There are a lot of reasons to revisit a ballpark. A fan may return regularly to a stadium because its his favorite team. Another fan may return regularly because its the closest ballpark to her house. I returned to Coolray Field recently because I wanted to see the re-branded Gwinnett Stripers. Before the 2018 season, the Gwinnett Braves ditched their parent club’s moniker in favor of a more unique identity as the Stripers. I previously wrote about attending a G-Braves game in 2014 (read it here), but felt like I needed to revisit Coolray Field to see what changed following the team’s re-branding.
Arriving at the ballpark
Like many places in metropolitan Atlanta, visitors can only reach Coolray Field by driving. Gwinnett County Transit does not have any bus routes that run near the ballpark. However, there is ample parking around the stadium. Parking costs $5 per car and $10 per bus.
Entering the ballpark
The main gate and ticket office is located near home plate. The main gate sits just behind a large plaza with multiple banners welcoming fans to the Gwinnett Stripers ballpark. There is an additional entrance in right field, but there is no ticket office there. Fans seeking to save money should purchase tickets in advance, as the Stripers offer a $2 discount on all advance tickets compared to day-of-game purchases.
Exploring the ballpark
Like most newer Minor League ballparks, Coolray Field features a wrap-around concourse. Once fans enter the stadium and turn right, they find the team store, Bobby’s Tackle Shop. The team has gone all-in on the fishing motif with the store’s name, but also on the merchandise and setup.
The Views at Coolray, an apartment complex, dominates right field. Residents can watch games from their balconies or even the pool, which is just beyond the stadium’s fence.
One perk of attending a game on a Wednesday is the bevy of dogs in the outfield berm and nearby. The Stripers currently run a “Wet Nose Wednesday” promotion, which allows fans to bring their furry friends to the ballpark for free with the purchase of a regular-admission ticket.
Left field has a kids’ play zone, which includes the typical inflatable games plus a gigantic inflatable slide.
The ballpark includes a series of sky boxes to the left and right of the press box.
Home plate grandstand.
On either side of the concourse fans will find the starting lineups and International League standings on flat-screen televisions. The early evening sun can create a glare on the screens, but the information remains on the TVs throughout the game.
The ballpark sits off a state highway, but far from a downtown area or neighboring community. Therefore trees dominate the view in left field and behind the stadium, which creates a planned forest around Coolray Field.
Eating at the ballpark
The Gwinnett Stripers offer a good balance of traditional ballpark food and innovative cuisine. Fans seeking classic ballpark fare like hot dogs and burgers without any crazy toppings can find those items at Basic Bait, which is on the first base line. People who want more unique, crazy food items have three concession stands to visit for different choices.
Recently the Stripers added several new food items to the menu (read more here). They are adding five new hamburgers, which are available at Burgertopia near home plate. The most notable item is the Southern Burger, which is a half-pound patty topped with pulled pork, mango cole slaw, and BBQ sauce. Flash Point Grille, which is along the third base line, now has a bacon-wrapped corn dog. The Slow Pour Brewing Taproom also has some unique items like fried green tomatoes, which were already on the menu. I contemplated having the Southern Burger, but opted for the Cod Father.
The Cod Father, which is only available at the Slow Pour Brewing Taproom, is a sandwich that has two fried pieces of cod and is topped with tartar sauce and French fries. The sandwich was delicious and more than enough food for one person.
Drinking at the ballpark
Two Bottoms Up stands serve beer at the ballpark. However, fans seeking independent, craft beer are best served by visiting the Slow Pour Brewing Taproom. The taproom used to be a restaurant called Niekro’s after legendary Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro. It was re-branded prior to the 2019 season after Slow Pour came on as a sponsor.
The taproom offers a relaxing environment for fans to eat and drink during the game with several tables in addition to a large sofa and armchair. There are ten beers available on draft with the majority brewed by Slow Pour. Craft beer drinkers will also find several can and bottle options from local breweries like Jekyll Brewing and Monday Night Brewing to national brands like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium. Most importantly, the offerings cover a variety of styles from blonde ales to stouts to double India pale ales.
I chose a Slow Pour Time is Running Stout to pair with the Cod Father. It was malty and smooth with hints of coffee. It had a mildly bitter finish, as if drinking cold-pour coffee.
Watching the ballgame
The view from behind home plate has changed over the years at Coolray Field. The apartments in right field give the ballpark a more closed in feeling instead of the openness that existed when I first visited. One perk of the buildings in right field is a more complex view instead of just trees beyond the field, which shelter the stadium from the state highway.
The view from behind home plate aside, the ballpark offers some great spots for watching baseball. So I walked around the stadium a bit to capture some shots of the visiting Louisville Bats players.
In addition to capturing some shots of the visitors, I made sure to get a few of the home team. The most interesting pictures I captured were the starting pitcher and catcher. The duo currently rank among the top-30 prospects in the Atlanta Braves farm system. Right-handed pitcher Patrick Weigel is rated No. 16 and catcher Alex Jackson is ranked No. 22. I also saw Jackson in 2015 when he was a year removed from being the sixth-overall draft pick, and playing in the Seattle Mariners system (read about it here).
Recapping the fan experience
With five years between visits to Coolray Field it is difficult not to compare the two experiences. However, focusing on a singular experience of attending a Gwinnett Stripers game, it was a very enjoyable time at the ballpark. The backdrop is pleasing, but not one that fans are likely to brag about seeing. However, the stadium is spacious and includes all the expected amenities of a Minor League stadium. Fans will find typical ballpark food, but also unique items for the those seeking the next big thing. The craft beer selection covers the bases from national brands to locally-brewed brews. The on-field promotions were especially entertaining for a Wet Nose Wednesday game. Overall, fun promotions, tasty food, and cold beer makes for a good time at the ballpark.
Final: Louisville 9, Gwinnett 5