For the first time in 617 days, the gates at AT&T Field were opened for a Chattanooga Lookouts game.
That Tuesday night's showdown against the Rocket City Trash Pandas was unable to transpire due to Mother Nature was a mild setback at best. After all, before the outbreak of the coronavirus in March 2020 was the eye-opening New York Times article in November 2019 that listed the Lookouts among the minor league franchises that were being contracted by Major League Baseball.
Major League Baseball challenged the accuracy of that list, but that didn't keep Lookouts officials from battling their share of nerves until the Cincinnati Reds extended Chattanooga an invitation this past December to remain their Class AA affiliate.
"There have been a lot of grey hairs, and there has been a lot of stress," Lookouts president Rich Mozingo said. "The idea that we're here tonight in and of itself is huge. There were 43 communities in the United States of America that lost their baseball teams this year, so we're unbelievably fortunate to be on this side of the line, and we're unbelievably fortunate to have some of the best baseball players in America at AT&T Field this year.
"We're also fortunate to have at least a decent crowd come out for these games."
One of Chattanooga's former foes, the Jackson Generals, were among the contracted teams.
Due to COVID-related guidelines implemented by Major League Baseball, the Lookouts are only allowed to compete right now before roughly 2,500 fans at the 6,340-seat facility. Tuesday's opener had been sold out for several days, but the 7:15 start was delayed by rain, and the intensifying of the rain resulted in the contest being called at 8.
The Lookouts will now open their season Wednesday night, with Tuesday's game being made up as part of two seven-inning games Thursday, with the first of those beginning at 5:15.
Although there was never the awaited first pitch from flame-throwing Hunter Greene, there were the familiar sights and sounds that AT&T has provided for the past two decades. For starters, there was Wanda Goins just inside the front gates exclaiming, "Scan your program right here!"
There were hot dogs and drinks being purchased at a rapid rate, and there was also the joy of minor league players seeing fans in the stands after last summer yielded either camps or opportunities at the alternate sites of the big-league clubs.
"It was definitely different," Lookouts starting pitcher and Reds top organizational prospect Nick Lodolo said. "We were playing ourselves every single day. We didn't even have enough guys at times to field two teams, and it was just a matter of trying to get in as much work as you could instead of sitting at home and doing nothing."
Wednesday's forecast for Chattanooga's readjusted opener and the first game in Trash Pandas history calls for sunny skies and 70-degree temperatures. And what's an extra day when you've waited 617?
"This has all kind of become what the new normal feels like, especially after last year," Lodolo said. "The biggest thing for us is getting tested and wearing masks, even when we're around each other in the weight room and places like that. It's not extreme stuff, but we're definitely in a different place."
Said Mozingo: "It's just nice to feel like we're turning the corner a little bit."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.