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THIS AND THAT: A memorable game and the popcorn was free

September 15, 2018 GMT

The popcorn was free.

My Navy friend Bob and I decided to take in a Braves game at the new SunTrust Park in the northwest part of Atlanta. It was to be a first-time visit to the stadium for both of us, and I scoured the late-season schedule several weeks ahead to see if there was an appropriate game on the horizon.

Mid-week day games are a rarity in Major League Baseball, but the Sept. 5 matchup with the Boston Red Sox fit the bill. The Wednesday game had a 12:10 p.m. start and meant that we would be able to drive to Hotlanta and back during daylight hours. It was a matchup of the team with the best record in baseball – the Sox – and the team leading the National League East.

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At 7 a.m. we pulled out of the driveway and headed westward. Traffic was no problem until we got to the big city and took 45 minutes to go the final 15 miles. Even four lanes of traffic in both directions can get backed up if there is a little construction work thrown in.

Once in our parking garage, we hiked across the pedestrian bridge over the interstate highway and found our way into the ballpark. It is a beautiful structure with all the amenities that a modern baseball stadium should have. There were numerous souvenir shops, places to get hot dogs, burgers, nachos and one’s beverage of choice.

Our tickets, on field level down the right field line and just five rows back, gave us access to the Jim Beam Lounge. The usher who showed us to our seats said the lounge was air conditioned, sold food and drinks but most importantly had its own restrooms.

With an hour to spare till opening pitch, we decided to tour the stadium. First was a visit to the main souvenir shop where I could have (but didn’t) purchase a regulation Braves home jersey for a mere $175. I opted for a package with two refrigerator magnets at $6.

We found the Braves Monument Garden and took pictures with the Hank Aaron statue, the most prominent feature in the area. But there were also other great Braves memories included – those inducted into Cooperstown, retired numbers of Braves, examples of the team’s jerseys from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta and the Braves Hall of Fame.

We then stopped at another souvenir shop where items used in Braves games were on sale. For $200 I could have (but didn’t) purchased a baseball that one of the players hit a single with earlier in the year. And for $175 there were bases that had been used in games.

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With our wallets intact, we returned to Section 11 and our seats, making just a slight detour to the Jim Beam Lounge. A baseball game just isn’t a baseball game without a hot dog and soft drink. Little did we realize when we ordered our two jumbo dogs and a pair of large drinks in souvenir cups, but we were about to get something free!

After paying $28 for our order, the clerk slid a box of popcorn toward each of us. “It’s on the house,” she said.

“Free popcorn!” I told Bob. “And all we had to do was spend $28 for hotdogs and Diet Coke.”

With the game only 10 minutes away, we gobbled down our dogs, slurped our drinks and thoroughly enjoyed our free popcorn. We cheered as the Braves took the field, Nick Markakis playing catch with the ball boy in right field just yards away from our position. We stood when the announcer asked those with military service to rise, and we remained standing during the national anthem. Then it was time to play ball.

The Red Sox went quietly in the first. Then Ronald Acuna Jr. led off for the home team. He had already hit seven leadoff home runs this season, tying a team record. On the second pitch, he belted a fastball into the left field stands for a new franchise feat. Memorable.

The Braves added another run in the first and five more in the fifth inning to take a 7-1 lead going to the eighth. Atlanta needed to get just six outs for victory, and having held Boston to a mere three hits in the first seven innings, things were looking good.

Then the meltdown occurred. Through a series of pitching and fielding miscues, the Red Sox scored six runs to tie the game and place a pall over the Braves fans hoping for a win.

In the bottom of the inning however, Freddie Freeman, who was being given the day off, came to bat and belted a long, two-out homer to put the Braves ahead.

They needed just three more outs. Ozzie Albies made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch for the first out, and when the second out was recorded with a runner on first, we stood for what we hoped would be the final batter of the game.

Brandon Phillips had been called up from the minors the previous day. The native of suburban Atlanta smashed a fastball deep into the left field stands, and as with a punch to the stomach, Braves fans doubled over and fell to their seats.

For Braves fans it was a heartbreaking loss. But from a baseball perspective, it was a great game with something for everyone. Acuna hit a leadoff homer. Mike Foltynewicz pitched six stellar innings. Freeman hit a tie-breaking home. Albies made a remarkable catch.

For the many Boston fans, there was an amazing comeback. No wonder the Red Sox have the best record in the major leagues this season.

And of course, the popcorn was free.

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