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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / Big crowds are commonplace at Chattanooga Lookouts games during the first two months of a season, but they tend to dwindle in the summer heat due to a lack of shading at AT&T Field.

Major League Baseball has a best-case scenario of starting its 2020 season during the latter half of May as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

For the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Class AA affiliates of the Cincinnati Reds, the latter half of May represents the conclusion of their most productive stretch from an attendance standpoint. Fans traditionally flock to AT&T Field within the first several weeks of a season before tapering off in June, July, August and early September, when the scorching summer heat and the lack of shade at the 6,340-seat facility result in sparser settings.

"It will be interesting," Lookouts president Rich Mozingo said this week. "We've had great success in April and May, but if your options are later in the year, it will be interesting to see if Chattanooga becomes more interested in the later months. Maybe we'll be able to drive the bus a little more during the latter part of the year."

Chattanooga was named the Southern League organization of the year and Mozingo the league executive of the year after a 2019 season in which the Lookouts drew 228,662 spectators to AT&T. A whopping 46.6% of that total, or 106,594 fans, attended games before Memorial Day.

The early-season figure has been on the rise in recent years, with 43.6% of Chattanooga's total home attendance in 2017 having come from April and May games. That clip grew to 45.9% in 2018.

MLB sent out a statement Monday announcing that it is respecting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommending the restriction of all gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. The statement mentioned that MLB is "committed to playing as many games as possible when the season begins," but the Lookouts could be looking at an early June start.

Which still may be on the optimistic side.

"If you're doing the quick math, you would have to think that might make sense," Mozingo said. "Maybe they have a plan to be back playing sooner, but that's not the way the statement read to me. They're not talking about playing baseball again on May 18th. They're talking about reconvening."

Not long after the Lookouts and Mozingo were recognized last year by the Southern League, the team was listed among 42 minor league franchises facing potential contraction after the 2020 season. Mozingo said there hasn't been much to update on that front given this coronavirus landscape.

"We've had no conversation at all about contraction lately," Mozingo said. "Major League Baseball is taking 60 days off, so what's going to happen anywhere?"

The Lookouts were scheduled to start their Southern League season April 9 against the visiting Jackson Generals. They had three five-game series at AT&T Field scheduled for April and two in May, and there were six postgame fireworks displays set for the first two months of the season.

Those opportunities could all be lost at this point, but Mozingo does not expect significant turnover in AT&T Field personnel between now and the start of the season, whenever that may be.

"We've had that conversation a couple of times here," he said. "The vast majority of people who work for us are people who want to be out at a ballpark and want to be involved in our community. They're really not people who are looking to make that next paycheck to make it through the summer. We're working really odd hours and working really sporadic hours.

"There are jobs out there for people trying to make a living, but most of our people just want to be out of the house. They want to get paid a little bit for what they do, but this is really not a money-making venture for the vast majority of people who work for us."

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

 

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