The last time I went to see the Braves play baseball, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. I don’t remember much about the game, other than the fireworks when the record was broken … and the pen and pencil set they gave to every kid in attendance that night.
So, for me, going to Turner Stadium last Thursday night was a pretty exotic experience. It’s not something I would normally do, but a couple of friends asked us, “Would you ever like to go to a Braves game?” and, at about the same time, another good friend offered me four premium tickets … so attending a game seemed to be in the cards.
I can’t say I planned to enjoy it; in fact, I imagined myself sitting on a corrugated steel bench in sweltering sunlight, surrounded by loud, beer-soaked Billy Bobs. Still, whenever I step outside my comfort zone, I learn important lessons … so I sucked up my concerns and set off for an evening of bats and bases.
Our tickets came with a Gold Parking Pass. That sounded pretty good to me — but, for all I knew, there might have been Platinum and Titanium lots, too, making “Gold” a polite term for “sixty blocks away.” But when our friends saw the Gold Parking Pass, their eyes lit up. (“Gold parking! Sweet!”) As it turned out, the Gold lot was right there at the entrance — superseded only by the Lexus lot, which was one block closer. (As the Japanese say, “Even the Emperor must answer to God.”)
Once inside the stadium, I couldn’t believe how different Turner Field was from any other arena I’ve visited. I had been in a hurry to eat before going to the game — no late-summer, three-month old hot dogs for me! — but that turned out to be a bad move, as the theme-park style complex offered everything from Chic-fil-a to upscale dining. (And there were hotdogs — plump, juicy affairs — selling for just $1.00 each, thanks to a “Thursday Night is Dollar Hot Dog Night” promotion.)
After strolling around, we headed for our seats … and that’s when I got my biggest shock of the night. Directed by helpful security folks, we made our way up three flights of stairs to what everyone kept referring to as the “Casino Level.” Ultimately, we pushed our way through an unlikely-looking set of doors … and found ourselves in paradise.
Imagine, if you will, an air-conditioned, carpeted airport concourse, peppered with color flat screens. Every few feet, uniformed vendors scooped ice cream, bagged peanuts, and drizzled cheese over nachos (not so surprising) … and, next to them, other uniformed vendors whipped up creamy pasta dishes, pressed panini sandwiches onto sizzling grills, sliced up fresh-baked pizzas, and served elaborately-frosted hunks of yummy cake. Bartenders mixed drinks. Patrons wandered into and out of gleaming, uncrowded restrooms.
This was not at all what I expected.
After passing through a set of doors, we found ourselves sitting in comfortable, regal seats, sheltered by an overhang, just behind first base. From there, we could see everything with perfect clarity, including the huge full-color, high-definition screen that displayed everything from instant replays to “Kissing Contests” among the fans. (I didn’t win.)
The evening was cloudy and cool. The stands on our level were almost deserted … but we were close enough to the crowd below to feel their energy. Instead of landing in the midst of a sweaty, noisy rabble, I found myself, incredibly, in the lap of luxury. An ice cream sundae later (served by a flagrantly gay scooper who, sensing our family affiliation, gave me three or four extra scoops), I was perfectly, completely happy.
And, unfortunately — I’ve also been perfectly and completely spoiled.
I genuinely enjoyed every aspect of the game. I’d love to go back.
But having sat in the Big Seats … how will I ever reconcile myself to watching the game from Level 1?