary wrote about Cook Out, for $6, you get a combo which is essentially a double cheeseburger, fries, a side item, and a shake. The thing is, a side item includes options like a BLT, a corndog, or a hot dog. The shakes have roughly 40 options of flavors. I obviously opted for a combo with a corndog as a side item, and an Oreo shake. While waiting for our food, I watched the line grow as more and more bargoers made their own pilgrimages to Cook Out. My anticipation and erection grew. All at once, our food was delivered and I dove in. Upon my first bite, I simultaneously had a food orgasm and a penis orgasm. The combination of burger and corndog was great and formed the basis for a violent BM later the next day. But the shake, oh the shake. It was too thick for the straw and needed to be eaten with a spoon. The extra thickness of the shake really lets you know that it's really bad for you. But this was to be a weekend of excess. Obviously the culinary scale is a little more generous while inebriated, but the value, the value doesn't change whether you're sober or drunk. And the value was outstanding. I'd challenge anyone to find a better drunk eating value than Cook Out. Let me add that thanks to this 3 AM meal, I was not hungover the next morning after being horribly hungover after my non-Cook Out enhanced Friday Night activities. A lot of East Coasters that connect through LAX airport make a quick trip to the nearby In N' Out Burger. It's important to note that if you connect in Raleigh Durham or Charlotte, there are nearby Cook Outs to make a similar pilgrimage to. Or just fly out there explicitly for Cook Out. It's worth it.
The trip to Atlanta was a memorable one, and I was pleased to bring the Traveling Jersey along for the ride. If this is the Sisterhood of the Traveling Jersey's last ride, I'm honored to have shown it a first class experience before she is placed behind glass somewhere, probably the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I'll miss the jersey's unique smell of body odor and decaying polyester, and the magic you feel as you share a true Sisterhood with so many fellow Padres fans. The jersey is a physical embodiment that things like Padres fandom, Padres Twitter, Padres podcasts, and blogs like Gaslamp Ball (and Gwynntelligence), create not just a group of like minded sports fans, it creates a community bond among strangers, a bond stronger than a simple friendship: a Sisterhood that will bind us together forever. Thank you, Sisters, for the opportunity to spend a weekend with the old girl.