Gwinnett atmosphere a plus for minor leaguers
Local Braves think new AAA team will be a hit for players

The stops in minor league baseball aren't typically New York or Los Angeles.

They're usually more like Hickory, N.C., or Burlington, Iowa, cities that don't necessarily offer the most entertainment options for home or visiting players.

"We went to places last year where if you got wireless Internet in your hotel room it was a big plus," said Atlanta Braves minor leaguer and Parkview grad Tim Gustafson.

Those issues tend to disappear by the time players rise to the Class AAA level, where the host cities are more desirable.

That should be the case with sprawling Gwinnett County, which will host the AAA Gwinnett Braves beginning with the 2009 season. The players shouldn't lack for entertainment options, whether it's in the suburbs or even a short drive into Atlanta.

"Gwinnett's obviously got a lot to offer," said Parkview grad Clint Sammons, who made his major league debut for the Atlanta Braves in 2007. "It's close to the city of Atlanta. You can go into the city on an off day or have something to do out here.

"(As a minor leaguer), you definitely want to have an area close by where you stay with good restaurants and stuff to do. One of the biggest things you want is a city you like. We also like furnished apartments. When you move your life eight or nine months of the year, it's tough to move your furniture all the time."

The move from AAA to the major leagues will be a short one now - 35.9 miles to be exact. That's the distance between the Gwinnett Braves' new park near the Mall of Georgia and Turner Field in Atlanta.

Richmond was much farther away for the Braves players and officials, who had a fondness for the Virginia city it called home since 1966. They just didn't care for the decaying ballpark in Richmond.

Now they get a brand-new facility in Gwinnett, with plenty of leisure activities.

"Richmond's a great city, it's a shame it couldn't work there," said Atlanta Braves third-base coach Brian Snitker, a longtime Gwinnett resident who spent years coaching in the organization's minor league system. "But this will be very good here. There are a lot of places to eat, great places to stay, malls, places for the wives to go. On the road, the things you look for and the places you go, Gwinnett's got all that.

"Some guys like to fish in the mornings. Some play golf. There's a lot of that. Everything you like to do for recreation on off days, Gwinnett's got it."

The baseball facilities in Gwinnett also will be top notch, allowing the Braves the freedom to send more top prospects to the AAA team. That wasn't always the case. Atlanta outfielder Jeff Francoeur, a Parkview grad, hinted during Tuesday's press conference that minor league Braves liked the digs at AA Mississippi and its new park over the outdated setup in Richmond.

"Facilities can make or break a player," said Francoeur, who opened two new stadiums in the Braves system - Rome in 2003 and Pearl (Miss.) in 2005.

And when players aren't busy on the field in Gwinnett, they will find plenty of activity off it, whether it's a short trip to the Mall of Georgia, the state's largest mall, or for a concert at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

"I think (the Gwinnett Braves) will be great, it will be outstanding for the players here," Snitker said. "It's great for the Braves moving players (from AAA to the majors) and that will obviously be a lot easier when we're at home.

"And it's a great area with a lot of new things. There's a lot of housing. There's a lot going on in Gwinnett County."