The World Series begins Tuesday, and the College Football Playoff rankings are out a week later, and then it's the Hot Stove and the NFL playoff push and the CFP title game and NBA and NHL and college basketball starting and it's all going to be on top of you and then over with before you know it. Also, you should have no doubt that the next three months will be like the last three months: an unceasing series of political micro- and macro-controversies that are completely pointless, potentially apocalyptic or both. You're going to blink, and it's going to be the holidays, and you won't even notice any time has passed.
So allow me then to give a quiet digression of a recommendation, a sporting activity that has no larger context, no pressing importance, no 100,000 screaming fans and no fantasy sports implications. After this Saturday, you will have only three opportunities left this year to experience this unusual, disorienting and wholly enjoyable sporting experience. You are highly recommended to do so.
I'm talking about Sun Belt Conference football. I'm talking about Georgia State football. I'm talking about the most fun place to pay 10 bucks for a ticket in America sports right now.
The official name of Georgia State's home football stadium just outside downtown Atlanta is Parker H. Petit Field at Georgia State Stadium, but you know it, of course, as Turner Field. The home for the closing ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics, the place where the Braves played in a World Series, the set for the movie "Trouble With the Curve" is now the home of a Sun Belt football team. It looks … weird!
How did this happen? When the Braves announced that they'd be moving to Cobb County, the widespread assumption was that Turner Field would be torn down. But six months later, Georgia State University, the largest school in the state of Georgia but one that started playing football in 2010, announced that it wanted to buy the stadium and the land from the city of Atlanta. As tends to be the case with urban planning, the deal took a couple of years to figure out, but it finally went through in January of this year. Suddenly, the sign outside I-85 in south Atlanta that had just said "Turner Field" -- just two months after the final Braves game there -- said "Georgia State Stadium" and no one was quite sure what it meant. Reconstruction for the stadium didn't even begin until late February. They had to scramble to get it ready for the first game there, on Aug. 31. They just barely made it in time.
So far, there has only been one Georgia State game at Georgia State Stadium, home against Tennessee State on Aug. 31. There was supposed to be a game against Memphis last month, but Memphis canceled it so it could make up a game lost to Hurricane Irma. So the Panthers' next game is Saturday, against LSU's old friend Troy, at 2 p.m. ET. You should totally go.
It's really disconcerting to watch a football game in a place that was so obviously a baseball stadium less than seven months ago. The most obvious thing is the seating. All the seats that are great for a baseball game -- down low, behind home plate -- are the worst seats at a football game; the press box is now at one end of the field, far away from the action, as opposed to right in the center of it. It's also strange that a building that held 50,000 people has had to add seats for a football team that will be lucky to draw a fifth of that: As you can see in the above picture, there's a whole new row of close-up seating where right field used to be. It makes sense -- otherwise the closest seats would be in the upper deck, which is closed -- but it still feels odd. There are whole huge swaths of the place unused.
But man, what a steal GSU got. The scoreboard, which was the largest high-definition screen in baseball when it was installed back in 2005, is nicer than anything the Sun Belt has seen in years. The old Braves gift store is now a GSU one. There is room in the concourse for inflatable castles and slides for kids. And all the concession areas and bathrooms from Turner Field are there too, which means almost no lines. Oh, and they sell beer too, a rarity in college football. Because many of the people who attend are college students -- most of whom aren't 21 -- the beer lines are shorter than all the food lines, which you never see happen in any other sport.
And it's just … lovely. That ahhhhh experience of being at a baseball game, outside, just relaxed and calm and chill, it is replicated in a way I've never felt before at a football stadium. Football stadiums are usually gladiatorial, or so steeped in tradition that it can feel less like a game and more like a rally. But Turner Field is a football experience that's extremely rare: It's casual. You can sit and cheer and drink beer and be outside and just absorb it all. Maybe someday Georgia State becomes a powerhouse and this turns into a screamscape like every other football game, but right now, it's a football game with a baseball game feel. It's brand new and familiar at the same time. It's unlike any other sporting event I've ever attended.
It is worth noting that they did this so quickly that they didn't iron out all the kinks or, for that matter, get all the Braves stuff out of there. You know that Hank Aaron statue out front of Turner Field? Well, it's still there.
More concerning, they rushed together the stadium so quickly that they didn't get around to fixing the sprinkler system, and now the place might be a serious fire hazard. So, you know, just a heads up.
There are more changes coming, including a baseball stadium across the street that's actually going to be in the old footprint of Fulton County Stadium. (Again, man: GSU got itself such a steal.) As the years go by, they may turn this into something that feels more football-ish than right now. But at this moment, it's a disorienting, almost transcendent sports experience. There are three more games there this year after this one: South Alabama on Thursday night, Oct. 26, Appalachian State the Saturday after Thanksgiving and Idaho on Dec. 2, as the SEC Championship Game goes on not far down the road. You've got to find a way to go. There is much sameness in sports these days. But there is no place like this. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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