So Arthur Blank wants a new playpen for his football team -- and on the taxpayer's dime. Are you kidding me? The Georgia Dome is not good enough for the Atlanta Falcons? I don't think Arthur Blank grew up like I did. If he had he would be a lot more impressed with his team's surroundings.
I love athletics and I love visiting stadiums. I've been to at least a hundred. On a recent visit to Houston, my lovely wife, Lisa, and I made a stop in Baton Rouge to pay homage to LSU's Tiger Stadium. They have a one-animal zoo right outside the main gate where we found Mike the Tiger holding court. He ain't Uga, but he is an impressive animal. We were lucky enough to run across an assistant football coach who let us inside the stadium -- on a Sunday morning -- and onto the field.
My first encounter with an athletic facility was Snow Field in Porterdale. It is now, quite fittingly, known as B.C. Crowell Park. I tried out for Little League on Snow Field. There were lots and lots of sandspurs in right field, where I spent most of my time. I also watched Blunt Patterson pitch a thousand softball games on Snow Field.
We also had the "big league ballpark" in Porterdale, down by the Yellow River. It had a covered grandstand and everything. Once in a great while B.C. Crowell -- see above reference -- would take our P.E. classes there to play and sometimes Ronald Bradley would bring his Newton Ram baseball team out to Porterdale to play. I saw Tim Christian pitch against Hart County in the state play-offs at the big league ballpark in Porterdale.
The first actual "stadium" I visited was Ponce De Leon Park, in Atlanta -- right across the street from Sears-Roebuck. The Crackers played there back when the Crackers were the New York Yankees of the Minor Leagues. I felt like the luckiest boy on the planet the first time my daddy took me to see the Crackers play. There was a magnolia tree in center field. The tree was in play.
That was nothing, of course, compared to the first time he took me to Athens to watch the Georgia Bulldogs play football. We didn't actually go inside Sanford Stadium, understand. That cost more money than we had. We sat on the railroad tracks and looked down onto the field. Our tailgate was a couple of mayonnaise sandwiches wrapped in wax papers. Mama fixed me a fruit jar full of iced tea. I guess Daddy was drinking water because the contents of his fruit jar was clear. I have since been inside Sanford Stadium once or twice.
I was at the first baseball game ever played in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and I still don't understand why they tore it down. Ed Hertwig took his son, Craig, and me to the exhibition between the Braves and Detroit Tigers, and if I live to be a hundred I will never forget how green the grass looked or how blue the seats were. I fell in love with the facility that would become known as the Launching Pad and for the next 30 years went there every chance I got.
David Hancock took me to the last game ever played in Atlanta Stadium. It was a World Series contest against the New York Yankees. The Braves lost.
I was excited to see the new stadium, Turner Field, and I must admit that it is quite fancy. It has that old-fashioned ballpark field plus every modern bell and whistle that could be thought of in 1996, when it was constructed for the Olympic Games. My first baseball game there was 1997. Two weeks later I went to Chicago and watched the Braves play the Cubs in Wrigley Field.
They didn't have any bells or whistles but they had ivy-covered brick walls and a hand-operated scoreboard and dollar Cokes. Better luck next time, Ted.
I have been to lots and lots of other stadiums, too -- including the original Yankee Stadium, in 1970.
And, yes, I have been to the Georgia Dome on a number of occasions. Honesty compels me to admit that I haven't seen the Falcons play there, but I saw Olympic gymnastics in the building -- anyone remember Kerri Strug? I have also been to several SEC Championship games, a butt-whipping at the hands of Boise State and even a Sugar Bowl game.
I have also been to several of the bowl games formerly known as Peach in the Georgia Dome, and if anyone remembers the Peach Bowl games that used to be held in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium you will know why Arthur Blank needs to abandon the notion of an open-air football stadium in Atlanta. The Georgia Dome is just fine.
But if the Falcons are insistent that the taxpayers build them a new facility I suggest that we the people make them the following deal. We will spring for a new open-air stadium as soon as Atlanta wins a Super Bowl, or when hell freezes over -- whichever comes first.
In the meantime, I think I'll drive down to Ponce De Leon Avenue and look around. They tell me the magnolia tree is still alive.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.