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Former Chattanooga Lookouts owner Frank Burke recently purchased a team in the Coastal Plains League, which has a 56-game schedule and features college players.

Frank Burke's time away from baseball was very brief.

Having owned the Chattanooga Lookouts from 1995 until selling the storied Class AA franchise before the start of last season, Burke returned to his favorite sport this week by purchasing the Edenton (N.C.) Steamers of the Coastal Plains League.

The Coastal Plains League consists of college players and has a 56-game schedule that begins in late May and runs through the middle of August.

"It's baseball light, really, and the biggest thing I've got to get used to is the scale," Burke said. "We have two cash registers compared to the 35 or whatever we had at AT&T Field. It's a small town, and it's college baseball. There are only 28 home games.

"It's great, but the scale is very different."

Burke's biggest undertaking with the Lookouts was moving their home from historic Engel Stadium to AT&T Field before the 2000 season, which he did by privately funding the 6,340-seat facility for $10.2 million. With Edenton, he is inheriting Hicks Field, which was built in 1939 and can hold 1,200.

"This is a high school field with wooden grandstands," said Burke, who soon will become an Edenton resident. "It's not really a stadium. We have signs and a concession stand. This is so much more grass roots than minor league baseball, and the biggest challenge right now is making sure there are enough host families for all the players."

Burke started the process of selling the Lookouts due to his family having to settle the estate of his father, Daniel Burke, who died in October 2011.

The transaction was lengthy and anything but smooth. The most notable setback occurred when John Hughes, a businessman from Warner Robins, Ga., signed a purchase agreement in May 2014 only to back out a month later for personal reasons.

John Woods and Jason Freier ultimately bought the Lookouts, but Burke is now in a position to own a team without any strings attached.

"It's a very nice feeling to be back in baseball," Burke said, "and it's especially nice to be doing it on a scale where I don't have to worry about it 24/7 the way I used to. It's not a high-stress thing. It's a little team in a little town, and the town is wild about the team. If I draw 1,000 fans, that's 20 percent of the population here.

"The whole thing was having something to do in a business I love in a nice place. All three of those have been checked off."

There are 16 teams in the Coastal Plains League, with 10 in North Carolina, three in Virginia, two in South Carolina and one in Georgia — the Savannah Bananas. The Cape Cod League is the most prestigious collegiate summer league and gets the top players, with the Coastal Plains League vying with the New England League, the Northwoods League and other leagues for talent.

Burke said Edenton has been paying someone to help recruit players, and he doesn't know if he will continue that or rely on his own relationship with college coaches. Burke's son, Jeff, played at Boston College and now is in the San Francisco Giants organization.

"This first summer, I really need to just learn it," Burke said, "because there is a different way of doing things than minor league baseball."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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