Life is finite. In baseball, that life is measured by the last out.
In baseball stadiums, that life is calibrated by the click of a lock, maybe the rattle of chains when doors close for good. Or perhaps it’s the whisper of the last broom making the last sweep along that last stretch of concrete where millions of feet have trod.
That click of the lock, the sweep of the broom, came to Turner Field Sunday evening. For the final time, the Atlanta Braves played in a stadium that witnessed two decades of thrills and despair, of raised hopes and dashed dreams. The Braves hosted some gentlemen from Detroit, the Tigers, and beat them, 1-0.
The field, in some ways, never measured up to its predecessor, the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, home of the ’95 World Series Braves. No Braves team brought home baseball’s biggest prize to Turner Field.
Still, it was a showcase for some fabulous baseball. The Braves won nine consecutive division titles during their first nine years there. It saw some of the game’s greats – Jones, Chipper and Andruw; pitchers Tom Glavine, John Smoltz Greg Maddox, to name a few.
It also was the place with its own nickname. Mogul Ted Turner once owned that team, and his first name – Ted – will forever be associated with “the Ted,” that big stadium just south of downtown.
Come spring, the Braves will play in SunTrust Park, an impressive edifice rising along the side of I-75 in Smyrna. It’s been two years in the making.
Sunday was two years in the making, too. The Braves organization said it sold 51,220 seats — a sellout.
The fans came from across the street, across the state. They crossed state lines to be in place when the home team took the field at 3:13 p.m (three minutes late). Jimmy Carter, came up from Plains. When the Kiss Cam focused on him, the 92-year-old former president turned and gave his longtime wife, Rosalynn, a big smooch.
They came to see one chapter close and get a hint of the chapter to come. They came because …
Because Josh Smith celebrated his seventh birthday at Turner Field. That was back in 1997, the stadium’s first year. Thus did a little boy become a fan for life.
Smith, of Loganville, had a good seat Sunday, not far from third. With him was his sweetie, Jessica Dudley of Winder.
“They’re got to win,” said Smith, who’s now 27. “This is the last game.”
“Going to this game, the final game?” asked Dudley. “It’s awesome.”
Sunday was a big day for Nathaniel Griffin. He came to the field for the first time. He is 1.
“Got to get him started early,” said his mom, Jessica Griffin. Her husband, Nathaniel’s dad, nodded. Ray Griffin, like his wife, has been a Braves fan for years.
For both, Sunday reminded them of earlier days, younger people. They met in high school, and made attending Braves games a regular habit. That continued after they got married, and that was —
Ray, how long ago did you get married? He paused. “Uh…”
“Seven years,” his wife said.
How many games have they attended? “At least 200,” said the husband.
The Alpharetta residents don’t plan to stop, either. “The new stadium,” said Jessica Griffin, “is pretty cool.”
Cool, maybe. But a part of Emily Buske will always remember a little girl, her feet digging into the infield dirt, legs scissoring as she rounded first headed toward second. Eight years ago, she was that little girl; she has the T-shirt to prove it.
On Sunday, she pulled it out, pulled it on. It was ragged, the sleeves gone, but you could still read its words: “I ran the bases at Turner Field.”
“I’m sad” to see the stadium close, said Emily, 15, who lives in Knoxville and catches for her high school softball team, the Karn High Beavers. She left early Sunday with her mom, Pam Rizzi, to head south for this final game.
She waved her hands at the seats, quickly filling an hour before the first pitch. “This,” she said, “is where my first game was.”
Part of their hearts will remain at Turner Field, too, agreed Karl and Staphia Sellers. Husband and wife, each grew up in Atlanta, and each cheered the Braves.
As a present for her husband, Staphia Sellers bought tickets to the last game. It was only fitting, she thought: For the past two years, they’d always made it a point to come to the Braves’ first home game of the season. Why not the last? She got some tickets in the 400 level, high above the infield.
“I love the Braves,” Karl Sellers said. When he was a kid, he studied Greg Maddux, and patterned his pitching on that of the Braves’ ace. He aimed for control, not just velocity. He played for years.
“Then I got married,” he said.
His wife cocked an eyebrow. “Don’t act like it’s my fault,” she said.
They now live in Morrow. Making the drive to the new stadium might not be as simple as coming downtown , Karl Seller said.
Will they go to games at the new place?
Husband: “We’re still debating.”
Wife: We’re going.”
The game ended as it began, with thunderous cheers. Everyone stood. No one made a dash for the exits and a quick drive to the interstates. No, they lingered in the long shadows of an ended season.
So long as they remained, for a while at least, there would not be the click of a lock, the whisper of a broom.