UPDATE: A previous version of this story stated the McCallie/GPS middle school performance of "Let 'Em Play!" would be Friday, March 13. The play was rescheduled for Thursday, March 12, after the story was published. Updated at 1:20 a.m. on March 13.
At an important moment in the McCallie/GPS middle school performance of "Let 'Em Play!" the cast turns to the audience and implores them to join in the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
The original play's performance Thursday night in McCallie's Black Box Theatre might be the last time for a long time that anyone in this community gets to sing that iconic song at a group gathering.
Jason Tinney and his wife, Holly Morse-Ellington, wrote and directed the play, which centers on two conflicts. The first is the contentious rivalry between the brainiac Bearcats youth league team — think "Bad News Bears" with a bunch of Harvard wannabes — and the immature, jock-infested Rattlers, who never have lost to the Bearcats.
The second conflict is one that surely will hit Chattanooga at some point if it hasn't already, given the proliferation of condo and apartment complexes blocking out more and more panoramic views of the city. In the play, an aggressive developer wants to turn the teams' ballfield into a 700-unit condo development.
As the tagline of the play's promotional poster proclaims: "A baseball journey that unites rivals and rallies a town."
Tinney and Morse-Ellington moved here three years ago from Baltimore, where they rooted for the major league Orioles. But upon relocating to the Scenic City, the authors of six plays to date (three of them for kids) fell in love with this city's minor league team, the Chattanooga Lookouts.
When they learned of Major League Baseball's plan to contract the Lookouts and others because of supposedly inferior facilities, the couple decided to write a play about community and baseball, hopeful that the production might come to life through McCallie, where they were hired this year as drama assistants and middle school directors.
"We'd been working on it some before the holidays," Tinney noted. "On the 26th of December we hung a sign on our door, 'The Holidays are over,' isolated ourselves and wrote it in a week."
Added Morse-Ellington, whose father was a longtime middle school baseball coach in Paducah, Kentucky: "This is our love and our passion."
Midway through the performance, as the players learn of the developers' goal to move them "to a landfill," they reflect on what the sport has meant to their young lives.
"We crave it," one says. "Baseball matters," opines another. "It's brought us together," proclaims a third.
Thursday might have been the last night for baseball fans to be brought together for weeks to come.