With the team included on a list of 42 MiLB clubs proposed for contraction by MLB, the Chattanooga Lookouts (Class AA; Southern League) say the small site of AT&T Field limits the possibilities for facility upgrades.
Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball officials have been negotiating the next Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) to replace the current PBA, which expires at the end of the 2020 season. MLB initially proposed the contraction of 42 teams, along with league realignments that include new Triple-A and Single-A circuits (in the name of lessened travel), new facilities standards (covering player facilities, including clubhouses, weight rooms and support spaces like kitchens and lounges), and a player-development arrangement that calls for rookies to spend time at MLB camps and not in entry-level leagues, with an additional year of service under team control.
The initial contraction list from MLB included the Lookouts, who play at AT&T Field–a downtown Chattanooga ballpark that opened in 2000, and was privately financed by then Lookouts owner Frank Burke for $10.2 million. As discussions over the PBA continue, Lookouts president Rich Mozingo acknowledges that AT&T Field offers limited amenities, including in the way of player facilities, in its current state. Making drastic upgrades at AT&T Field could prove problematic, however, as the ballpark was constructed on a small footprint that leaves limited room for expanding and improving facilities such as home and visitor clubhouses. While Mozingo feels that the team could come up with immediate solutions as a short-term fix, he believes that the small site stands as a significant obstacle to completing long-term upgrades. More from the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
Mozingo and Lookouts co-owners Jason Freier and John Woods can take immediate steps to enhance the lighting at AT&T Field’s batting cages in order to aid the Class AA players of the Reds, but that is a very small fix in a very big picture.
The lack of larger and updated clubhouses for the Lookouts and their Southern League visitors is a drawback that AT&T Field cannot overcome without becoming a venue more suitable for Little League contests.
“When you walk out of our clubhouse, there are four steps, and then you are down a cliff,” Mozingo said. “There is no place out to go, so you can’t go that way. If you wanted to come into the field and have a 280-foot home run, that’s doable. A lot of things are doable in some way, shape or form, but we are really constrained by the piece of property we’re on right now.
“At most places, if you want to do something to the clubhouses, you knock out the back wall and build. We just can’t do that here.”
Prior to the revelation that the Lookouts were on MLB’s contraction list, the team was exploring a potential new ballpark, with the 141-acre former Wheland/U.S. Pipe foundry property and surrounding area being eyed for a new MiLB facility and surrounding development as part of a public-private partnership. That concept resembles those undertaken by Lookouts owner Jason Freier for other ballpark projects, including Parkview Field, home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A; Midwest League) and Segra Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies (Low A; Sally League). A project of that scope requires years of planning, but the Lookouts and Chattanooga officials may need to accelerate those discussions if the threat of contraction continues to loom. Even if the possibility of contraction fades, it seems that the Lookouts will look to build a new ballpark elsewhere in the booming Chattanooga market in the future, as they feel that the site of their current home leaves limited room for improvements.
Image courtesy Chattanooga Lookouts.