ATLANTA —When MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was on hand for the groundbreaking for SunTrust Park in 2014, the vast swath of open space outside Atlanta hinted at a ballpark district with a massive but unique scope.
Speaking Friday from inside the finished product, Manfred said the park he envisioned three years ago doesn’t do justice to the reality.
“When you see it done, it’s even bigger than all that wide open space. It’s really impressive,” Manfred told reporters as he surveyed the park from inside the Braves dugout just a few hours before the team’s homer opener against the Padres.
Situated in Cobb County just north of Atlanta, the ballpark is the centerpiece of a larger dining and entertainment district dubbed the Battery. Ballpark amenities aside, the options outside the park are just as important for drawing in fans, Manfred said.
“The ballpark itself is beautiful,” he said, “but the scope of the project I really think is the future for baseball.”
Manfred called the concept “a model for other organizations.”
When teams host games 81 a year, “you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a venue that is attractive, provides entertainment alternatives and food alternatives, and the Braves have just done an unbelievable job.”
SunTrust Park fits the mold of the new-old ballpark approach that’s grown in popularity in recent decades, as teams opt for stadiums that harken back to decades past while also maximizing the modern desires of technology-obsessed fans.
“A lot of imagination” went into designing SunTrust, Manfred said.
“It’s the kind of ballpark that will attract not only our hardcore fans that really are the backbone of our game … but people who may not be quite as interested because there are so many options,” the commissioner said.
The Braves took heat for leaving the Atlanta city limits, as some interpreted the move as an escape more than a relocation. The Braves have said the move made sense given that a large number of tickets are bought from fans north of the city.
The Braves’ connection to Atlanta will remain strong even in a new location, Manfred said.
“I think our clubs do an unbelievable job of reaching out in their communities. They pick the location that they believe’s gonna be most accessible to fans,” he said. “But always, whether it’s a downtown site or a suburban site … you’ve gotta own your metropolitan area, and that means you have to have community outreach throughout the metropolitan area.”
Traffic is always an issue in Atlanta, and congestion was an issue near the ballpark at times Friday afternoon, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But as gametime approached, the flow of cars was relatively smooth.
Whether traffic will be a significant problem near the park, as many expect, remains to be seen. But, otherwise, Manfred said at least one neighbor is glad to have Braves nearby. He said a woman stopped him on his way into the stadium and said the Braves have done an “unbelievable” job fitting in to the community.
“When you hear things like that,” Manfred said, “it just makes you proud of your sport.”