The Chattanooga Lookouts hope to play this season in front of a quarter of a million folks.
There is no shortage of optimism for a big year at AT&T Field after the Lookouts drew 243,051 fans last season. That was Chattanooga's highest season home attendance since 2004, and the storied Class AA franchise has a goal of surpassing 250,000 for the first time since 280,692 came through the turnstiles in 2002.
"That's just kind of the next benchmark," Lookouts general manager Rich Mozingo said this week. "I don't think we've written it down on a piece of paper or are focusing on that, but I always think you have to budget for better and think it's going to be better and hope for better. You lose a couple of Fridays to rain and you're in real trouble, but we're always budgeted to do a little bit better than the year before.
"I think that is a real attainable goal for us this year."
Three weeks from now, the Lookouts will have begun their season. They open their 14th year at AT&T Field by hosting the Huntsville Stars on April 4.
"It's right around the corner, but it's days like these where you think this is supposed to happen," Mozingo said. "When it was 37 degrees last week, you couldn't fathom playing, but now it looks like baseball season and feels like baseball season."
AT&T Field will have a slightly altered look this spring, as the picnic area along the left-field line will be covered. The area can hold up to 125 people, Mozingo said, and this will be the first notable structure change since the Budweiser Club was built along the right-field line in 2004.
Fans down the left-field line will be protected from pop ups, but Mozingo said the shelter would not be a preventative for line drives.
The season approaches with team owner Frank Burke still working on the sale of the team. Burke turned over the daily operations to Mozingo in September 2011 and has not offered much specifics about the process, other than to recently say he was "not in a big rush."
Chattanooga is entering its fifth season as an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Lookouts and Dodgers have a player development contract that runs through the 2014 season, and Mozingo believes any discussion about extending that relationship would not occur until after this season at the earliest.
"The Dodgers have been wonderful for us, and we're in a great position right now," Mozingo said. "As long as we continue on the same path -- they really have been a great partner, and it would be nice to continue with them."