After a short hiatus, former Chattanooga Lookouts (Class AA; Southern League) owner Frank Burke is back in baseball, as he has purchased the Edenton Steamers (summer collegiate; Coastal Plain League).
Burke presided over the Lookouts from 1995-2015, a time period that included the team’s move from historic Engel Stadium to AT&T Field in 2000. His sale of the Lookouts to an ownership group headed by John Woods and Hardball Capital was finalized in March 2015.
Just a little more than a year later, Burke is taking over the Steamers from Edenton Steamers, Inc. Edenton is a smaller market—a town with a population right around 5,000 residents—which is reflected by Historic Hicks Field, a quaint ballpark built for about 1,200 fans. Hicks Field is a true classic among ballparks, having opened as a Works Progress Administration project in 1939. It is recognized with a listing on the National Historic Registry.
Overall, that amounts to a major change of pace for Burke, whose ownership of the Lookouts played out in a bustling Double-A market. As he tries to adjust to the differences in the market size, Burke will also look to ease his way into the vastly different operations of summer collegiate baseball. More from the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
“It’s a very nice feeling to be back in baseball,” Burke said, “and it’s especially nice to be doing it on a scale where I don’t have to worry about it 24/7 the way I used to. It’s not a high-stress thing. It’s a little team in a little town, and the town is wild about the team. If I draw 1,000 fans, that’s 20 percent of the population here.
“The whole thing was having something to do in a business I love in a nice place. All three of those have been checked off.”
There are 16 teams in the Coastal Plains League, with 10 in North Carolina, three in Virginia, two in South Carolina and one in Georgia — the Savannah Bananas. The Cape Cod League is the most prestigious collegiate summer league and gets the top players, with the Coastal Plains League vying with the New England League, the Northwoods League and other leagues for talent.
Burke said Edenton has been paying someone to help recruit players, and he doesn’t know if he will continue that or rely on his own relationship with college coaches. Burke’s son, Jeff, played at Boston College and now is in the San Francisco Giants organization.
“This first summer, I really need to just learn it,” Burke said, “because there is a different way of doing things than minor league baseball.”
Also noted in the story is that Burke will soon move to Edenton. According to the Steamers’ announcement, he is joined in the ownership group by Georgia Rhodin.