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Wednesday, Jul 30th

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AT&T Field / Chattanooga Lookouts

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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. What a great way to fund a park.

FAST FACTS

Year Opened: 2000
Capacity: 6,160
Dimensions: 330L, 400C, 325R
Playing Surface: Grass
Website: lookouts.com
Phone: 423/267-2208
Level: Class AA
League: Southern League
Parking: $4 parking beside the ballpark. There is also quite a bit off-street parking throughout the downtown area.
Directions: From I-24, take exit 178 onto 27N. Take exit 1C (4th Street/Downtown.) First left on Chestnut Street, first left again on 3rd Street. AT&T Field is at the top of the hill. From I-75, take 24 West and follow above directions.
Written by: Dustin Mattison

Chattanooga has a long history of minor-league baseball, as it was one of the charter members of the Southern League in 1885. Historic Engel Stadium opened in 1930 and had seen the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Willie Mays play on its field. Though full of memories and baseball legend, time had not been good to Engel Stadium and upkeep was becoming quite expensive. Enter Frank Burke.

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. What a great way to fund a park.

The land was donated for the ballpark, and the architects had to operate within boundary and budget constraints. To me, this enabled them to come up with a unique design and not the cookie-cutter-type design seen so often today. Some things were done with savings in mind, such as the stands being made of metal instead of concrete. These cost savers are worth it in the end, as the result was no need for any public funding the ballpark.

Most of the seating is on the first-base side. Seats on the third-base side extend only to the end of the dugout and enable one to view I-24, which runs right beside the ballpark. On the first-base side, seating extends three-quarters of the way down the right-field line. The architects had to manipulate the seating due to having the interstate as a boundary, but were able to make it work and make the ballpark all the more unique.

The ballpark features lower box seats that are really affordable and close to the action. These premium seats are at most 12 rows from the field. There is a small walkway dividing these seats from the even more affordable upper box seats. These only go eight rows deep and sit in front of the general-admission bleachers. Along the left-field line, there is a special section of upper box seats and bleachers that are designated as the family section, with no alcohol allowed. What‘s even more impressive is that a kids’ general admission ticket costs only $2, while kids 6 and under are free. Above the General Admission seating are 15 air-conditioned luxury boxes, complete with catered food and a TV monitor.

The concourse is under the seating, so you miss the game action when going out for concessions. There are plenty of stands to choose from but none offer a variety of food choices. Hot dogs, popcorn and pretzels are the standard fare throughout the park. The positive about the limited food choices is that it has enabled the Lookouts to keep the prices down and keep all the concessions very affordable. On the night I attended the lines went quickly so no one had to miss much of the action. Also on the lower concourse is a nice gift shop selling Lookout gear. The open concourse is very popular in most of the new ballparks, but the closed concourse at AT&T Field adds to the uniqueness of this stadium. It is also a reminder of Engel Stadium, as its concourse was set up in a similar way.

The outfield walls are very tall -- 20 feet high -- and full of advertisements. Mr. Burke is known as quite a promoter, and it is obvious from the outfield fences. I am not sure if another commercial sign could be fit on the wall.

In the right-field corner there is a large picnic pavilion used mostly for private parties. What is unique about AT&T Field is that a section of seats adjoin the pavilion so those in the picnic area also have a seat to enjoy the game. The picnic area is the only place in the stadium where there is a view of the river and bridge.

The Stadium Club is a small restaurant behind the seats on the right-field line. It offers choices like chicken wings and pizza. It provides indoor and outdoor seating and can be popular on hot summer nights as it is air-conditioned.

The one piece that stood out was the barber chair down the left field line (shown at left). This was the only holdover from the Lookouts time at Engel Stadium that I could find. Though not busy on this night, what better time to get a haircut than while watching a ballgame?

Right beside the barber chair is the beer garden with more GA seating and picnic tables with a good view of the interstate. When one thinks of Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Choo Choo usually comes to mind. The Lookouts play to this, as a train blowing steam from its engine appears from behind the right-center field wall whenever a hometown player hits a homerun. Also, unique to AT&T Field: bullpens are not visible. There are two cutouts in the wall between left and center that allow the bullpen members to watch the game.

As they say in real estate, location is everything. This is very true of AT&T Field, as it is among a revitalized downtown/riverfront district. The Tennessee Aquarium opened in 2005 and is a block or two from the ballpark. Within walking distance are the Creative Discovery Museum, an IMAX theatre, and the Hunter Museum of American Art. There are also lots of restaurants, microbreweries, and pubs. A short drive takes you to Lookout Mountain and such attractions as Ruby Falls and Rock City.

My friend Tim suggested that the outfield trees be trimmed back to offer those in the stands a view of the Tennessee River. I would also like to see fewer signs on the outfield walls -- but an owner has the right to help pay the bills when he paid for the park. As I have two small children, the most glaring omission is there is no children’s play area. But to be honest, I don’t know that there would be a place to put it.

It can be really difficult to replace a legend -- just ask Doug DeCinces, who unsuccessfully tried to replace Brooks Robinson. Sometimes it can really work out, Mickey Mantle did replace Joe DiMaggio. I would say AT&T Field would fall somewhere in between. Though not likely to be a legend like Engel Stadium, the people of Chattanooga should enjoy AT&T Field along with Lookout baseball for years to come.