My Last Game at Turner Field

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

My love affair with the Braves appropriately began with heartbreak. In 1982, on the way to my first Braves game, I asked my parents, “Does Dale Murphy know we’re coming?” When my parents told me and my brother that he didn’t—and that we wouldn’t get to talk to him—we both started crying.

In 1991 my family moved to Richmond, VA. Before we got the TV hooked up, my brother, my dad and I spent September nights sitting out in our Ford Aerostar minivan because it had the best radio reception. We pulled AM 750 WSB down out of the stratosphere to listen to Pete Van Wieren, Skip Caray and Ernie Johnson describe Ron Gant’s arms, Steve Avery’s curve ball and Otis Nixon’s speed as the Braves chased a pennant.

By the time Sid slid in 1992, thankfully, we were watching the games on TV again. On that night, I had given up and gone to bed. But I heard my brother yelling about a rally and made it back to the living room in time to see David Justice waving Sid Bream down to slide.

Whole worlds are contained between Skip Caray’s call of “He is…”and the final pronouncement of “…safe!” Caray’s exultant refrain, “Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!” still echoes in my ears every time I cross the Green Lot where Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium used to sit.

In 1995 and 1996 we made family pilgrimages from Richmond to the old stadium to see the Braves play in the World Series. I’m 1-1 in World Series games.

And then the Braves moved next door to my beloved Turner Field, the home to most of my Braves memories.

On one spring Saturday at Turner Field, Chipper Jones hit a monster home run, and we yelled at him so loudly as he rounded third base that he smiled and pointed his fingers at us, making pistol motions with his hands. When ESPN showed Chipper’s reaction on SportsCenter for the whole world to see, Ben and Keith and I knew he was “shooting” at us.

I was sitting right behind home plate at Turner Field for Jason Heyward’s first game. Half the people in the stadium that day were wearing Heyward t-shirts, so when the “J-Hey Kid” from Henry County hit a home run in his very first at-bat, Turner Field went bananas.

Later, I would see the replay on TV and hear Jim Powell’s call, “This stadium is upside down!” And it was.

I was in the upper deck at Turner Field the night Eric Hinske hit an eighth-inning home run to give the Braves the lead in a playoff series against the Giants. We went so crazy I thought the stands were going to fall down.

And then I watched an inning later as a ground ball rolled between Brooks Conrad’s legs to give the Giants the win. The stadium didn't fall down then; it just deflated.

Turner Field/ September 29th, 2016

Turner Field/ September 29th, 2016

I was at Turner Field the next night, too—this time in the left field stands. We lost the playoff series that night, which made it Bobby Cox’s last game as our manager. After the game was over, the whole Giants team returned to the field from their locker room celebration to honor Cox as he tipped his cap one last time. There was a reverence about that moment I'll never forget. 

And, I was on the third base line at Turner Field for Chipper Jones’ last game, although it’s better remembered as the “infield fly” game. The one-game playoff against the Cardinals was interrupted when fans protested an umpire’s call by throwing beer cans and other debris on the field.

In fairness to the fans, it was—and is—the worst call in the history of calls. A girl behind us threw her shoe onto the field. I still laugh when I think about her walking home with just one shoe.

During my years at Turner Field, I saw Gary Sheffield swing through more fastballs than any human being has any right to.

At Turner Field, I've booed Barry Bonds until I was hoarse.

I’ve been to Turner Field with my mom for several Mother’s Days. Mothers and their children can run the bases together after the game on Mother’s Day. We never did. Now I wish we had.

I’ve been to Turner Field to watch my brother honor Bobby Cox as the newest member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. 

I’ve banged the drum in left-center field, I’ve tomahawk chopped until I thought my arm might fall off, and I’ve made more memories with more friends than I can name—all at Turner Field. 

At Turner Field, I’ve high-fived strangers, yelled at umpires, screamed encouragement to pitchers, and told countless Braves batters that they had a “good eye.”

For 20 years at Turner Field, I’ve thrown my hat in frustration, covered my eyes in dismay, raised my arms in triumph, hung my head in disappointment, and literally jumped for joy.

In a few weeks, though, it will all be gone. Bulldozers, moving with all the finesse of Ryan Klesko, will be brought in, and Turner Field will be torn down.

After this season, the Braves are abandoning the hallowed ground of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field to move to the wild hinterlands of Cobb County.

I’m not a big fan of the idea, but I’m starting to think I’ll come around. I may go to a few games next season, and I might even learn to like it.

But it won’t be Turner Field.

I'm a pastor. I'm supposed to write about God. I'm sure there’s a way to connect these memories to God somehow, but I’ll let you connect the dots yourself.

Right now, though, I need to get to the stadium. I wonder if Freddie Freeman knows I’m coming. It’s a big night. Tonight is my last game at Turner Field.

See you Sunday.