When news hit last month that the Chattanooga Lookouts were being sold to a Georgia businessman, a lot of fans could finally exhale.
Knowing the team was for sale, and could potentially leave the city, had been a source of anxiety in the Kennedy family. What else besides Lookouts games could we do on Saturday nights in the summer with two fidgety little boys?
It was a relief to hear that the reported new Lookouts owner, John Hughes, of Warner Robbins, Ga., intends to keep the Dodgers' AA Southern League affiliate in Chattanooga. Current owner Frank Burke has lovingly improved the AT&T Field experience every year. His energy for the club has been a gift to the city -- a legacy we hope Hughes continues.
For my two sons, ages 7 and 12, Lookouts games at AT&T Field have been as much a part of their Chattanooga childhoods as winter trips to the Tennessee Aquarium and matinees at the Majestic theater.
A picture of the boys at a Lookouts game is the wallpaper on my Facebook page. I can remember when my older son hit 40, 50 and 60 mph on AT&T Field's pitching cage radar gun. The last milestone, 60 mph, cost me 50 bucks, a silly promise I had made when he was 6 years old, never imagining he would remember the pledge half a decade later. He did.
We've laughed together at ballpark clown Myron Noddleman -- a mash-up of Jerry Lewis and Michael Jackson. Although they've seen it a dozen times, the boys still cackle when the Zooperstars' balloon creature "Clamy Sosa" "eats" a batboy whole, then spits out his pants.
We still giggle about the time a foul tip torpedoed a cup filled with blueberry Slushy, spraying it five rows deep into the box seats. Talk about purple rain.
With a new owner coming aboard, it seems as good a time as any to drop a few items in the old suggestion box. Here are a few hits and misses we have observed at AT&T Field over the years.
• Hit: Soft-serve ice cream. There's nothing better on a hot July night than a mountain of ice cream piled high in a plastic cup. We recommend the "swirl" -- half chocolate, half vanilla.
• Miss: Soggy hot dogs. Hot dogs at AT&T Field are served in a plastic sleeve that traps steam from the hot meat and, consequently, causes the bun to shrivel. This makes it harder to apply mustard and ketchup, never mind those wonderful fresh onions available on the condiments table. We'd trade a few minutes more in the concession line for dropping the dogs into a fresh bun on the fly.
• Hit: Dizzy bat race. There's something irresistible about kids (or adults) placing their foreheads on a bat handle, spinning 10 times, then trying to run 10 yards to win a prize. They always come up flailing like they've just chugged a pint of moonshine. Half the contestants crash and burn before they make it to the finish line.
• Miss: Circle-the-bases race. This game predates AT&T Field and involves a child running the bases while being "chased" by Louie the Lookout, the team mascot. Louie pretends to lose and the crowd cheers. Over the years, they seem to cheer less and less, though, as the novelty wears thin. Train Chihuahuas to race around the bases and you'd have something.
• Hit: Pitching cage. The aforementioned radar-gun attraction down the right-field line is the most fun a Little Leaguer can have for $1. I'd pay a dollar just to watch 40-year-old daddies, who haven't thrown a real fastball in 25 years, rock and fire. The real fire, they'll discover, will arrive in their rotator cuff muscles the next morning.
• Miss: Tennis ball toss. At the end of the game, fans attempt to throw tennis balls from the stands into a plastic container near the pitcher's mound -- for cash. My complaint on this concerns the poor vendors who must walk around "selling" used tennis balls throughout the game: Half the fans don't know what they're doing -- and so it appears like some sort of cruel fraternity ritual.
• Hit: Early starts. Games that start at 6:15 p.m., an hour earlier than the normal 7:15 p.m. first pitch, are the best. For those of us with small children, the earlier start time actually makes seeing a full nine-inning game a possibility.
• Miss: Businessman Special. These Wednesday afternoon games are misnomers. Perhaps there was a time -- maybe in the 1960s? -- when business folks took off on weekday afternoons to see minor league baseball games. Today, post-Great Recession, not so much. This is just needs a marketing tweak. Rebrand it "Early Bird Special" for seniors and you've got a winner.
• Hit: Used Car Night. There's nothing better than sitting on the edge of your seat between innings wondering if you're about to win a lime green 1995 Hyundai Elantra with a broken odometer. Good times.
• Miss: Bat Night actually sounds much better than it is. For reasons that won't surprise parents, they don't hand out the bats until the kids are leaving the stadium. For you non-parents, imagine 1,000 youngsters wielding bats inside the stadium while hopped up on Coke. Stick to Cap Night.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.