Cook: Our blue heaven

Cook: Our blue heaven

June 11th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

If I owned the Lookouts, the first thing I'd do would be to have Frank Burke Night.

Fireworks every other inning, 40-ounce pours of Big River pilsner, and Little Leaguers eat soft serve out of regulation size helmets, not those tiny things. Tickets are $1, or 50 cents if you take your shirt off, wear a big, blue foam cowboy hat, and dance -- poorly, yet so boldly -- between batters. (Who else remembers that guy from last season?)

The whole evening would be a curtain call ovation to Burke, who's made the Lookouts deliciously fun. And cheap. Our blue heaven.

The second thing I'd do? Run the bases at midnight, with old tapes of Harry Caray playing on the sound system.

The third? Make ownership public.

"I'm up for at least 20 to 40 shares," said my new friend, Skip Brocker.

Do you dream about this too? Not being president, or going to the moon, but owning a baseball team? There is something so pure about it, like falling in love, surrounded by crisp chalk lines.

Yet lately, I've been feeling the way I do when the Braves reach August: slightly nervous that things are about to turn bad. Burke has come awfully close to selling the Lookouts recently, which means that nagging fear resurfaces: What if a new owner relocates the Looks?

So then, my mind rounds second: What if we -- you, me, our mailman -- could buy the Lookouts and make sure that never happened?

"I don't think there would be any problem of getting 1,000 people to buy 100 shares," said Brocker, an anesthesiologist at Erlanger.

While pretending to work on Tuesday, I daydreamed up three scenarios, each operating off the notion it would take $12 million to buy the team.

Scenario one: the Looks are divided into 100,000 shares at $120 a piece. Buy one, buy 20.

Scenario two: 10,000 of us cough up $1,200.

"This is the only way the little guys could ever own a piece of a professional team," Brocker said.

Scenario three: a few major investors -- our sugar daddies -- do the heavy lifting, investing $5 million, and we do the rest: 7,000 shares at $1,000 each.

"The big boys could retain the majority ownership and be the managing owners. All the rest of the owners are what keeps it local and we get bragging rights," Brocker said. "And maybe it fills the park for all the games."

Jackie Mitchell -- yes it would.

Of course, it's not that easy. Someone told me about one minor league rule that says all investors must undergo background checks (well, it was fun while it lasted). We'd have to get past the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a bullpen of lawyers. Ahh, lawyers. The called strike of every daydream.

To own this fantasy team, we'd need to form a nonprofit -- The Chattanooga Baseball Club -- that would need several significant angel investors to legitimize this before opening it up to the public in a community stock drive.

The profits are reinvested annually in the stadium and team. Each year, more shares are made available to the public. Shareholders get a reduced price in turnstile and season tickets, but really, the joy comes from propping your feet up along the third base line, watching our big, blue pastime and saying to yourself: I own this. We own this.

Think it's crazy? Tell that to Joe Engel.

Back in '37, Engel stood on the downtown streets, and sold shares of $5 stock in the Chattanooga Lookouts to anybody and everybody. (With inflation, that $5 then would equate to $83 today.)

More than 1,500 Chattanoogans bought more than $20,000 in shares -- $337,000 in 2014 dollars -- which helped Engel buy the Lookouts, which led to Engel Stadium and decades of summertime joy.

Say hey, if we can't buy the Lookouts, we could buy a share of Engel Stadium. For $100, you can own a share in epic Engel -- check out Engel Foundation.com. Then, read up on the history of Morrie Silver and the Rochester Red Wings, or the Packers, both of which involve public ownership.

"Think about what they were thinking in Green Bay," Brocker said.

Or in Chattanooga, back in '37.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.