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“The Launching Pad” Redux

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a.k.a., “The Launching Pad,” no longer exists, but grand memories of the cookie-cutter ballpark will last a lifetime.

Atlanta-Fulton_County_Stadiumaerial The Launching Pad

The Braves weren’t much while I attended Georgia Tech in the 1970s, stringing together seasons with 92, 101, 93 and 94 losses. But there were moments.

There’s the time Ted Turner decided to name himself the manager. That was the same year Andy Messersmith became an advertisement for Turner’s fledgling cable network, Channel 17. Above the No. 17 on the back of the pitcher’s jersey, “Channel” was written instead of Messersmith. Baseball decided that the team’s owner did not use good judgement on either count and disallowed both.

On the lineup card were names like Biff Pocoroba, Rowland Office, Phil Niekro, and, of course, Willie Montanez, who had the darnedest habit of spitting and hitting. If he could have hit spit instead of fastballs he would now be in the Hall of Fame.

Home runs rewarded by tributes from Knockahoma, who would dance outside of his teepee. On family days, he would bring his son “Hit a Single.” (Reminds me of the old joke, “Why do you ask Two Dogs…?)

The sparse crowds were normally enthusiastic for obvious reasons. You could bring plastic gallon jugs containing beer into the stadium. Local liquor stores would happily fill the jugs for two bucks. If you wanted to go high octane, you simply mixed V.O. with Seven Up. But you had to get the coloring just right or it wouldn’t pass for beer under examination by the crack security staff.

Can’t shake the memory of the ill-fated opener against the Dodgers on April 7, 1978. A large contingent of high school bands were on hand to entertain the masses that muggy night. Not a good idea.

Sitting in the cheap seats, we counted over 20 band members drop to the ground due to the heat (Note: That count might not be totally accurate due to aforementioned gallon jugs. Might have been a V.O. night). Obviously, their heavy uniforms were better suited for crisp fall weather.

You remember things like that when your team isn’t winning.

Long after the Braves turned around their fortunes, I ran into Turner following a playoff game. While waiting for the press elevator, he appeared along with his wife, Jane Fonda, and one of her friends. Turner’s Braves hat sat slightly askew and he obviously was in his cups when and asked, “Get your story in?”

“Sure,” I replied.

“Who do you write for?”

“The Tampa Tribune.”

He extended his hand, “Ted Turner, this is the wife, Jane and her friend (I can’t remember her name).”

Once on the elevator I told him, “Ted, this is some turnaround. I remember when I was at Tech and Biff Pocoroba was the team’s best player. Remember the time he hit that bases-loaded double off Seaver to beat the Reds on the Fourth of July?”

Turner turned to Jane and began poking her arm: “Biff Pocoroba, I saw him last month….”

Clearly, she had little interest in Pocoroba’s whereabouts.

Turner was still talking when the elevator reached the ground floor. Ted, Jane, and her friend then disappeared into the night heading to who knows where while listening to Ted talk about who knows what.

A fitting memory for the final game I attended at The Launching Pad.

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was imploded on August 2, 1997. A parking lot for Turner Field now stands on the site, which includes an outline of the old stadium.

bchastain19@gmail.com

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©2020 by Bill Chastain. Photo credits: Jill Doty Photography