Originally created 07/11/98

Plenty to do at The Ted



ATLANTA -- "On your mark. Get set. GO!"

It's the fifth inning on a steamy Wednesday night at Turner Field as the Braves trail the Yankees. And the scoreboard, which is not visible from this upper-deck racing perch, is the last thing on Jonathan Roberts' mind.

Right now, the 11-year-old is concentrating on one thing, and that's sprinting down the first-base line faster than his friend Jason.

No, the umpires didn't interrupt Denny Neagle's warmup for this impromptu race. This line, with authentic chalk, infield dirt and manicured grass, sits high above Turner Field near the left-field foul pole in Coca-Cola Park.

Roberts races the 90 feet, tiring in the final stretch, hitting the base with a walk's stride. Jason's next, and his stamina helps him reach first at a jog's pace.

The line to race down the line is a long one, filled with boys of Little League age and girls in tank tops and sandals. The commotion around these sprints extends throughout this playground, from the oversized porch chairs granting one a panoramic view of the Atlanta skyline, to the makeshift dugout, to the misty air spewed throughout the park's walkway.

There's more to baseball and the Braves when you come to Turner Field. The stadium is equipped with enough amenities -- from the Coca-Cola Park in the left-field upper deck, to the plaza of shops in center field, to the Bullpen Bar and Grill in right-center -- to divert the fan's attention from baseball.

"We were sitting in the upper deck behind home plate, and these guys were getting restless," said Michael Roberts of Atlanta as he looked at his son and friend.

"These guys needed to get up and do something. So we brought them here."

Michael Roberts leans over the rail, some 10 stories up, filling the rail and watching a baseball game that appears rather distant from so far above. Every fly ball looks towering, whether it's a can of corn to center or a pop foul. Every crack comes with a two-second delay. Every cheer, every umpire call seems to reach this section last.

But baseball is not the attraction when you come up here. Coca-Cola Park is a diversion, an opportunity to see the game from a different angle, a chance to relax and stretch your legs.

You also may win some money. If anyone hits a home run up there, a mammoth blast of more than 500 feet, the person who catches the ball will win $1 million.

Now don't go up there expecting to win. No one, not even Mark McGwire, has even sniffed this porch, not even in batting practice.

"Can I hit one up there?" Andres Galarraga asks. "If I get a big bunch of wind in batting practice, maybe. But I don't think anyone can, not even McGwire."

Baseball's home-run leader will get his crack during a three-game series that begins July 31. So if you want a spot on the rail, get there early because slots don't open up too frequently.

Anyone with a ticket can venture north, and the Braves do sell standing-room only tickets primarily for the park. And while up there, take a gander at the ubiquitous inflatable Coke bottle, the one covered with baseballs, bats, gloves, jerseys, helmets, chest protectors, face masks, pitching rubbers, bases and shoes.

From across the stadium, it looks like one giant propaganda tool, but up close, it's an eclectic display.

"It's a good thing they have this area up here because it gives us something else to do," Michael Roberts said. "Sitting for three, four hours in the same spot can be a bit boring."

The scene in right-center field at the Bullpen Bar and Grill usually starts humming after the seventh inning. Not only is this a fancy place to grab a burger and some brew with televisions at every turn tuned in to the field's action, the restaurant also serves as a nifty after-game locale for the yuppies and baby boomers to hang.

Crowds are known to stay as much as an hour after a game's conclusion, as a stadium bar turns into a singles' locale.

"Who would think that you could go to a baseball game and go to a bar at the same time?" said Frank Appleton, 28. "And the good thing is you're not going to miss a thing."