Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Picking the Land of the Free Over the Home of the Braves

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association just announced they're doing a great thing: donating a 12,500-seat baseball field to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the biggest military base in the country. On top of that, to inaugurate the field, the Marlins and Braves will play a regular-season game there on July 3—the "first regular-season game of a professional sport ever played on an active military base," claims the press release.

The game should be a cool spectacle to behold—it's being televised on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball and will be part of the fort's Fourth of July festivities—and will be a treat for baseball fans in the military who, living in North Carolina, are hundreds of miles away from the closest major-league team. But the flip side is that, when Fort Bragg gains a game, another location loses one, and this game was previously scheduled as a Braves home game. Normally it wouldn't be a huge deal to lose one home game in a season of 81, but 2016 also happens to be the Braves' last season at Turner Field in downtown Atlanta before they decamp for a new stadium in suburban Cobb County.

Given the huge political controversy that has surrounded the Braves' move, and the team's messy divorce with the City of Atlanta, this strikes me as a slap in the face to urban Atlanta fans. By leaving Turner Field in pursuit of upper-class suburban dollars, the team is already making city-dwelling fans feel unwanted and expendable—but it could have at least dumped them nicely by staging a respectful, sentimental final season at Turner Field in 2016. Instead, they are doing the opposite. The Braves have made no secret of their eagerness to vacate downtown Atlanta in the public press, and now, with their participation in the Fort Bragg game, they appear to be seizing any chance they can get to minimize the number of games they ever have to play at Turner Field again. Again, 80 games vs. 81 isn't a huge difference by the numbers, but symbolically, it's an insult to the City of Atlanta and the many Braves fans there who now have one fewer chance to say goodbye to their favorite team. (After this season, fans who live downtown will have a very hard time going to games, as the new stadium in Cobb County is inaccessible by public transit and faces the prospect of huge traffic problems.)

I want to emphasize again that the Fort Bragg game is a wonderful gesture to the base and to military members in general. I'm not against the game by any means—indeed, I'm very much in favor of it—but MLB could have easily chosen a different team to play in it. Baseball has a long and admirable track record of providing support to veterans and the military, but its zealousness to be patriotic has lately perhaps become too much of a good thing. While servicemen and women deserve our respect and acknowledgment, so do many other sectors of society—ones that are often forgotten. Many people believe the Braves, by leaving downtown Atlanta, are guilty of leaving behind some of these marginalized populations, especially the poor and African Americans. Bringing baseball to them is just as important as bringing it to our troops. We should be able to do both. The Braves, by contrast, are using one as an excuse to nakedly neglect the other.