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The Braves are not just a baseball team. They’re a real estate company too.

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I’ve taken the Braves to task quite a bit in this space lately. This post and then, later, this post got a lot of attention, both from Braves fans who agree and nod their head and those who disagree and think I’m an overly cynical bad fan or whatever.

I don’t think I’m a bad fan or that I’m cynical. I just look at the facts on the ground and draw conclusions from them. The overarching fact that seems to matter here — separate and apart from any individual move or non-move the Braves front office makes — is that the Braves, as an organization, have interests other than winning baseball games and those interests, in turn, cannot help but impact the Braves’ approach to winning baseball games.

Interests like real estate. As the Cobb Business Journal reported yesterday, the Braves are involved in a complex bond transaction, the details of which bore me, but the upshot of which is that the Braves are building office towers:

The Development Authority of Cobb County signed off on a necessary step for the Braves to get the loan on Tuesday . . . Jonathan Smith, deputy general counsel for the Braves, said at Tuesday’s meeting that the project will span about four acres owned by the Braves. About half the land is being leased by Thyssenkrupp for the R&D tower, which the German conglomerate will own.

The other half will house the office building, which the Braves are building and will own, according to Smith. Half the office building is being leased to Thyssenkrupp, Smith said, and the other half is being leased to other companies, though no tenants have been announced yet.

This is all part of the Battery complex which surrounds SunTrust Park and in which the Braves — through a vehicle called Braves Development Company — have a substantial interest. When you appreciate the magnitude of that development and the sort of revenue the Braves are realizing from it now and will realize in the future, it’s hard not to conclude that the Braves did not get SunTrust Park built for them simply or even primarily to become a more competitive baseball team. They got it built for them so that they can become a real estate development company that happens to have a baseball team as one of its many components.

And don’t think that that the relationship between the development and the ball club is some weak and attenuated thing. Check out the Braves’ org chart, as set forth on MLB.com, with my highlight added:

Whatever the legal relationship is between Braves Development Company and the baseball team, both entities answer to Terry McGuirk, apparently on equal footing based on the titles of the people who run them. As such, when McGuirk says, as he did last week, that he “couldn’t be more optimistic” about the Atlanta Braves, it makes one wonder if he means the baseball team or the overall venture, only one part of which is concerned with baseball. Indeed, one of his answers to the question about why all the increased revenues aren’t being plowed into the team was “it costs a lot to build this edifice.” That answer was likely more literal than most people understood.

Sure, the Braves want to win — I truly believe them when they say they want to — but achieving that desire is far less critical to the Braves, financially speaking, than it would be if they did not have office towers to build, own and lease out with favorable tax treatment and other governmental assistance. The hit from missing the playoffs, for example, is a drop in the bucket compared to what it might’ve been back when they played in Turner Field or Fulton County Stadium. At the same time, money that is realized by the Braves, their real estate ventures, or both, can be used in any number of ways. Maybe the baseball team is the priority sometimes. Maybe it’s not.

Observing that does not make one cynical. The Braves are a baseball team with real estate interests. Or maybe they’re a real estate company with baseball interests. The proper way to characterize that depends on a lot of stuff about their financials and their priorities the Braves are likely unwilling to share with us, but it’s a simple fact that they have priorities that have little if anything to do with baseball. It’s fair game, then, to question the organization’s priorities when scrutinizing the baseball decisions they make.

Thoughts on a time without baseball

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This is a terrifying time to be alive. There’s no cute way of phrasing that or softening it. The coronavirus pandemic is completely and utterly terrifying. It’s a black cloud of dread hanging over our heads. The age of sheltering in place and social distancing has driven a stake through the hearts of our communities. It’s hard to not feel alone.

Sports were (and will be again) an excellent source of community. Whether it was in the stands, with friends at home or online, sports gave us something to bond over. It’s hard to do that with abbreviated replays of old events and Twitch streams of players challenging each other at video games. This was supposed to be the first weekend of the MLB season, the first in a long series of weekends when people would be crashing at home and yelling about infielders booting ground balls instead of a lack of ventilators.

I miss that. I miss that sense of togetherness. There’s an inherent sense of joy that togetherness. It’s missing from our lives right now. Even if we’re alone when magical moments happen, group texts and social media allow us to freak out with our friends and fellow fans. I was by myself at home when Howie Kendrick doink’d a ball off the foul pole in Houston, but the shared excitement on my Twitter feed enriched the moment in a way that wasn’t truly tangible until Opening Day came and went with nothing but old games to offer.

Obviously this concern is beyond secondary to the genuine suffering taking place right now. People are dying. That comes before everything else, end of discussion. The importance of sports as a social focal point pales in comparison to that terrible reality. People are dying and the acceleration of the number of American dead shows no sign of stopping. We can all go without sports for a long time if it means it will help curb the spread of the virus.

This is a baseball site. Baseball is on my mind, and so is the loss of the shared experience of baseball. There’s no good remedy for this. I applaud MLB for trying to fill that void as best as it can, but there won’t be an adequate substitute for the shared experience of real games until the crisis is contained and sports can begin anew.

I apologize if this post has been something of a downer. My intent isn’t to depress, but to share what’s been on my mind, and to try to spark some sort of sharing. You’re on this site because you love the game, and the game has been put on hold by a horrifying force of nature. Baseball has served as a way to get your mind off of terrible things, and now the terrible thing is front and center.

The best we can do is to be here for one another. I’m curious to hear from the readers. Have you found a way to fill the baseball-shaped void in your daily lives? Is there something you’re doing to get your sports fix? Have you been getting that sense of baseball fandom camaraderie from somewhere else? Share your thoughts in the comments, or reach out on social media if you like.

If you want to learn more about COVID-19 or think you might need to be tested, give the CDC’s site about the virus a read. Informing yourself is the most important step. Washing your hands and staying home, if possible, is the best way to protect yourself.

Stay safe and be well.

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