I have now visited AT&T Field, home of the Chattanooga Lookouts, on two occasions. On neither of those occasions did I see an actual Southern League baseball game. The first such occasion was in 2010, as a torrential downpour began just before game time and resulted in a rainout. I was still at the ballpark long enough to get a blog post out of it, which you can peruse HERE.
I visited AT&T Field again earlier this month, and this time there wasn’t even a hint of a game. The Lookouts had completed a homestand the day before, but — hey! — when in Rome. Why not stop in and say hello?
AT&T Field, which opened in 2000, is located in downtown Chattanooga. I parked my rented Volkswagen Bug on Chestnut Street, safeguarded all valuables, exited the car, began walking, and, soon enough, made a quick left on “Power Alley.” (This is a common feature of modern day Minor League ballparks, in that they are located on streets that have been re-christened with a baseball-themed name. This can wreak havoc if you are getting to the ballpark via GPS, which may not have been programmed to recognize “Home Run Drive” or “Fastboulevard” or “Respect the Game Lane” or what have you.)
Located on an incline, AT&T Field is the only Minor League ballpark (that I am aware of) which has its own outdoor escalator.
Fans disinclined to walk on an incline can also opt to take the team trolley, which runs from various downtown parking lots.
Somewhat mysteriously, this trolley was idling in the parking lot unattended with its doors open. While I did not commandeer it for my own usage, I did hop aboard and take this world-exclusive picture of the interior.
Also in the parking lot was this vintage vehicle, although I’m not sure if it’s in working condition.
As for the stadium itself, it’s a solid if unspectacular turn-of-the-century model. It’s efficient, reliable, and looks pretty good, but if it was hanging out with other Minor League ballparks at a Minor League ballpark social function it would blend in with the crowd pretty easily.
Once inside the ballpark, I met up with Dan Kopf (media relations manager) and Alex Tainsh (corporate sales). They insisted on being referred to as “esteemed tour guides.” Kopf is the guy on the right and, for the record, “Kopf and Tainsh” would be a good name for a basic cable show about crusading maverick lawyers.
It was a pretty sleepy afternoon at the ballpark, given that the Lookouts had concluded a homestand the day before. I was poking around for something to write about (as in, for an MiLB.com article), but that’s tough to do when very few people are around and not much is going on. However! My esteemed tour guides said that, should I ever actually do my job properly and see an actual Lookouts game, Wanda Goins would be a good person to write about.
Wanda is a veteran program vendor, so well known that on the rare occasions in which she cannot attend the team plays a recording of her. And, like any Minor League celebrity worth her salt, she has been the recipient of her own bobblehead. (Which reminds me, when am I going to be honored with my own bobblehead?)
Anyhow, if you want a Wanda Goins bobblehead (and cd!), it can be currently be had for the (not-so-low) price of $75 on eBay.
But Wanda was nowhere to be seen on this weekday afternoon, and neither was anyone else.
As you’ll see in the picture below, AT&T Field lacks an open concourse. For all I know, it may have been the last Minor League stadium to have been built without this feature (prove me wrong, readers. You always do.) In looking around for more info, I came across this Ballpark Digest tidbit about how the stadium was funded:
Frank Burke bought the Lookouts in the mid nineties but felt the team had to have a new stadium to stay in Chattanooga. In the fall of 1998, Burke announced that he and his ownership group would build a privately funded ballpark if the team could sell 1,800 season tickets. The 1800th ticket was sold on January 28, and construction of the park started in late March 1999. The Lookouts ended up selling over 2,200 season tickets.
Is that the only MiLB stadium to have been funded in such a manner? The only other completely privately-funded stadium I can think of, at least within the past two decades, is the West Michigan Whitecaps’ home of Fifth Third Ballpark. (Note: I have since been informed that the Lexington Legends privately funded their ballpark in 2001.)
Some post-homestand turf maintenance had resulted in a pleasingly thick blanket of grass on the warning track.
My esteemed tour guides told me that there used to be a cannon positioned in the outfield, which would make loud exploding noises after home runs. However, the shells for this cannon are no longer commercially available. (I blame Obama.) There is a home run choo-choo train, however.
It hasn’t happened yet, but any Lookout batsman with the wherewithal to blast a ball through the crook of this angled dirt-scoop receives a cool $500.
My esteemed tour guides told me that this block of outfield seats did not have a name. I was surprised they weren’t called “The Lookout Seats” or “Lookout Landing” or something like that.
There is a “Lasorda’s Landing,” however. Tommy doesn’t have any deep personal connections to Chattanooga, but the Lookouts are a Dodgers affiliate so there you go.
And, well, that’s all I’ve got. Upon bidding adieu to my esteemed tour guides I trekked back down the hill to Chestnut Street, and noticed that there is a movie theater right there on the corner. Minor League Baseball teams are in a mortal war with movie theaters! Both want to procure as large a portion of your “family-friendly entertainment” expenditures as possible, and there’s only so much to go around.
Upon arriving at Chattanooga’s AT&T Field yesterday, rain was the furthest thing from my mind. Seriously, precipitation ranked dead last in my internal list of all topics that could possibly occupy my brain space.
So when I arrived at the ballpark about an hour before the 7:15 start time, I leisurely began to document my surroundings. The ballpark is in an interesting location, in the heart of downtown Chattanooga yet also set apart from it.
This is the first stadium I’ve ever been to that features an escalator outside of the stadium:
There’s a heavy mascot presence at AT&T Field. I was able to capture some on film, but others proved to be elusive.
And, of course, there are also seats and a baseball field:
But my idyllic wanderings were soon interrupted by a furious thunderstorm, one that rendered baseball unplayable.
So THIS was my final image of AT&T Field:
And with the posting of that picture now complete, it becomes time for me to leave Chattanooga. Gwinnett County, GA, here I come.
Surely you all remember Tuesday’s blog post, which detailed a day that included time spent at the Birmingham Barons’ old home of Rickwood Field as well as their current Regions Park digs.
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deja vu on Friday, as I experienced the same dynamic in Chattanooga. My day in this vibrant city began at the Lookouts’ previous home of Engel Stadium, and concluded with a rainout at AT&T Park (Mother Nature has a lot of nerve, tampering with my all-important road trip. Doesn’t she know I have a reputation I’m trying to establish?)
But let me tell you — visiting Engel Stadium was a real treat. This ballpark served as the Lookouts’ home from 1930-99, but has fallen into disrepair over the past decade. As I was researching potential article topics for this trip, I came across a story on a new group that is seeking to restore the facility to its former glory. I got in touch with Engel Foundation director Janna Jahn, who set up a visit to the stadium along with an interesting group of fellow stadium devotees:
Andy Broome: Senior Vintage Card Grader for Beckett Media, and lifelong Lookouts fan. Broome has written a novella on Jackie Mitchell, the 17-year-old girl who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at Engel in 1931. His website is well worth checking out, as it is a treasure trove of Engel ephemera.
Nancy Cogar: An employee of “Choose Chattanooga”, an organization that espouses the positive attributes of the Tennessee metropolis. Cogar wants to spearhead a storytelling project that collects the Engel Stadium memories of former Lookout players and fans.
Ray Deering: As a long-time Lookouts fan who has written columns on baseball history for the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, Deering is an endless fountain of Chattanooga baseball knowledge.
Brian Wright: A wise-beyond-his-years recent high school graduate, who fell in love with Engel after breaking into the place. Wright is a member of the Engel Foundation’s board, and equipped to be a leader in the restoration efforts for a long time to come.
I mention these individuals because I believe they show the kind of diversity and unique skill sets that can make an ambitious project such as stadium restoration succeed (and many more are getting involved in the effort). Here is what they have to restore — Engel Stadium! (read my article about it HERE).
An unassuming exterior:
Standing on the same mound where Jackie Mitchell once struck out Babe Ruth:
From the Roof:
The seats, they are old and wooden:
I am just now realizing how unwieldy this post would be if I tacked on pictures and anecdotes regarding my time at the Lookouts’ current home of AT&T Park. I am also just now realizing how soon the bars are going to close.
Therefore, I make a solemn promise to you, my readers, that a “part two” of this post will appear tomorrow morning. And then, I will drive to Gwinnett County, GA, in my rented Mercedes-Benz with Texas plates.
I sure do love living New York City, but it is nonetheless crucial that I periodically leave my domestic lair in order to report live and direct from the ballpark. Only two of Minor League Baseball’s 160 teams play in the Big Apple, meaning that there are 158 cities perpetually on my list of places to visit.
Last week I did a post on the innovative season ticket plan launched by the Huntsville Stars and the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, in which each team would honor the other’s Season Ticket Holder cards when they face each other.
Well, this is an idea that is quickly taking on a life of its own, as last week the Stars and D-Jaxx announced that the Mississippi Braves and the Chattanooga Lookouts had entered into the agreement as well. This means that each club’s 70-game season ticket plan now includes 24 additional road games.
You realize what this is all building toward, right? No? Well I’ll tell you — This is all building toward a bold new future in which a Minor League team’s season ticket plan also includes admission to each and every away game. Granted, we’re not there yet, but we are most certainly headed down that path. Prepare yourselves.
On The Topic — Somewhat similar to the new Stars and D-Jaxx ticket plan is the arrangement that exists between the Pacific Coast League’s Round Rock Express and the Texas League’s Corpus Christi Hooks. Both teams are owned and operated by Ryan-Sanders Baseball, and as a result honor the other’s season tickets and also offer team-rate discounts at the team hotel in each city. (thanks to Hooks’ director of ballpark entertainment Seamus Gallivan for the info)
Off the Topic, But Still Related To One of the Teams in Question — The Stars, a Brewers affiliate, are hosting a youth baseball camp on November 8. And this camp is going to be run by none other than Corey Hart. However, the Corey Hart in question is not this Corey Hart, who currently patrols right field for the Brewers. Nor is it this Corey Hart, who scored a pop smash in 1983 with “Sunglasses at Night”. Rather, it is Brewers Minor League hitting instructor Corey Hart, whose eight-year pro playing career came to an end in 2005.
All three of these Corey Harts are worthy of respect and admiration. Just don’t get confused, is all I’m saying.