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Braves' new ballpark to be full-service destination

Club releases renderings of Cobb County ballpark and mixed-use development

NEW YORK -- Back when the Atlanta Braves really got rolling in the 1990s, their general manager, John Schuerholz, would gather his baseball staff once a year or so, usually in Spring Training, and attempt to put their work in perspective.

"You should be proud," he would say. "What you're doing is absolutely remarkable -- and historic."

Schuerholz would recognize individual members of his staff at these gatherings and remind them that successful baseball franchises are born because dozens and dozens of people are doing their jobs well, because each feels invested in all that's happening at the highest level.

At the time, the Braves were on a historic run of 14 consecutive postseason appearances. During those years, from 1991-2005, they became one of baseball's gold standards for almost everything.

Looking back on it now -- and the Braves never saw this part of the deal coming -- their impact extended to places they could never have imagined. To put it simply, the Braves changed an entire culture. Suddenly, kids that might have played football wanted to be the next Chipper Jones or Tom Glavine. In other words, the Braves made baseball cooler than it had ever been in the South.

Scouts began flocking to Georgia as more and more kids played. They didn't just find players, they found future big leaguers -- Jason Heyward, Buster Posey, Matt Wieters, Charlie Blackmon, Josh Reddick and others.

In the last three years, 46 Georgians have been taken in the first 10 rounds of the First-Year Player Draft, including 14 in the first round. When Bobby Cox, Glavine and Greg Maddux are inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, they'll represent so much more than just the Atlanta Braves.

So no matter how many words are written, no matter how many dinners are given, it would be almost impossible to fully understand all the Braves mean to so many people.

That's why when the Braves began the planning and design of a new ballpark, they wanted more than a ballpark. They wanted a ballpark that would represent how they see themselves.

The Braves released a series of drawings of the proposed new ballpark Wednesday, along with the mixed-use development that will be constructed simultaneously around it.

Schuerholz, who was promoted from general manager to team president in 2007, has overseen the Cobb County project since its inception. With the release of the drawings of a sleek, modern, cozy ballpark, he can see the project beginning to pick up speed and move closer to its 2017 Opening Day.

"It's comfortable to know we're putting in place a continuation of the great legacy of the Atlanta Braves organization, what we have built and what we stand for as a baseball organization," he said. "I believe this building will continue to enhance that legacy and allow it to grow and flourish."

The Braves and Cobb County officials envision an area that will be open year-round for shopping, dining, etc. They think the area will become part of the fabric of the community.

But during a conversation at the Major League Baseball's quarterly Owners Meetings on Wednesday, Schuerholz emphasized at several points that the most important thing is giving fans the world's best place to watch a baseball game.

"Our first consideration is a classic, classy Major League Baseball facility," he said. "Watching the game is the first thing. You and I have been to a lot of ballparks, and there are some that are fresh and vibrant and relevant. We want early arrivals. We want folks to relax and walk through the mixed-use area and have an early snack and then come into our park and view our great game in the newest of all the venues."

And yet ...

"We really care about our fans of the previous 30 years," Schuerholz said, "but we also have to look forward. This is at least a 30-year project. That's a younger generation. We want a park that will attract them and entertain them and be an enjoyable place for them to go. We want to engage them in an effective way, and we think we're doing that."

Schuerholz said his enthusiasm for the project has grown throughout the design process. Hours after the drawings were displayed, Schuerholz had lunch with Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk. To describe the two men as enthused would be an understatement.

"The renderings show the scope of this remarkable project," Schuerholz said. "It's a beautiful state-of-the-art Major League park coming out of the ground beside a very robust and outstanding mixed-used development which will offer our fans and folks who may not yet be our fans a chance to be entertained and to enjoy themselves 365 days a year. Our partners in this project are excited, and so are we."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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