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    The Braves, And Their New Home, Have Come So Far As We Await Do-Or-Die Game 5

    By Bud L. Ellis


    ATLANTA – The December drizzle and mist floated through the chilly wind as I made my way from my parking space toward the construction site. My annual three-week Christmas vacation from my product marketing job had just started, there were no freelance deadlines to hit for a few hours, and on a day that sparked absolutely zero thoughts of baseball, there only was one place I wanted to go.

    I darted across Circle 75 Parkway and dodged a few construction barrels, phone in hand despite the persistent moisture swirling in the 40-degree air. It had been a few months since I had spent some time checking out the future home of the Atlanta Braves, and while I was not an invited guest on this day, I spent the next 90 minutes walking the perimeter taking pictures of what would become SunTrust Park and The Battery.

    It allowed my mind to careen out of control. What future wonders might Braves Country see at this place where, even on this day in the dying moments of 2016, there still was so much work to complete with a new season set to dawn in some 17 weeks? The venue’s tenant also was a work in progress, having just wrapped up a third-consecutive season with 89-plus losses and chest deep into a painful rebuild.

    Yes, there were slivers of sunshine that appeared here and there, but it felt like a return to prominence was as hard to see as it was to envision a baseball palace amid the mud and construction cranes.

    Look at us now.

    The Braves take the field Wednesday at SunTrust Park with a shot to win the National League Division Series. It’s a do-or-die, winner-take-all series finale, one that will wrap what’s been a delicious four-game passion play with the St. Louis Cardinals. A victory gives this franchise its first postseason series victory since 2001, that coming in just the fifth year spent at Turner Field. So much heartbreak, so many missed chances, so many tears of frustration have been shed since Atlanta bounced the Astros in the first round way back when.

    Think about this place where – on that dreary December day nearly three years ago – that day’s rain sent the mud running down the recently paved entrance to what would become The Omni Hotel. Consider the roped-off areas where the restaurants, bars and gathering places would take form. Look at the stadium, still somewhat of a shell with some sections still missing seats, workers in hard hats everywhere running cable, focused on completing brick work, bringing this grand concept to life.

    We have experienced so much since the team took the field at their new home on April 14, 2017, a Friday night against San Diego. That team would be 45-45 following the first series after the All-Star break, but it wasn’t ready to contend. The 2018 team captured our hearts like no team since the worst-to-first 1991 Miracle Braves, stunning the world by winning the NL East on the fourth Saturday of September on their sparkling home field. And while that October foray was short, a four-game loss in the NLDS to the big, bad Dodgers, the Braves authored a shot across the bow in the first-ever postseason contest at the new yard when Ronald Acuna Jr. belted a grand slam and Atlanta staved off elimination with a Game 3 victory.

    Look now. These Braves are a legit championship contender, even with the ups and downs and wild twists and turns of this get-together with the Cardinals. Atlanta won 97 games this season and captured the East again, all the while authoring a book full of memorable moments at their glittering new abode. The Braves won 50 games at SunTrust Park this season. Seventeen games were sellouts. They averaged 32,776 while drawing 2.65 million, the franchise’s highest attendance since 2007.

    I’ve been very fortunate to attend both East clinchers and the first four playoff games in the new home of the Braves. Game 5 on Wednesday represents a new level. At a venue praised universally as a destination for any baseball fan, a place that now provides its tenant with a bona fide home-field advantage, where an emerging powerhouse plays, the Braves get their shot to win a game that carries equal parts clinching and elimination, season move forward or season cut short.

    We imagined moments like this on those days the shovels were busy turning up the dirt at the confluence of Interstates 285 and 75. Honestly, it hasn’t been that long ago, but at the same time it feels like forever.

    An off day leading into Game 5 allows for a few fleeting moments of recollection, of considering how far this team – and the venue it calls home – has come.

    Nine innings shy of playing for the pennant, the Braves hope by the time Wednesday evening fades to night, their new home will be awash with a celebration 18 years – and lots of heavy lifting – in the making.


    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.