Cook: There's no crying in baseball

Cook: There's no crying in baseball

April 5th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Han Solo has saved Engel Stadium. And someone somewhere is in the process of saving the Chattanooga Lookouts.

It's not us. At least, not yet.

Hollywood and actor Harrison Ford are coming to town to film the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black in major league baseball, which means area leaders don't have to cast off the once and future majestic Engel Stadium, now being partially renovated for filming.

People have realized this for years. They just haven't had millions of dollars and Indiana Jones on their side.

Imagine, instead, if Sly Stallone were set to play Dodgers exec Branch Rickey instead of Ford. Or Pauly Shore. Tom Arnold. Think the film would do as well?

Ford gives the film street cred, which draws attention to Engel Stadium, which keeps it alive.

On the other side of the diamond that is our city, tonight is opening night for the Chattanooga Lookouts. First pitch is 7:15 p.m. A skydiver will deliver the game ball. Free magnets to everyone.

"Holy smokes," my son said. "That's awesome."

Back in the winter, when baseball season seemed so far away, I pitched the idea of the public -- me and you -- buying the Lookouts from current owner Frank Burke.

Swamped, swarmed I was. My inbox swelled up like John Kruk at Denny's. Baseball fans from all over the tri-state area loved the idea. I think I even heard from someone in Vermont. May have been Phoenix.

It's because baseball is the American sport. The most beautiful, rhythmic, green grass and brown dirt meet peanut shells, cold beer, white as snow infield lines and foul balls into 12-year-old's gloves, heaven-come-to-Earth sport ever imagined. It's the game angels play between oil-canning the hinges on the Pearly Gates.

There's no crying in baseball? There would be if the Lookouts left. Folks told me they'd be willing to cough up hard-times money and seek nothing in return to keep that from happening.

Someone has beaten us to it.

A source within the Lookouts says a deal is close -- very close, like a runner on third -- to being finalized. So close Burke says he isn't allowed to talk about it, other than to confirm the comment he gave me back in the winter.

"There isn't a scenario that I can see that would involve the Lookouts leaving Chattanooga," he said.

Thank you, God.

Back in winter, he volunteered to give me the number of his broker, in case we -- you, me -- wanted to make an offer. I almost picked up the phone, but like a nervous teenager, couldn't dial. What was I going to say? (None of the supportive emails you sent came with money).

Me: Good morning. There is a group of Chattanoogans who'd like to make an offer on the Lookouts.

Broker: Wonderful. (sound of expensive pen tapping desk in the background). How much is your initial offer?

Me: (sound of fingers flipping through checkbook). About $319.

Broker: That'll cover the cost of popcorn through the third inning of Opening Day.

Me: Could we just tell fans to bring their own?

Needing advice, I called my legal counsel, who is also a boyhood best friend, which means I can tell you that, in our sandlot league, he could never hit a curveball.

"I can hit a curveball better than you," said Jonathan Guthrie, lawyer at Patrick, Beard, Schulman and Jacoway.

Typical attorney. Always arguing.

After doing research on publicly owned teams, he said, "If you can raise the money for the initial investment, nonprofit is probably the way to go."

That's exactly what we should do.

When I sit down in my plastic seat tonight, my son will be next to me. We'll eat peanuts like Br'er Fox. And we'll cheer for the Looks and the new owner, too.

But baseball belongs to the people. Always will. If we organize now, we could conceivably make a pitch to buy the team in a few years or so.

Like a friend of Han Solo's once said: "Do or do not. There is no try."

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@hushmail.com.