Cook: Let's buy the Lookouts

Cook: Let's buy the Lookouts

January 19th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

I wish I could say that the idea came to me in a dream, the booming voice of James Earl Jones filling my subconscious as the wind cracked through a field of dry cornstalks, Kevin Costner nearby, looking confused, while Shoeless Joe caught fly balls like they had nowhere else to go but his glove.

If you buy it, they will come.

I wish. No, the idea probably came at some humdrum moment, the curse of the post-modern man who receives visions not in caves or on mountaintops but while pumping gas or standing in line at Walmart, buying dog food and toilet paper.

Here's the idea: Let's buy the Chattanooga Lookouts. You and I. And about 29,998 other Chattanoogans.

In the process, we stick like pine tar onto our city's consciousness an even greater love for America's game and the American tradition (not Grandma or her apple pie) of democratic participation.

Like voting.

It's been done before. The Green Bay Packers football team is public owned team. So are the minor-league baseball teams the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and the Rochester Red Wings.

Here's how it works.

Frank Burke, current Lookouts owner and a most valuable Chattanoogan, is moving north and selling the Lookouts. Barstool estimates put the price tag somewhere around $5 million.

Let's buy it. We could divide $5 million into shares of $170, which means about 30,000 of us would need to be involved.

Make the purchase public. Like stock shares in a nonprofit. As more folks purchase shares along the way -- not to Steinbrenner this and make money, but just because it's fun and good -- profits would be returned to the team.

Along with becoming co-owner of a baseball team (put that on your resume), you'd get a framed shareholder certificate, a free set of tickets and maybe a chance to throw out the game ball, sing the National Anthem or let your kid be a bat boy or bat girl.

We as shareholders would appoint a board of directors, a governing body that would manage the Lookouts operation.

The idea may fall flatter than a Bruce Sutter splitter. Maybe we, the people, aren't meant to own baseball teams.

But I hate thinking so poorly of our large civic self. For this to work, we've got to get involved. Show up. Attend. Participate.

And those are exactly the same things required of us as citizens of Chattanooga.

If area voters were like a minor-league batter, we'd be the No. 8 hitter, the guy in the lineup right before the pitcher.

We're the voter's version of Rafael Belliard.

In nine of the last 10 local elections -- from primaries to runoffs to municipal elections -- the average of voter turnout for our area averages around 24 percent, the equivalent of batting .240.

But in November 2008, jacked up like Barry Bonds, we flooded the polls, with nearly 73 percent of all area voters voting in the presidential election, which boosted our voting average to around .280.

In the March 2009 city elections, just 18 percent of all registered voters cast votes. Some parts of our city (here's looking at you, Avondale, East Chattanooga and part of Hixson) did not even have 10 percent show up.

That's one big reason why we're in the political and social mess we're in.

My theory: Baseball and democracy are connected. They both adhere to similar principles. Advancing the folks on your team. The importance of green space. Individual work is done for the good of the team.

Everybody plays by the same set of rules. Slump or not, you show up every day to do the work before you. Sacrifice for others is rewarded. Kids get in free.

So if we could find a way to purchase the Lookouts and make it a success, we could also find ways so that voter turnout is 75 percent in each and every election coming our way this year.

That trickles into other areas. I'd wager a Dale Murphy rookie card that cities with high voter turnouts also maintain high civic involvement: volunteerism, clean streets, viable communication between citizens and elected officials, strong knowledge on local issues, even a recall petition here or there.

That doesn't have to be a dream. In fact, it may be easy as a can of corn.

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@blumail.org.