CUMBERLAND — Atlanta Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz touted the success of SunTrust Park in the two years since its opening, specifically naming former Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee as a champion of the project.
Schuerholz also addressed possible Major League Baseball expansion in the Southeast, gave attendees an update on former Braves Manager Bobby Cox’s recovery from a severe stroke in April and addressed talk over a new name for SunTrust Park.
Schuerholz said former Chairman Lee, who was voted out following his support for the Braves’ move to its Cumberland location, played a “significant role” in the team’s move and the resulting contribution to the Cobb economy, as well as the success of the ballpark and the Battery.
“(Lee) personally, in my opinion, personally drove this project for the county. He was like the MVP for us. He fought and he drove ... through the slings and arrows of the project, which he received most of, and he kept going,” he said.
Schuerholz also thanked county and state transportation officials for road improvements around the stadium and acknowledged the continued support he said was coming from Chairman Mike Boyce and others.
“Chairman Boyce has continued with that support and with that understanding and with that open-mindedness and willingness to see what we’ve done here at SunTrust Park and the Battery Atlanta,” he said.
The National Baseball Hall of Famer called SunTrust Park accessible, beautiful and intimate, pointing to the stadium’s 41,000-person capacity with 19,000 of those seats costing less than $20 and 7,000 costing less than $10. He said the choice to build the park and the Battery simultaneously was one many thought could not feasibly be accomplished, but the supporters “saw what we have done.”
“We built it, and they have come. They, our fans. They, our sponsors. They, our supporters. They, our partners,” Schuerholz said. “You can’t help but smile when you walk into that facility.”
The skipper’s recovery
Cox, the beloved former Braves manager who was well-known for his fighting spirit on the baseball field, is continuing to fight hard in his recovery from a stroke three months ago, according to Schuerholz.
Schuerholz said Cox has regained his ability to walk but has not yet regained the use of his right side or his ability to talk.
“I saw him Sunday. I go out every Sunday to visit with him. He’s working hard. He’s doing better. He’s walking more and more effectively,” Schuerholz said. “And he is working as hard as anything to get his speech back. He’s a remarkable man and a dear friend to many of us ... and somebody who I think we should all keep in our hearts and mind and our prayers.”
Schuerholz said he and Cox “worked together like clockwork” to bring a division championship to Atlanta in 1991, after the team’s three consecutive years of finishing last in the league. Cox also led the team to 14 consecutive division titles.
Talk of MLB expansion, new park name
Though he said he is aware of the reports that cities across the country are up for consideration to receive a Major League Baseball team, including Nashville, Tennessee and Charlotte, North Carolina, Schuerholz said those decisions are left to Rob Manfred, commissioner of baseball.
But, he added, the Braves have certain protections in the Southeast.
”I’ve read those things about Nashville and Charlotte. And we have territorial rights in this section of the United States, so there would be consideration about how this would impact the Atlanta Braves, this great organization that’s already functioning and doing quite well,” Schuerholz said.
He also said that, while he has no input into a new name for SunTrust Park,following the merger of SunTrust and BB&T banks, he hopes the new park is as easy to pronounce as it is today.
“I’m a creative guy, and I sit down and look at the names and how in the world they’re going to combine those two names and get something that’s as easy to say as SunTrust,” Schuerholz said. “But, you know, there’s creative people all over the place, and they’ll come up with something.”