Regardless of what happens in the weeks and months ahead at AT&T Field, Pat Kelly will remain the only manager in Chattanooga Lookouts history who had to prepare for Michael Jordan and the chaos that accompanied it.
The 63-year-old Kelly is returning to guide the same Class AA franchise he managed during the 1993-94 seasons, when the Lookouts still had several seasons left at historic Engel Stadium. Jordan and the Birmingham Barons visited in 1994.
Five questions for new Lookouts manager Pat Kelly:
Q: Who’s the greatest talent you’ve seen during all your years managing in the minors?
A: “Vladimir Guerrero.”
Q: How accurate is “Bull Durham?”
A: “Extremely accurate. I played in Durham, but Susan Sarandon wasn’t there.”
Q: Who was your favorite team as a child?
A: “The Dodgers.”
Q: How many Topps baseball cards of Pat Kelly do you have?
A: “About 10 or 12.”
Q: Who has the greatest managerial meltdown of all-time?
A: “Phillip Wellman, because of his accuracy with the rosin bag.”
"That was such an amazing year," Kelly said. "It made the Southern League so exciting to outside people. We had opened up that season in Birmingham, so that was crazy down there, and when they came to our place, we were sold out every game. The biggest thing I remember is that my youngest son, Casey, was 4 or 5 years old, and our players would send him over to get Michael's autograph, because he was never going to turn down a little kid.
"This little 5-year-old kept running through the outfield with a baseball or a glove to get signed by Michael Jordan."
Little Casey eventually became a first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2008, received a $3 million signing bonus and has pitched in parts of four seasons in the major leagues, including with Atlanta in 2016 and San Francisco last year.
Asked if he has received the same financial enhancements as his son and other big-league players compared to a generation ago, Kelly replied, "Not exactly."
Having spent nearly 30 years as a manager in the minors, Kelly has made just as many off-the-field adjustments as he has double switches. The biggest area of his evolving has occurred with the players themselves.
"It's just a different generation," he said. "We can call them millennials or whatever we want, but you're just developing different relationships. Back in the day, you were the authority figure, and whenever you said something, everybody jumped. Now you have to explain why they have to jump.
"It's been a great learning experience for me having my kids (older son Chris pitched for the Southern League's Carolina Mudcats in 2009) grow up at the same time as the players who I'm managing now."
Kelly had a three-week stint as a Toronto Blue Jays catcher in 1980 and will be aided this year by three former big-league veterans — pitching coach Danny Darwin, hitting coach Daryle Ward and bench coach Darren Bragg. The Lookouts, who are Double-A affiliates of the Cincinnati Reds this year for the first time since their 21-season partnership from 1988 to 2008, open their 140-game schedule next Thursday by hosting Montgomery.
Two recent first-round picks of the Reds, outfielder Taylor Trammell (2016) and catcher Tyler Stephenson (2015), could be on Chattanooga's opening-day roster.
Kelly is no stranger to Chattanooga's revitalized downtown compared to a generation ago, having guided the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to a 2017 Southern League co-championship that they shared with the Lookouts. That was the third straight year Kelly managed Pensacola to the playoffs, but he has yet to receive the chance to lead a big-league club, which was an opportunity afforded to former Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker, who Thursday will begin his third full season in Atlanta.
"I root for Snitker all the time," said Kelly, who did spend some of last season as Cincinnati's bench coach. "We were together in the Braves organization when he first started coaching and I was still playing. We've known each other for such a long time, and I root for guys like him. I root for (Toronto first-year manager) Charlie Montoyo.
"I would love to get that opportunity, but I'm also realistic enough to know at my age it's probably not going to happen, but I enjoy what I do. It beats working for a living."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.