strike one

Atlanta Braves Suntrust Park

Atlantans are preparing for what many believe is an impossibility: ascending I-75 during rush hour in time to make it to a Braves’ game in Cobb County.

For weeks fans have been stockpiling food and fuel and consulting guides – one Buckhead man has hired six Sherpas – for the treacherous trek to the top of the city’s peak traffic nightmare where breathing can require oxygen and one slip can be fatal.

“My wife doesn’t want me to go,” said Billy Waldrop. “You know, we’ve got three kids, and if I don’t make it…”

Waldrop’s voice trailed off as he stared into the distance reflectively and took another sip of beer at Atlanta’s famous Manuel’s Tavern.

“The old stadium had its challenges,” he said, composing himself. “But this is different. This is life threatening, and, yet, life affirming. Ya know? This forces you to question existence itself and the limitations of man.

“People ask me: ‘Billy, why are you going?’ And I say ‘Because it’s there.’”

Nobody knows exactly what they’ll find there when the Braves’ home season opens April 14 with a game against the San Diego Padres.

The Braves were terrible last year and this year may be worse. Fans risking it all to see them play has prompted some mental health experts to go public with concerns.

“That third baseman they’ve got,” said Fred Sanderson, who teaches Sports Psychology and Mob Control at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I wouldn’t cross the street to watch him scratch his ass. These people clearly need psychiatric help.”

Braves’ owners moved the team to Cobb – which soaked taxpayers for $400 million to build a new stadium, SunTrust Field – after Fulton County bungled negotiations to keep the team downtown where it has played for half a century.

Many fans are establishing base camps along the high ridge of I-75 and plan to stay at hotels, or with relatives, or sleep in cars or under shrubs for a trek some estimate will take four days.

The most popular path of ascent from downtown is I-75 and its mass of automobiles that are aimed north during rush hour but not moving that way. But others are considering the South Col Route, which passes through Douglasville, Rockmart, and parts of Chattanooga.

“You can get lost out there on that South Col Route, I wouldn’t lie to you,” said Jeb Fletcher, who is running a guide service for the excursion, charging about 3,000 clients $475 apiece. “You’re going to need somebody, or you’re going to end up in Alabama, and, buddy, I gotta be honest, I wouldn’t wish that on my last wife.”

Even for those who make the summit, experts said there’s still the challenge of surviving long enough to savor it.

“With stadium beer and hotdog prices what they are, there’s a better than even chance of starving to death,” said Rocky Windgrass, who plans to stuff cans of beer and sandwiches down his pants. “I’ll walk a little strange, and, I’ll grant you, it won’t help with the ascent. But I’ll take my chances.”

No matter how well prepared they are, weather could change everything, the trekkers concede.

“We get a single drop of rain, during rush hour?” said Waldrop. “We’re all dead.”


Image: the rendering of SunTrust Park and the Comcast building in Cobb County is a media resource of the Atlanta Braves.
Jeffry Scott

Jeffry Scott

Jeffry Scott is a former staff reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where, over the course of 24 years, he covered two of the biggest trials in the city's history -- the racketeering trial of former mayor Bill Campbell, and the trial of courthouse shooter, Brian Nichols -- and wrote features on travel, food, politics, movies, TV and advertising, and covered breaking news on the metro desk. He left the paper two years ago and is living, quite happily, in St. Petersburg, Fla., as a freelance writer.