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Turner Field Creates Special Memories for a First-Time Visitor

Posted on April 17, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Nate made lots of friends during his first Major League baseball experience.

As a lifelong baseball fan I know that while it is great to watch the game on television or listen to a radio broadcast, there is nothing quite like going to a ballpark to experience it in person.

No matter how many games you have attended, there is something special about being in one of baseball’s grand cathedrals to watch the best players in the world participate in America’s Pastime.

However, there is nothing like experiencing the thrill for the first time.

I have been blessed over the years to have spent many great days at ballparks with my parents, brothers and other friends, so I was thrilled this week to have the opportunity to share my passion for baseball with my five-year-old son Nate as he made his first trip to a Major League Stadium on April 16th to see the Atlanta Braves host the New York Mets at Turner Field.

Thanks to great hospitality from a long-time friend and the wonderful atmosphere, amenities and staff at Turner Field, his first Major League experience was an amazing day that he thoroughly enjoyed at the time, but I expect he will appreciate even more as he gets older and realizes just how special his day was.

Even though I have had the great fortune to work at professional stadiums on a regular basis during my career, it is still a neat experience to be driving down a road and suddenly have a grandiose stadium emerge from seemingly out of nowhere.

Since this was Nate’s first trip to Atlanta, just seeing all the big buildings and extravagant roadways was excitement enough, but to see such a large stadium suddenly appear along the road was quite exciting. Nate has been to the very nice minor league stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, but Turner Field takes the experience to a completely new level.

Even before entering the stadium there is lots of history to experience.

Probably more than any other sport, baseball is a game where past history is interwoven into the fabric of the current game. Regardless of your favorite team, most lifelong baseball fans can name greats for any team from any era. But each team holds a special place for their own heroes from the past.

Turner Field and the Braves make it very clear from the beginning of your game day experience that you are part of a special history. Larger than life size statues of some of the greats in Braves history, including Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro and Hank Aaron greet visitors waiting to enter the stadium. Even though he never played for the Braves, there is also a statue of Georgia’s most famous baseball player, Ty Cobb, with his spikes up sliding into a fielder.

Like all kids waiting with anticipation for the gates to open, Nate was bouncing around trying to soak everything in. He was especially interested in a display wall that shows all the names and uniforms for the Braves organization since being founded as the Boston Red Caps in 1876.

Enjoying the day with us was my father-in-law Bucky Rumfelt, his brother Joe and Nate’s Godfather Bill Campbell and it took all four of us to keep up with the exuberance and energy of the five-year-old.

My longtime friend Bridgitte Allen made sure Nate's first Braves' game was a special one.

Once the gates opened, Nate received his first big surprise of the day as we were greeted by someone I have known since I was Nate’s age, my longtime friend Bridgitte Lee Allen, who is supervisor of the main entrance gate at Turner Field.

Though we both grew up in Keysville, Virginia, Bridgitte has lived in Atlanta for more than a decade and has worked at the stadium for the last six years.

As we entered, Bridgitte made sure we were all properly attired with Atlanta Braves hats and then quickly headed toward the field to see batting practice.

Because it wasn’t certain that the team would take batting practice following a rainout the previous night, we had not told Nate in advance that we were going to go onto the field. When I told him, his eyes lit up and he couldn’t get through the tunnel and to the field fast enough. Like all kids, it would have been even better if he had gotten to take a few cuts, but as we emerged from the tunnel and headed down the stairs to the field he was beaming from ear to ear.

The Braves were midway through their batting practice session when we arrived and got a first-hand view of the action. They have a plastic white fence around the edge of the area behind home plate where people can stand and watch the proceedings. It provided a great view for the adults, but unfortunately for Nate the fence was directly at his eye level.

But, he wasn’t deterred and with help watched as Chipper Jones and other members of the Braves go through their pregame routine. Because we have a couple Starting Lineup figures of Jones, Nate knew who he was and cheered when he launched a deep blast.

Nate had a new baseball that I had purchased that morning and wanted to get some signatures. Though Chipper wasn’t signing autographs, Nate did get a signature from catcher David Ross, who patiently walked the line signing autographs and posing for pictures. To Nate, anyone wearing a uniform was a superstar and David was very nice and friendly with everyone.

Even with a doubleheader to be played, Fredi Gonzalez had time to visit with young fans.

Another awesome thrill was when manager Fredi Gonzalez came over and graciously signed autographs, posed for pictures and talked with fans for at least 10 minutes. Nate not only got his autograph, but also a great picture with the skipper.

Though it was still more than an hour and a half before gametime, Nate was ready to head to his seat. We found our spot in section 119 and watched as the Mets completed their batting practice.

We then headed out to explore the rest of the stadium.

Like most professional sports franchises, the Braves have recognized that while the game is the primary focus, for fans going to the ballpark is an experience that necessitates having something besides the game to occupy time and interest for fans of all ages.

The Braves have a number of cool activities for kids to enjoy. At the top of the stadium by the large Coca Cola Bottle there is a base path where kids can run from home to first just like the major leaguers. Nate made several trips around the bases and I’m sure was visualizing himself doing it on the big field.

There is also the Cartoon Network Tooner Field, which gave Nate and other kids the chance to show off their own skills while also burning energy. When we first discovered the area around 3 pm, there were several young staff members out there playing with the kids as they played Nerf ball. We came back to this favorite spot a couple times during the evening and even as late as 8 pm (because of a rainout on Friday there was a doubleheader on Saturday), a couple of the same staff members were still out there making playing on Tooner Field an exciting memory for Nate and many other kids.

Nate got a chance to take his own swings on Tooner Field.

Of course before the game started we also had to make trips to the large merchandise store and to the concessions stand. Nate got his picture taken with Homer the mascot and had enjoyed a day’s worth of thrills before the game even started.

No matter where we went throughout the stadium, we were greeted by friendly staff members that went out of their way to make sure we had a great day at the ballpark. Nate probably high-fived a half dozen different staff as we made our way around the stadium and everyone greeted us with a smile and friendly greeting.

With such a friendly atmosphere and feeling of pride and excitement, you couldn’t help but have a great time.

Though the game is probably not the part of the experience that Nate will remember the most, it was a game that included special moments that he will appreciate more as he gets older.

Future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones blasted a first inning home run.

Not everyone can say that a future Hall of Famer launched a home run during the first inning of their first-ever visit to a big league park, but Nate can. After the Mets were retired in order in the top of the first by Derek Lowe and the first two Braves failed to reach in the bottom of the inning, Chipper Jones launched a pitch into the left-center bleachers for his second home run of the season and 438th of his career.

The Braves ended up winning the game 4-2 as Alex Gonzalez hit two solo home runs and Freddie Freeman added his first of the season and second of his young career to account for the other Atlanta runs.

Though there was a second game due to the rainout the previous night, we headed back to South Carolina after only the first couple innings. Nate had watched and played all the baseball he needed for one day and after one last run around the front gate area was ready to call it a day.

It was a truly special day and one that I am pretty sure that neither Nate nor his dad will ever forget.

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