Just off I-85 and not far from the northeastern edge of the urban sprawl of Atlanta is Gwinnett County, home of the Gwinnett Braves. The AAA affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, Gwinnett has been home to the club since 2008, after the Richmond Braves relocated to town following 43 seasons in Virginia. But the history of the club doesn’t begin in Georgia in 2008. The Atlanta Crackers were the original version of the club, and resided in Georgia from 1901 to 1966. Atlanta and the Braves have long since been an institution, and Gwinnett returning home to Georgia only strengthens that brand.
Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, GA opened in April of 2009. Seating 10,427, Coolray falls right in the middle of the International League in attendance. Just 37 miles from the big league club, Gwinnett is the second-closest AAA club to its major league parent, and one of two Braves affiliates located in Georgia. That proximity definitely adds to the atmosphere and passion around the entire Braves organization.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Coolray Field is packed with concession options, including its own restaurant named after the famous pitcher Phil Niekro. Niekros, located on the first-base line, offers a selection of burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza and desserts for under $7. The signature food item at Coolray is the "Knucksie", a pulled pork/cole slaw combo on cornbread available at Niekros. Named after the nickname of the famous pitcher, the Knucksie is in the running for Minor League Baseball's best food item. If you're a ballpark foodie, that's definitely on the list of items you should try.
Top Dog Express sells a variety of hot dogs, including the spicy Braves Dog covered in jalapenos, chili and cheese....not for the faint of heart or stomach. Chopper's Corner on the third-base line offers the widest variety of concessions that includes all of the ballpark favorites. Other food items around the park include McAlister's Deli, Friends Wings, Dippin' Dots and many, many other options.
Beer is also readily available around the park. Aside from your everyday favorites, you'll also find Sam Adams Brewhouse stands located along the concourse to get some tasty beverages for a decent price.
Coolray Field has a truly small-town baseball feel to it, while still being on the immediate outskirts of one of the country's larger cities. Located just off I-85 in the Atlanta suburbs of Gwinnett County, the park has a distinct smaller community feel. Couple that, however, with the fact that the park is just 37 miles from Turner Field and the heart of the Braves organization and their passionate fan base, and you really get a rare mix of Braves fandom and small town support. The ingredients are there to make this a 5 star minor league park, and it's so close to getting that last star. But...
The downside is that after attending the Single-A affiliate Rome Braves just the day before, I found that oddly the stadium was less packed at the AAA affiliate on a Friday night. Take nothing away from the fans, they are passionate and love their Braves. It just really could go to a five-star atmosphere if there were more of them.
As far as the park goes, there's not a whole lot to complain about. The park has great sight lines as you walk from almost everywhere but behind the center field wall. The left field stone wall (beyond the outfield wall) gives some added character to make the park feel more like home. There is a massive berm in right field with an inflatable playground behind it, making the area the preferred family section. The field itself seems to be a truly green and well-kept spectacle, adding to the grass roots baseball feel.
Field-level seating around the park is close enough that you can feel like you're a part of the action, while still being a good-sized park. Down the right field line, you'll find picnic tables, albeit somewhat obstructed from field view. A nice addition of an area is down the left field line, where you'll find tiers of table seating for two. This section seems largely empty and is a hotbed for foul balls, so bring a glove. Atop the stone wall in left is a covered picnic table area that can be reserved for special events.
There's really nothing around the park except for I-85. It's a very rural area. There appear to be nice, new apartments being built immediately next to the stadium, but those aren't complete and definitely aren't a buzzing metropolitan addition. That can easily be looked at as a downside for the experience, but somehow it seems to enhance the community feel of Coolray Field. The beautiful green of the field is matched by the greenery around the stadium, making it feel like you're visiting a quaint single-A park instead of a AAA team just a stone's throw from a booming metropolis.
Fortunately for visitors, I-85 is right there, and you're just beyond the grasp of Atlanta traffic. Hotels can be found just one or two exits away, and restaurants aren't much further. But if you're taking all things into account, plan to partake in the food options at the game, instead of making the short drive down the interstate.
This is such a mixed story. The fans there are hardcore Braves fans and overwhelm the gift shop buying Braves gear. The Braves do a great job of keeping their minor league teams closely affiliated with the major league club (although the lack of colorful nicknames may take some of the fun out of it). You don't always find minor league fans that are truly there to root for their team and their major league affiliate.
Unfortunately, there just aren't enough of them. Being the only person in your section at a Friday night ballgame can be disappointing. Maybe that's the downside of being so close to the parent club. If you're going to a Braves game, you have an option of which one.
It couldn't be much easier to get to Coolray Field. Just hop off of I-85 at Lawrenceville and head south. Parking is easy and just $5, so there are no qualms there at all. The park is easy to navigate with a wide concourse encircling the entire stadium. The bathrooms are clean and easily accessible. Overall, the layout of the park is very simple, and that's not a negative.
The only danger for accessibility is the traffic nightmare that looms just off to the southwest. If you're coming from any direction other than the northeast on I-85, be warned. Atlanta traffic is up near the top of the list of traffic nightmares in the country. So if you're coming from or through the city, plan accordingly.
Overall, this is a pretty strong ticket value. Parking prices are reasonable, ticket prices are just a tiny bit on the high side ($12 for field box seating) and food prices are about average. An average price for an above-average experience is just common sense, right? If you're passing through Atlanta, consider the slightly smaller Braves as a pit stop along the way.
As nice as Coolray Field is, there's not a ton here to give extra points for. Most of what is offered is pretty standard around baseball, but it's just done well here. If I have to call out some of the "Best of Coolray" contenders, I'll go with the Knucksie as a great food option, the huge outfield berm for family seating and the wide variety of seating options available around the park. But don't expect that one knock-your-socks-off item at Coolray. Overall, Coolray Field is a solid minor league baseball experience that falls somewhere between above-average and excellent.
If one were to ask Coolray Field at Gwinnett Stadium if it would have ever thought it would be scrutinized in this fashion, the little ballpark would probably let loose a chuckle (and subsequently set off car alarms throughout its surrounding parking lots).
It's just that this, the home of the Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta's AAA affiliate, playing in the International League), has never taken itself that seriously. This is a place for family fun, where kids celebrating birthdays get to stand on top of the home dugout and eyeballs with legs race between innings.
But more on that later.
Picture this... it's a typical hot July day in Georgia, except hotter. I'm talking 97 degrees, 90% humidity, and not a cloud in the sky. We know we have seats in the sun so we plan ahead by lathering up with sunscreen and storing our water bottles in the freezer to get them good an cold. Now we're ready to go...
Getting to the stadium is a breeze and parking is quick and easy-- though no shade in the parking lot either. After the short walk to the stadium we're greeted by a very nice lady who tells us, "sorry ya'll, but can't bring your water bottle inside, you'll need to drink it here or throw it away". Seriously? I'm sorry but there should probably be a law against taking away somebody's water on a hot day. Inside, much smaller and warmer water bottles were available for $4. Again, seriously?
This stadium is only a year old so I'm hoping the uproar of the crowd will have the folks at Cooray re-thinking their rules a bit. Until then, I won't be going back.
Just about 45 minutes northeast of Turner Field, the top farm club of the Atlanta Braves participates in the AAA International League. Celebrating their fifth season in 2013 after 43 seasons in Richmond, Virginia, the Gwinnett Braves have found a comfortable home not too far from The Show.
Call-ups and send-downs hop in their car for a short 37-mile drive along Highway 85, never having to move into a different living space, keep their families in one spot and feel a little more connected to the community instead of getting acclimated to a new one. The close geographic proximity of the parent-child team relationship allows for comfort.
Coolray Field, formerly known as Gwinnett Stadium, is a 10,475-seat ballpark in Lawrenceville, Georgia. The naming rights have been awarded to an air conditioning and plumbing company based in nearby Marietta. The ballpark features 19 luxury suites, a 30-foot-by-40-foot video board behind the field towering over the general admission lawn area, a 6-foot-by-42-foot LED board along the left field wall and chair back seating complete with cup holders throughout the stadium.
As you would expect, the major league Braves have made sure their top farm team feels as close to the big leagues as possible with amenities which help the players adjust to major league life. In attending a game at Coolray Field, fans get to enjoy major league entertainment when they come to see the Gwinnett Braves play.
Coolray Field is a nice enough place to watch a game, it's very comfortable, and has the amenities fans want in a new minor league park. Unfortunately, the sum of the parts don't add up as well as they should. Perhaps this is due to the location, which is in the middle of nowhere in suburban Atlanta. There are no places to hang in the neighborhood before or after the game. The only option for parking is the team-owned lot, and there are no notable concession items. This park could be located anywhere and make the same impression.
The idea of the Braves having their AAA team at a stone's throw is a great one, placing it in a good chunk of the fan base. However, that is about all the good ideas it was. The stadium doesn't look like a stadium from the outside (kinda looks like a mess), parking is bad, and the seating stinks. To add on top, this is one of the more expensive Minor League parks around.
FOOD/BEVERAGE: Probably the only bright spot of this place is the food. Go to Niekro's stand and get yourself some good bbq. It is almost worth the trip, if it wasn't so expensive.
ATMOSPHERE: Just has a sterile feel to the place. I like the idea of the dimensions being that of Turner Field and doing it "The Braves Way," but they can do without all the blow up nonsense in the outfield. Kinda takes away from the experience a bit.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Well, I guess it isn't in a bad place, but in terms of food, you have a QT near the area for hot dogs. That is about all there is.
FANS: They love their Braves and are supportive. With that said, they seem to be more drinking and socializing than actually paying attention to the game.
ACCESS: Easy enough to get off of I-85 and see the stadium, but they didn't expand the highway, which makes traffic a nightmare and parking is a hot mess, being very unorganized of where to tell cars where to park and also making parking prices unusually high for a Minor League game.
ROI: You're better off saving a few extra bucks by going to see the Atlanta Braves instead. Prices are high in tickets, food, and souvenirs. To add on top, you have some incredibly bad sightlines for the park.
EXTRAS: It is a clean venue and from afar, it does look somewhat nice. Employees are pretty friendly too. That is about all "extras" I'm going to give it, besides the food.
What a great place to watch a game. There isn't a bad seat in the house. If your looking for food options, there are plenty of them available. Really worth checking out.
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