Photos by Andrei Ojeda, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14
Coolray Field 2500 Buford Dr Lawrenceville, GA 30043
Year Opened: 2009 Capacity: 10,475
The Fishing Hole
The Atlanta Braves opened Coolray Field in the northeastern suburb of Lawrenceville, Georgia in 2009. Its new tenants were the former AAA Richmond Braves. The move was made as a part of MLB’s trend toward basing teams AAA affiliates closer to the home of the major league club. Coolray Field is located only 35 miles from Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves. The move was made to facilitate easier moves when a player needed to be sent down to work on their hitting and fielding, and for rehab stints from injuries, a major league player may have sustained.
This realignment has allowed the Striper fans to see such Braves stars as Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Johan Carmago, Ronald Acuna, Mike Soroka, Austin Riley, and Cristian Pache come up through the minors or play in Gwinnett for a few games on an injury rehab assignment.
Coolray Field has a 10, 475 seating capacity. It is a low-slung design with a majority of the seats located below the concourse and down each baseline. The upper deck is reserved for luxury suites, the press box, and two party areas known as “party docks” at each end of the upper deck. There is also general admission seating on the grass berms beyond the outfield walls in center field and extending to the first baseline.
Under MLB’s realignment of the minor league system, the Braves play in AAA East, Southern Division. This means the bulk of its games will be played against the Charlotte Knights, the Durham Bulls, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Memphis Red Birds, the Nashville Sound, and the Norfolk Tides. This realignment is designed to cut down on minor league travel as when visiting teams come to a town, they will play a multi-game series against the home team. It is hoped that this will create rivalries between some teams, which helps to stimulate attendance.
The Gwinnett team has had attendance issues since its beginning. The closeness to its parent club’s base has actually been detrimental to the Gwinnett team, as many fans would rather go just a little farther and see the major league team play at Truist Park. A marketing study shows that most of the Stripers fans live in the county or reside in one of the northeastern counties in the state. Many of these fans do not want to take the time and expenses involved in going to the major league park.
Food & Beverage 4
Coolray Field has diversified its food offerings over past years. It now has a combination of standard concession items and food carts that sell specialty items. The primary concession stands go by the name of Flashpointe Grille. They serve the typical baseball fare, including hot dogs ($4), chicken tenders with fries ($8), brats ($6.50), hamburgers ($6), Frito Chili Pies ($6), nachos ($4.50), pretzels ($4.50), peanuts ($4) and Cracker Jacks ($4). Beverages include Coca-Cola brand sodas ($4), bottled water ($4), ICEES ($5), and 25-ounce domestic beers in a can ($8). Other concession stands include Basic Bait, Sweets, Dippin Dots, Burgertopia, and Chick-fil-A.
There is also a pub/restaurant behind home plate on the concourse named The Slow Pore Tap Room. It offers a selection of eight Slow Pour craft beers. The pub menu includes a French Dip Burger ($10), steak nachos ($12), catfish sandwiches ($9), a shrimp and fish basket ($10), loaded tots ($8), chicken sandwiches ($10), a brisket sandwich ($12) and a Big Mouth Wing basket ($14).
Fans have the option of eating at their seats, which are outfitted with cupholders or eating at picnic tables located on the concourse on the outer reaches of the first and third base line.
When the Braves relocated their AAA franchise from Richmond to Gwinnett they were first known as the Gwinnett Braves, as all the Braves minor league affiliates were. However, the Braves noted the minor league trend towards more colorful names and theme nights. They then rechristened the AAA club the Stripers, in honor of a fish often found in nearby Lake Lanier. Out went the Brave’s blue and red uniforms and in came the neon green hues were now worn by the Gwinnett players. Signage around the stadium was rebranded in the new colors and the team store was rebranded as Bobby’s Tackle Team Store in honor of longtime Braves manager Bobby Cox.
New Signage, Photo by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey
The team does several fishing-themed promotions such as Worm Wednesdays when the team wears its Worm-themed uniforms. Any worm-related merchandise sold in the team store qualifies for a special discount on that day. Striper Sundays allow the kids to run the bases and play catch after the game concludes.
One of the major reasons for the club’s attendance problems is its isolated location on highway 20. When the Braves built Coolray Field, they hoped the area surrounding the park would stimulate development, much like the parent club’s Battery live/work and play district. Unfortunately, that has not been the case for Coolray Field, except for the Overlook at Gwinnett Stadium apartment complex that wraps around the stadium beyond the center and right field walls.
The immediate area around the park does not offer any services. However, exit 115 of I-85, where many people will be exiting for the Braves games, is right on the edge of the very developed Mall of Georgia district. In addition to the mall, there are restaurants, hotels, and entertainment centers to choose from. All this development is north of the I-85 interchange, while Coolray Park is south of I-85. On the positive side, this provides fans with many options for pre and post-game activities and a backup plan in case of a rainout.
The fanbase of the Gwinnett Stripers is decidedly suburban and rural in nature. A quick survey of the license plates in the parking areas are primarily Gwinnett plates or tags from rural counties in Northeast Georgia. There are very few plates from counties that make up much of the metropolitan Atlanta population.
The team works very hard in marketing the Stripers games to churches, youth organizations, and businesses in the Gwinnett and northeastern counties of Georgia. Nearly every game has recognition posted on the scoreboard of groups attending the game that night. The core fanbase realizes they can see the Stripers games at a fraction of the cost of attending a Braves game. They also know they are seeing many of the stars of tomorrow, and that within a season or two these players are on the big league roster.
Coolray Field is easily accessed via Georgia Highway 20 South. It is located 2 miles south of I-85 exit 115. After exiting at exit 115 you will take Georgia Highway 20 South to the third red light. You will then turn right on Technology Center Parkway. Follow the orange cones which will lead you to the parking lot for Coolray Field. Traffic prior to the games is not usually congested, but you should allow more time to depart the stadium after the game. All the stadium lots exit onto Highway 20, and despite local police directing traffic, the roads still get backed up.
The stadium itself offers great accessibility. You enter the stadium at the concourse level, with all seating located below the concourse. Persons with disabilities can have seating at the concourse level. The concourses are wide and easy to navigate and restrooms and concessions are frequent enough that you should not encounter any lines.
Return on Investment 4
Coolray Field rewards fans who buy their tickets online by offering a $3 savings for any price level over the walk-up, day of the game purchase price. The top price point is for the Cutwater Club at $30 advanced price. This is a seating area right behind home plate (you are closer to home plate than the pitcher is) and it has a private entrance and offers at your seat dining options. The remaining price points reflect the advance purchase price: Dugout seats ($20), Infield Box Seats ($17), Field Box Seats ($15) and General Admission/Berm Seats are $8. All parking at the stadium is $5. Concession prices are average for ballpark food, but there is a good selection, and the food quality is above average.
The first extra goes to Atlanta Braves management for finally allowing their farm teams to create a local identity by creating a team name other than “Braves.” This allows the minor league team the ability to create special events and marketing messages that will be separate from the parent team.
A second extra goes to the Stripers for honoring two deserving players’ numbers on the stadium walls. The first is Jackie Robinson’s number and the second is that of Tommie Aaron. Tommie Aaron was the older brother of Hank Aaron and he coached in the Braves minor league system for several years.
Coolray Field is a well-designed, attractive place to watch minor league baseball. Its difficulty in attracting fans to games is that it is in competition with the major league club’s fan base and the fact that Truist Park is only 35 miles down the road. By becoming the Stripers, it hopes to differentiate itself from the parent club.