Braves give Turner Field a rousing send-off in final game
ATLANTA (AP) Walter Banks posed for pictures, caught up with old friends and turned a bit wistful as he remembered all the good times as an Atlanta Braves usher.
It was time to say goodbye.
The Braves played their final game at Turner Field on Sunday, ending a run that lasted a mere 20 seasons with a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers. They are moving to a new stadium in the suburbs next season, while Turner Field will carry on as the downsized home of Georgia State's football team.
A sellout crowd of 51,220 turned out for the occasion, while Banks manned his usual position in the box seats near the Atlanta dugout, not far from former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.
Banks was wearing a Braves jersey with No. 51 on the back, marking his seasons of service with the team going back to its move from Milwaukee in 1966.
''You save the best to the last,'' he said. ''No matter if they win, lose or draw, you'll always remember this day.''
Banks spent 31 seasons working as a Braves usher at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium - though, he was quick to point out, it was actually 32 since he started in 1965 when the Triple-A Crackers called it home while the Braves spent a lame-duck season in Wisconsin.
''I've met so many people, so many friends,'' he said. ''A lot of people, I won't get to get see anymore.''
Banks was on hand for the Braves' final game at their previous home in 1996. The following year, the team moved next door to Turner Field, which began life as the main stadium for the Atlanta Olympics before it was converted into a baseball park.
Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium was imploded, clearing the way for a parking lot that served its replacement.
That was an easy move for Banks and other longtime stadium employees. He's not sure he'll be heading to SunTrust Park, which is only about 15 miles away but isn't served by Atlanta's rapid-transit system.
''If they get transportation, it would be a lot better,'' Banks said.
The Braves marked the final game at the ballpark affectionately known as ''the Ted'' - a nod to its namesake and former Braves owner Ted Turner - with elaborate ceremonies before and after the game.
For starters, they recognized their all-time Turner Field team. One by one, they trotted in through an opening in the center-field wall, beginning with Chipper Jones. He took his former position at third base, followed by shortstop Rafael Furcal, second baseman Marcus Giles, first baseman Adam LaRoche, left fielder Brian Jordan, center fielder Andruw Jones, right fielder Gary Sheffield and catcher Javy Lopez.
Finally, the pitchers emerged - three of them. Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz strolled out together in their familiar Braves jerseys, the crowd saving its biggest cheer for the remarkable trio. They anchored the team through much of its unprecedented run of 14 straight division titles, the last nine of which came after the move to Turner Field.
Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were fittingly given the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitches in unison - or maybe they should've called them the last pitches. They were joined on the mound by another Hall of Famer, former Braves manager Bobby Cox.
A giant American flag was unfurled across the outfield during the national anthem, which was capped off by two military jets roaring overhead on an unseasonably warm afternoon.
As soon as Jim Johnson struck out Justin Upton to end the game, the grounds crew hustled on the field to pry up home plate. Former home run king Hank Aaron and Braves chairman Terry McGuirk took it on a police-escorted trip to the new stadium, which was met with a smattering of boos when shown on the video board. To cap things off, team president John Schuerholz led the crowd in one last ''Tomahawk Chop,'' the crowd roaring as night fell.
SunTrust Park has sparked plenty of debate over its location outside the city center, near one of the most congested interchanges in the metro area, and a secretive deal that gave the Braves some $400 million in public funding.
But Tim Landrey, who attended the Turner Field finale with his 12-year-old son, Jack, is eager to attend games at the new stadium. He said it will be a bit closer to his home and there will be more to do at the mall-like complex adjacent to SunTrust Park, which will include restaurants, retail shops and a hotel.
The Braves had long complained that the city never followed through on plans to bring development to the struggling neighborhood that surrounds Turner Field.
''I'm looking forward to going to Braves games and hitting a restaurant or a bar before or after the game,'' Landrey said. ''It's something to do as opposed to just coming here, so it's a good move for the Braves.''
Turner Field is barely older than Braves rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson, who was born in 1994 in suburban Kennesaw and has fond memories of cheering on the Braves as a child.
''It's a little bit surreal,'' Swanson said. ''This was pretty much my whole life, what I can remember. You can't really put it into words. I don't know if I've even allowed myself to think about what's going on today and this whole year.''
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .