ATLANTA -- On the field, the Atlanta Braves have made life miserable this season for the Miami Marlins.
Off it, the Braves organization has gone out of its way to make life easier for Floridians who fled to Atlanta to avoid Hurricane Irma.
The Braves have given out thousands of free tickets to Florida evacuees during their four-game series with the Marlins.
“Southern hospitality at it’s greatest,” said Barb Marshall, the Braves’ senior director of public relations.
The idea started when the Braves learned that Marlins players and staff, not wanting to leave their families behind in South Florida, brought them to Atlanta.
Marshall said the Braves decided to make the stay more comfortable for the Marlins’ wives and their children by lining up deals with local attractions, such as Zoo Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium and Six Flags.
“We heard they were bringing their families, so we thought what can we do to make them feel like they’re welcome,” Marshall said. “The very least we could do is talk to some partners in Atlanta who we’ve dealt with over the years. We reached out to them and they were all willing (to help).”
The Braves secured free tickets to those attractions. Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, whose wife and three children are with him in Atlanta, said he took them to the Aquarium before Saturday’s game.
“We’re thankful to the city of Atlanta and the Braves,” Ozuna said.
But the Braves didn’t stop with the Marlins.
“It got us thinking,” Marshall said. “It’s not just the family members (of the Marlins) that are coming. But it’s other people that are evacuating.”
That’s when the Braves decided to offer free tickets to any resident of Florida, Georgia or South Carolina who were forced to evacuate. And there are plenty of displaced Floridians in Atlanta this weekend.
The Braves handed out nearly 2,700 free tickets to Friday’s game. On Saturday, the number was closer to 7,300. Evacuated residents had only to show proof of residency, such as a driver’s license, to obtain their tickets.
“I don’t think we knew what to expect,” Marshall said, adding that the Braves have streamlined the process as the games have gone along.
On Friday, for example, evacuees stood in a long line waiting their turn at the ticket window. On Saturday, the Braves printed the free tickets in advance and distributed them to those in line.
“We’re doing it differently knowing how many people showed up, to make it easier and faster for people to come in,” Marshall said.
Miami sports talk radio host Larry Milian brought his family to Saturday’s game and walked away impressed.
“I was floored by the hospitality,” Milian said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Milian, who brought his wife and two children to the game, said he was given free parking in a special lot and free seats in a lower section of SunTrust Park.
“They didn’t just give us upper deck seats,” Milian said. “I bet those seats, if I had to pay for them, were $40 or $50 seats. They didn’t have to do this. I was speechless. They deserve applause.”
During Saturday’s game, the Braves even permitted a family that evacuated Fort Lauderdale to particpate in the ceremonial “First Chop,” a new Braves tradition that is typically given to a celebrity. Television personality Ryan Seacrest performed the honor Friday.
Alas, the Braves’ generosity only goes so far. They defeated the Marlins in two of their first three games and have gone 9-5 against them this season.