“Our chairman, (Terry) McGuirk, directed me that I’d be here until we get in the ballpark,”
Schuerholz said. “And that’s my plan anyway.”
The 73-year-old gave a lunchtime speech to about 300 people at Vinings Bank on Tuesday, where he spoke of the new home of the Atlanta Braves, set to open by Cumberland Mall in 2017.
“This is a mission, a project of passion and excitement and joy for all of us with the Braves, what it means not only to our organization, but what it means to our region, what it means to our city, what it means to Cobb County, what it means to our fans,” Schuerholz said. “We’re going to be proud peacocks walking around when this beautiful facility and mixed-use development opens.”
For Schuerholz, the stadium move will also shorten his commute. Schuerholz lives in Vinings and has a daughter who teaches at Sope Creek Elementary in east Cobb.
As he’s done over the past few weeks, Schuerholz dropped new hints about the mixed-use development planned to accompany the team’s proposed $672 million stadium.
Schuerholz mentioned a bowling alley, a movie theater and an entertainment venue as part of the $400 million development. The Braves are in negotiations with two global players in the entertainment industry, Schuerholz said.
“Whichever one we decide on, we believe we will have the finest partnership which will help us provide the entertainment function of that mixed-use development when there are not baseball games being played during the off season,” he said. “It will be a 365-days-a-year facility and entertainment could be available through most of those days.”
Both entertainment companies own their own front line acts that travel the country, he said.
“They are entertainment providers. Singing. Stage acts. Entertainment that you go to Chastain Park to see or you go to Philips Arena to see, now you’ll come to our yet unnamed region and mixed-use development and watch acts.”
Schuerholz said the acts would be similar to those offered at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
“It is very much like that. Different tenor. Different style, but those kind of quality acts,” he said.
He also mentioned a water feature in the mixed-use development he promised will be a unique aspect of the park. Schuerholz reiterated both the stadium and mixed-use development will open at the same time in April 2017.
In an interview with the MDJ, Schuerholz predicted the team will have no trouble if any lawsuits arise challenging the stadium. He referenced how a Fulton County Superior Court judge last month dismissed a lawsuit challenging the bonds for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.
“That particular judge called them frivolous lawsuits,” Schuerholz said. “You have to expect these things to take place as a matter of course in projects of this nature and this magnitude and those that have gotten as much attention as this one has,” he said. “We won’t be surprised if there’s a challenge, and we certainly won’t be surprised if the bond validation is upheld.”
Schuerholz became general manager of the Braves in 1990 and held the position until 2007, when he was named team president. During the time he managed the team, the Braves had the best overall record in all of Major League Baseball.
“Winners make commitments and losers make excuses,” Schuerholz said.
He also said the new stadium might not have happened if the public learned about it too early.
“If we had not been able to keep it a secret — it was confidential, it wasn’t a secret — if it had leaked, we believe it would not have existed,” Schuerholz said. “This project would not have gone through. It likely would have been scuttled too soon before we had a chance to get all of what we needed lined up. I’m so happy that it worked that way.”
The crowd peppered Schuerholz with questions long after his speech ended, some about baseball and some about the stadium. He predicted the mixed-use development will help ease traffic because people will spend time in the development both before and after games. Schuerholz also promised the stadium itself will not disappoint.
“The most modern, the most unique, the most fantastic Major League ballpark ever to be designed and built will be coming out of the ground in Cobb County,” said Schuerholz. “It will be phenomenal, I can tell you that.”
Several key differences between the new stadium and Turner Field have already been announced. One of those is the new stadium will hold around 41,500 at capacity, rather than 50,096 in the current stadium when it’s sold out. Schuerholz conceded the Braves overestimated ticket demand when they built Turner Field and said the smaller Cobb stadium will be more intimate.
The new stadium will also have a much larger awning on top of the upper deck. According to Schuerholz, the awning will provide more shade and a more comfortable viewing experience during the hot summer months.
The architect selected to design the stadium, Populous, has a long history with Schuerholz. The same company helped design the Kansas City Royals’ stadium, which opened in 1973 while Schuerholz was general manager of that team. Schuerholz said negativity surrounding the stadium deal is starting to fade. He pointed out the 5-0 vote by the county commission on May 27 to borrow up to $397 million to finance the stadium and how that meeting “followed all rules and regulations.”
“We will always try to do things properly, correctly and professionally, with high standards,” Schuerholz said. “That’s our motto, that’s how we work. We will continue to offer you that commitment. I won’t give you any excuses.”
Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee at that meeting expressed frustration with “the Atlanta media” for what Lee called their negative reporting on the deal. In his Saturday column, syndicated columnist Dick Yarbrough, who lives in Vinings, blasted Atlanta sports writer Jeff Schultz for his coverage of the move. Schuerholz was asked if he agreed with Lee’s assessment that coverage had been unfair.
“I’ll answer that this way,” Schuerholz said. “I read Mr. Yarbrough’s article, and I couldn’t agree more with what he said.”
Among those in attendance Tuesday was Cobb Interim Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, who said he can’t wait for the stadium to be built.
“It’s going to be great for the community, obviously going to be good for the school district in the form of SPLOST, so we can’t wait for them to get here,” Ragsdale said after the talk.
Retired Georgia journalist Bill Shipp of Acworth is also enthusiastic.
“I am a fan,” Shipp said after the talk. “It may not be the best deal in the world, but it’s going to do Cobb County a world of good. In general, it’s a very good thing. I think it’ll bring more commerce into the county, it’ll help put the county on the map. We’re not always in the shadow of Atlanta. We’re a big-league county because we have a Major League Baseball team.”
Another attendee was Taylor Phillips, a former left-handed pitcher who played for the Milwaukee Braves, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies from 1956-63. Attendance should pick up when the Cobb stadium opens, Phillips predicted. From his home in Hiram, Phillips said he can get to a Rome Braves game, about 40 miles away, faster than he can get downtown to Turner Field, and he likes the atmosphere at the minor league ballpark better.
Phillips also talked about how baseball has changed since he played.
“It’s a different game,” said the Douglasville native, adding that players are bigger, stronger and quicker, and have better research at their disposal.
Pay has changed too. One year in the majors, Phillips made $15,000, and he played in Caribbean leagues during the winter to bring in extra cash. In 2012, the average professional baseball player made $3.4 million, according to CBSSports.com.
Phillips played in the 1957 World Series with the Milwaukee Braves, but picked a different moment when asked to name a highlight of his career.
In 1958, Phillips was traded to the Chicago Cubs. In his first game back in Milwaukee, he pitched a 1-0 shutout victory against his old team. In 1966, the Milwaukee team moved to Georgia and became the Atlanta Braves.
Regarding the $300 million the county is contributing to fund the Braves’ new stadium, Phillips had a simple answer.
“I live in Paulding,” he said.