Lookouts thrilled to have more normalcy on and off the field

Lookouts photo by Alex Tainsh / Members of the Chattanooga Lookouts go through batting practice Thursday afternoon at AT&T Field in preparation for Friday night's season opener in Kodak against the Tennessee Smokies.

For the first time since 2019, the Chattanooga Lookouts on Thursday afternoon staged a preseason media event.

There was no 2020 Lookouts season due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, and Major League Baseball guidelines last year prevented the interviewing of minor league coaches and players unless via phone or Zoom. Thursday was a notable first step in what should be a far more gregarious season for the Lookouts and those who will be cheering them nightly at AT&T Field.

"I'm very happy," Lookouts first-year manager Jose Moreno said. "At the minor league level, that's good preparation for them to do all the interviews and the community service and all the activities they do off the field. I think it's great that we've come back to normal."

The Lookouts will open their 138-game Double-A Southern League schedule Friday night in Kodak against the Tennessee Smokies. Their home opener is set for Tuesday night against Birmingham.

Lookouts president Rich Mozingo said Thursday that Major League Baseball lifted many of the restrictions from a year ago within the last couple of weeks, though some pandemic reminders still remain. One example is that any media member wanting to access the clubhouse must be vaccinated and boosted.

Throughout last spring and summer, though, minor league players were significantly limited when it came to interacting with fans, which included an inability to sign autographs.

"It's huge just to be able to go about your business and not have to worry about that now," Lookouts center fielder Michael Siani said. "We had to follow the precautions, and that was fine, but now that we're in a good spot, it's great to roam around. If there were no fans, there wouldn't be a game, right?

"We take pride in coming to the field every day and putting on a good show for the fans. It will be good to see these stadiums packed. We got a little bit of that late last season when things started to loosen up, but it will be good to start fresh and enjoy it."

Lookouts pitcher Brandon Williamson echoed those sentiments, adding with a smile: "Even last year, when a little kid came up to you, you would still sign his ball. It's just nice not having to worry about certain things and doing stuff like that under the table."

This time last year, current Lookouts shortstop Matt McLain was playing the same position at UCLA in empty Pac-12 stadiums. Limited crowds were finally allowed for his final few contests with the Bruins, as they were for his first few professional games with the Single-A Dayton (Ohio) Dragons.

"Last year was super weird," McLain said. "It wasn't fun not having fans, because that's part of the game, whether they're rooting for you or heckling you. I remember going to games as a kid, and I would hang over the bullpen and bother the guys to ask them for a ball. Little things like that are part of your childhood.

"I'm glad that we're back to normal."

Larry the Legend

Chattanooga Lookouts radio broadcaster Larry Ward learned Thursday afternoon that he will be inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame this summer.

Ward first served as Lookouts broadcaster during the 1985 season and returned in 1989, having painted the Double-A scene at Engel Stadium and AT&T Field ever since with the exception of the 2020 season, which was scratched due to the coronavirus outbreak.

"It's amazing first of all to be nominated and then actually to be selected," Ward said. "As I understand it, there were 32, and I was one of four who were selected. It is a very great honor when your peers select you for something like this."

The Hall of Fame ceremony will take place Aug. 6 in Murfreesboro.

"There have been some times when you don't want to be there, but you have to be there," Ward said. "Then, all of a sudden, the nine innings go by and you can't wait to get back tomorrow. It's one of those things that when it's in your blood, you can't get rid of it, and it's not just baseball but the broadcasting part of it.

"I did this on a whim 50 years ago at the county fair in Tygh Valley, Oregon, and I've done everything from motocross to rodeos."

Ward also has been the voice of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball games since the Craig Parrot era in the 1990s.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.