SunTrust Park, The Braves and “The Chop”
SunTrust Park

Atlanta’s SunTrust Park was the eighth ballpark I visited. By the end of the weekend, I had been to ten. As I write this piece, I’ve just returned from Baltimore, so now my number is eleven. I rank SunTrust third behind San Diego’s Petco Park and Baltimore’s Camden Yards out of the eleven.

The Park

There is a lot to like about SunTrust.

SunTrust Park and The Battery

SunTrust is a pretty and comfortable brick ballpark with good sightlines and food. Additionally, it is connected to “The Battery” a commercial area built along with the stadium that offers bars, restaurants, and hotels. It’s a great reason to avoid Atlanta’s horrible traffic and go to the park early for dinner and a few beers.

The combination of the stadium and The Battery is very profitable for the Braves. In the park’s first year, revenue grew by 47% to $124M. 1

The area is also suitable for out of town visitors. I stayed in a hotel just a short 15-minute walk to SunTrust. I could have stayed closer, but the hotels in the Battery are not cheap.

Celebrating Team History

They do history right at SunTrust. It has a Hall of Fame area with a statue of Hank Aaron in the center. Hank is next to a “sculpture” of the number 755 built out of 755 baseball bats. 755 is, of course, the real – my opinion 2 home run record. It also displays the Braves’ 1995 World Series trophy. It is the only championship trophy awarded to a team from Atlanta. Like the Dodgers that sell Brooklyn hats, the Braves sell Milwaukee hats in the Team Store.

Food – Hot Dogs

The food is good too. With many local restaurants represented at the ballpark, I had my requisite hot dog at H&F Burger and was pleased. H&F has another location in the Ponce City Market, near midtown Atlanta. It’s grilled, with a good bun and I added onions and relish. There is no brown mustard, but Atlanta is not alone in that area.

Additionally, “Taste of Braves Country” the Braves offer delicacies influenced by different parts of the South. So, after my hot dog, I tried the Pimento Cheese Patty Melt, evidently a staple in South Carolina. This is a grilled hamburger patty with melted pimento cheese on marble rye toast. Never heard of pimento cheese? That discovery is worth a trip to the South – book now.

The Team is Good!

A visit to the park does not just entail history, food, and beer. They also play baseball there. After, “tanking” for a few years they have amassed a group of great young players that will be a force to be reckoned with for a long time.

The Organist

I hear the organist play “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” when one of the visiting players comes to the plate. It seemed odd to hear the song with these lyrics in the heart of the old Confederacy:

‘Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive
By May the tenth, Richmond had fell, it’s a time I remember, oh so well

Robbie Robertson 3

Of course, the tradition is to play recorded walkup songs for each player entrance, and they do so for the Braves. They handle the visitors a bit different. When each visitor comes to the plate, the organist plays songs that are cleverly chosen based on the players’ names. A fan behind me said that it can take him an entire four-game series to figure out the connection for each player.

Why “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down?” It took me a while, but finally, I realized that the honored player was Lorenzo Cain. The song starts with the lyric “Virgil Cain is my name,,,” Obscure and fun.

So Why Is SunTrust Third on My List?

SunTrust should be an excellent place to have fun and watch a ballgame for a long time, so why is it third on my list?

It’s third because Petco Park and Orioles Park at Camden Yards are pretty darn cool. From my point of view, there are reasons why SunTrust is weaker. I expect it will drop a few places on my list as my journey proceeds. Here are a few issues I have with SunTrust:

The Chopsecutioner Pictured Behind The Terrapin Beer Stand
  • The Battery only approximates an existing commercial district like the historic Gaslamp District next to Petco. I like the originals better. Orioles Park has a similar area incorporating the historic warehouse on Eutaw Street behind the outfield. Moreover, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is just a few blocks away for pre and post-game use.
  • The view from SunTrust consists mainly of the new hotels in the Battery. The others have better views. Petco is near the bay and has a beautiful view of the city. You can’t see Baltimore’s Inner Harbor from Orioles Park, but the warehouse offers a beautiful setting.
  • SunTrust’s food and drink are possibly better than Orioles Park, but Petco has more craft beers and better food choices.

However, the main reason that I can’t rank SunTrust higher on my list is Braves management’s embrace of the “tomahawk chop.” It’s why I would never recommend a visit and the reason I likely won’t return.

The “Tomahawk Chop”

Branding the Braves

Welcome to the phenomenon that has accompanied, if not lifted, the Braves into a 2-1 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Championship Series. Welcome to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, alias the Chop Shop.

Dave Anderson 4
“Tomahawk Chop”
via Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Most know how the chop is done. The stadium plays a war chant associated with the way “Indians” were depicted in old western movies. The fans chant along and swing their right arms from the elbow in an up and down motion. This motion approximates the way one would swing a tomahawk if they were killing their foe. Stadium lit signs, foam tomahawks, lit iPhones (called the “iChop”) and a guy pounding a huge drum accompany the spectacle.

The chop is synonymous with the Braves brand. The term “chop” is used throughout SunTrust and Braves nation. There is “The Chop House,” a restaurant in the park near the associated “Chop House Gate.” There is the “Chop Shop” a blog devoted to all things Braves. The Terrapin Beer Company from nearby Athens, Georgia offers a “session version” of their “Hopsecutioner IPA” with a baseball twist. In honor of the Braves, they age the Hopsecutioner over wood chips made from Mizuno bat chips and call the result the “CHOPsecutioner.” Of course, the Chopsecutioner is available in the stadium.

From the Terrapin website

What’s Wrong With the Chop?

The tomahawk chop and war chant have little basis in Native American history. Native Americans used the tomahawk as a weapon but also revered it as a sacred object. Europeans and Native Americans scalped their enemies in the Colonial era, but it was not a widespread practice. The spread of the popular association of Native Americans with mock savagery probably dates to the early 20th century. It was likely fueled by the Boy Scouts who began using Native American-inspired terms and images in its curriculum. The principal chief of the Cherokee Nation called the use of the gesture “offensive and racist” when Senator Scott Brown’s staffers used it during the campaign against Elizabeth Warren. 5

The chop does nothing to help baseball. Most of all, it puts the good people of Atlanta in a poor light.

I mean this sincerely. I have terrific friends who live in and/or are from Atlanta who plan to return. They don’t like the chop and don’t deserve the scorn that the chop engenders in many of us. However, I’m also not naive enough to assume that there are no Braves fans who like it and participate. 6

Random Events and a Sad Irony

That a team named the Braves plays in Atlanta is very accidental and sadly ironic. That’s not to say that Atlanta’s baseball team was an accident. Atlanta had the necessary qualifications to win an MLB franchise by the mid-1960s. Placing a team in the Deep South was a good way for baseball to expand its influence and popularity.

However, that team might not have been the team from Boston by way of Milwaukee. Moreover, the Boston club tried many names before settling on the “Braves.” Other names that fit the Boston area were possible. Finally, the chop migrated from Florida State University, where it originated because of only one player. One out of the thousands that played for the club.

What is not accidental is the corresponding racist imagery, including the chop that the Braves adopted. All are a sad reflection of our country’s normalization of Native American bigotry. To their credit, the Braves ended many of these practices. It’s to their shame that they allowed the chop to become such a big part of their brand.

Moreover, it’s so sadly ironic that a team named “the Braves” with all the accompanying imagery is based in Atlanta. So close to the area where the “Trail of Tears” began. I doubt anyone thought about the juxtaposition of name and place when the Braves moved to Atlanta.

The “Trail of Tears”

In the 1830s, Eastern Woodlands Indians of the Southeast region of the United States were forced to leave their homes. These nations included Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole. All were forced to travel (mostly on foot) to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.

Estimates based on tribal and military records suggest that approximately 100,000 indigenous people were forced from their homes during that period, which is sometimes known as the removal era, and that some 15,000 died during the journey west. 7

Georgia was one of nine states that worked to remove Native Americans from their land.

Atlanta is quite close to the so-called “removal area.” Additionally, the Braves’ Class A affiliate, plays in Rome, GA which was on one of the Trail’s “pickup routes.”8 Rome is just a short 68 miles from SunTrust Park.

How the Braves got to Atlanta

The team named the “Braves” existence in Atlanta is the result of some random and unplanned events:

Rustlers Logo 1911
via www.sportslogos.com
  • For their first 40 or so years in Boston, the names used names including “Red Stockings,” “Red Caps,” “Beaneaters,” “Doves,” “Rustlers,” and “Bees.
  • The team adopted the name the “Braves” in 1912 after their new owner borrowed Tammany Hall’s 9 Indian Chief symbol. 10
  • The Braves could have become the “Brewers” historic name of Milwaukee’s baseball teams when they moved there. 11
  • The Braves were successful in Milwaukee and didn’t need to leave. 12
  • Atlanta courted the Kansas City Athletics who may have moved there if the Braves had not. 13
  • In a more evolved political climate, the Braves may have felt compelled to change their name when they moved.
  • If Deion Sanders played for any other team, he could not have introduced 14 Florida State’s Tomahawk Chop to Atlanta. 15
  • The chop was introduced in Atlanta, just as they were becoming competitive. In so doing, the chop took additional importance. 16
Atlanta Braves – Current Logo
via www.sportslogos.com

The Shame of it All

The shameful part of the story is that the Braves organization adopted the chop and made it part of their brand.

Moreover, they instigate the chop. I stayed through the seventh inning stretch and by my count the crowd was prompted to chop at least eight times. It started when the Braves came to bat in the first inning. Other times when the Braves were rallying or threatening to rally the call to chop began. At one point the lights when down, signs flashed and the crowd waved their flight lit phones. I was told this is called the “iChop.” Fans started a wave or two, but never the chop.

One would have hoped that the team had never adopted the practice. It follows that a good time to end their involvement was when they built SunTrust Park. The Braves could have quietly decided not to put up the flashing tomahawk and chop related signs, not sell chop merchandise, and ask vendors to remove the chop branding. Moreover, they would never prompt the fans to chop. Instead, assume fans that wanted to do the chop would do so and others would follow just like fans start a wave. If they had done so, the practice might have died out over time.

However, the Braves reaction to the chop in 1991 was:

“We’ve had a few complaints that the tomahawk is demeaning to Native Americans, but we consider it a proud expression of unification and family.” –

Jim Schultz, the Braves’ director of public relations 17

How Do You Put the Toothpaste Back in The Tube?

Now it’s hard to stop the chop. As the saying goes, “It’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.” Any declared end to the chop would face a fan rebellion and “Save the Chop” protests. Fans don’t like to be told what to do and don’t like change.

Major League Baseball is also complicit. Last week commissioner Rob Manfred announced that SunTrust would host the 2021 All-Star Game. In his comments, he said:

There is no better-managed organization in baseball than the Braves. It’s been true for a very long time, and it makes it a lot easier for us to give them an event

Rob Manfred 18

“No better-managed..” only if you forget that the Braves include this display of racial intensity in their brand.

People evolve. I’m old enough to remember when the Braves, Indians, Redskins and other teams names and behaviors seemed OK. For example, the “Saltine Warrior” was the Syracuse University mascot when I arrived for my freshman. When I was a junior in 1978 the university banned its use.19 It seemed odd – it doesn’t now. People evolve, organizations should too.

Beautiful SunTrust Park and the good people of Atlanta deserve better.

My next stop was Texas for games in Arlington and Houston.

Thanks for reading my article.

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  1. Tim Tucker, “SunTrust Park is a revenue bonanza for Braves in first year,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 1, 2018
  2. I don’t accept Barry Bonds’ records…more in another post
  3. Robbie Robertson, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc
  4. Dave Anderson, “Sports of the Times; The Braves’ Tomahawk Phenomenon,” New York Times, October 31, 1991
  5. L.V. Anderson “When Did People Start Doing the Tomahawk Chop,” Slate September 26, 2012
  6. See Mike Bates, “Yeah, the ‘Tomahawk Chop’ bugs me. Here’s why.” SBNATION
  7. Elizabeth Prine Pauls, “Trail of Tears, United States History” Encyclopedia Britannica
  8. see Trail of Tears map
  9. Tammany Hall was a powerful democratic political machine based in New York. The new owner, James Gaffney had a leadership position.
  10. see Wikipedia, History of the Boston Braves
  11. This in contrast to the St. Louis Browns who became the “Orioles” when they moved to Baltimore. See Wikipedia, History of the Boston Braves
  12. New owners left for a broader television market. Wikipedia – History of the Atlanta Braves
  13. Wikipedia – History of the Atlanta Braves
  14. Note that I have seen documents that state that Sanders introduced the chop and others that say FSU fans did.
  15. L.V. Anderson, “When Did People Start Doing the Tomahawk Chop,” Slate September 26, 2012
  16. L.V. Anderson, “When Did People Start Doing the Tomahawk Chop,” Slate September 26, 2012
  17. Dave Anderson, “Sports of the Times; The Braves’ Tomahawk Phenomenon,” New York Times, October 31, 1991
  18. Parker White, “Rob Manfred’s Statement on Braves’ Stability is Missing Some Key Facts,” 12Up May 30, 2019
  19. Gabe Stern, “40 years since the Saltine Warrior’s removal as Syracuse University’s mascot, indigenous leaders reflect on controversy,” The Daily Orange

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