ATLANTA - Only about 50 lucky fans will be able to watch Braves baseball in person on Opening Day.
No, they won't be those now-infamous smiling cardboard cutouts. They won't be in the stadium at all.
They'll be yards away from the pool at the Omni Hotel at The Battery Atlanta, on the hotel's fifth-floor upper deck overlooking the Truist Park outfield.
"We always felt like we have something special here, but even moreso these days," Ramon Reyes, the hotel's GM, told FOX 5 Sports. "We feel like Braves fans and our guests have come to know us."
And fans have been taking advantage of the view — including Amelia Island, Fla., residents Gwen and Roger Pratesi, who stayed at the hotel on July 18 during Braves scrimmage without knowing what they signed up for beforehand.
"We did not have any idea because apparently the first game with the Marlins was several nights away, so it was really a surprise to us when we started seeing them on the field and thought, gosh what’s going on?" Gwen said.
"As the sports enthusiast that I am, I was more than thrilled to see the live players again," said Roger. "I’ve been watching a lot of reruns of baseball and football lately. So to see the real thing, it really was fun."
To feed those withdrawals, the Omni is offering an upper deck access game day package with food and beverages provided, available to just 50 guests per game due to CDC social distancing guidelines.
"Immediately we saw interest in booking hotel rooms here, in particular any rooms that had exterior access, so our balcony rooms and our terrace rooms are the first ones to go," Reyes said. "But there’s a great deal of interest in anything at this property because everyone wants to feel like they’re part of the game experience, and honestly they just want to be on the plaza and cheer on the Braves and have the Braves be able to hear them cheering them on."
Although Roger Pratesi is a Red Sox fan, he couldn’t help but cheer for the Braves too.
"Actually I got up and cheered," he said, laughing. "I don’t know if they could hear me from that far away."
Gwen and Roger Pratesi brought their Tibetan Terrier Rhythm with them for their stay at the Omni Hotel at The Battery Atlanta.
The Pratesis used to live in Atlanta when the Battery was still being built. They came back last weekend to visit their son and his girlfriend, and once they walked out onto that balcony, "I actually texted him and said grab some beer, because it looks like they’re going to play," Gwen recalled.
But even with the pumped in crowd noise for that scrimmage, it still felt a little odd.
"You can’t help but notice that the stadium is empty. When you’re sitting there watching the players moving and all the action, the fact that there is no one jumping up and down and just yelling, really took away from the excitement of the sport in my opinion," Roger said. "But it was still good to see live baseball!"
"It was like eerily quiet," Gwen said. "Especially this time of year, that hotel would be crazy with people, and all the venues at the Battery would’ve been busy, and it was just typically what we see now with COVID, it’s just super quiet. I do think we were probably one of the only people in one of those suites. It was like they were playing to us. It was kind of strange."
A few fans watch the Braves play an intrasquad scrimmage from the Omni's fifth-floor upper deck.
And for anyone worried about health and safety amid the coronavirus pandemic, the hotel has implemented more chemical cleaning in rooms and throughout the property; plexiglass at front desk; face masks and gloves for employees; digital menus, no room service, pre-packaged food to reduce touch points; as well as decals for social distancing on the ground for guests' reference.
The Omni told FOX 5 Sports there is still some availability for the Braves' home opener on Wednesday. Reyes said he welcomes a busy and bustling hotel again after a rough patch for the hospitality industry, but he hopes to get at least a glimpse of some baseball while working on Opening Day.
"I imagine I’m going to be busy. But that’s every game before pre-COVID or even post-COVID," he said. "This is a fun place to be, but our main objective is for everyone to leave here saying nothing but great things and having a fantastic experience. It takes the entire team to really make that happen, myself included. So I’ll be running around just like everyone else, but hope to catch snippets of the game when I can."