Friday, June 17, 2011

At the Home of the Braves: Game 38 in Gwinnett

To get to the Atlanta area in Arby from Huntville required that we jut back up into Tennessee, skirting Chattanooga before descending into Georgia.  Approaching the Atlanta area, we had hoped to circumvent its Friday afternoon traffic by taking State Route 20 through Canton and toward Lake Lanier, where we had expected to park Arby for the night.  That location would make an easy commute then to Lawrenceville where the Gwinnett Braves make their home.  All went smoothly until mid-afternoon on a stretch of the two-lane road between the communities of Lathemtown and Free Home.  There, an accident involving an 18-wheeler completely stopped traffic for 35 minutes on the broiling, sun-drenched pavement.  The temperature on Arby’s exterior thermometer rose to 117 degrees.  Some cars ahead of us turned back toward Canton.  Others tried a possible cut-off, but soon returned to the line they had left, now further behind than the position that they had previously held.  Given our size and position at the mid-point of our supposed time-saving route, we decided to persevere.
Since Arby’s air conditioner has a twenty-degree differential, which means that it can cool the outside air by that amount, we began to swelter as the interior temperature rose to the upper 80s.  Figuring that we’d start running short of time before the game and probably probably find it difficult to cool off Arby’s quarters, we decided to stay in the Lawrenceville Hampton Inn rather than in the RV park that we had targeted.  Good idea.  We checked in, changed clothes quickly, and made it to the Coolray ballpark at 6:38, thanks to Bonnie navigating me on back roads around the glut of traffic on Buford Highway.  Maggie Neil, the Braves’ staffer who sets up anthem performances, had already inquired about my whereabouts.  As I checked in with the staff, Bonnie and I were greeted by good friend Jon McRae and his wife Karen, who joined us for the game and a marvelous dinner later that evening.
To begin the pre-game ceremonies, one of the ministers of the 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville threw out the first pitch as a means of outreach to the people in Gwinnett.  While church groups have participated in the pre-game festivities at other ballparks, I had encountered none that matched the extensive promotional presence throughout the game by 12Stone.  A mega-church aligned with the Willow Creek Church, 12Stone provided information about its mission and ministries at a greeting table near the main gate, and it sponsored several give-aways between innings—the Best-Seat-in-the-House selection, the T-shirt toss, and a Home Depot gift card for a lucky seat-holder. 
12Stone Church's display at the entry to Coolray.
Despite the difficulties of the hot afternoon, the dense traffic, and the slightly late arrival at the ballpark, I felt good while waiting to begin, in part because of the relaxed and convivial conversation with Maggie immediately before singing.  She inquired about the progress of the trip as well as several of the ballparks with which she was most familiar—her hometown Erie SeaWolves and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, where she had worked last year.  
My performance must have gone well since several fans passed along complimentary comments.  One was most fun: “You shore do have a voice!” a man said as he approached.  “I try to sing, but nothing like that.  Wow.  Good job.”  And during the game, Zach Weber from the Braves’ Media Relations office, conducted an extensive interview for Gwinnett’s website.
Although I knew that we would enjoy dinner with the McRaes following the game, I was drawn toward the concession stands to see what they offered becauseI hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  What I found was that Gwinnett joined the competition with other ballparks for the most unusual snack or entrĂ©e:  My list already included several appearances of barbecue nachos, Montgomery's biscuits and jelly, and Savannah's "award winning" chicken and waffles.  But Gwinnett’s “Fried Oreos” takes the cake, at least thus far!  Although I did not purchase the treat because I don't eat sugar, Rachel brought four of them to the counter so that I could take this picture.

Rachel laughs as I photograph the Oreos without tasting them.
Perhaps because the ballpark is part of a green initiative, or perhaps because it is in such a burgeoning area of the region that it is subject to strict civic codes about adequate health warnings, it posted notices to identify “reclaimed” water from potable water.  Whatever the cause for the notification, I was not tempted to drink the water in the urinals in the men’s restroom even without this sign, which was posted above each of the ceramic repositories.

Sign posted above the urinals.
Bisons' bullpen looks on until the 9th.
For the Braves there were few highlights until the ninth inning.  They did execute one unusual defensive play during the early innings, however.  With a runner on second, Buffalo Bisons outfielder Lucas Duda singled sharply to right, and the runner held at third until Duda rounded the bag too widely.  The Braves’ first baseman cut the ball off and started to run toward Duda, who headed for second.  In the classic pickle play, the first baseman threw to second, at which point the runner from third broke for home.  The second baseman whirled with the ball and threw to the catcher, who tagged the Bison trying to score while Duda took second.
In the ninth, however, Bisons' pitcher D. J. Carrasco was working on a shut out and recorded the first two outs fairly easily on a pop fly and line out.  Then yielding a sharp single to Braves’ shortstop Brandon Hicks, Carrasco was replaced on the mound.  Braves' third baseman Shawn Bowman immediately  lofted a homer to left field, tightening the score 3-2 and bringing the potential tying run to the plate.  But the Braves’ next batter lined out softly to end the game, allowing the Bisons to escape with a win at the home of the Braves.

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