Two months from today, the Chattanooga Lookouts will be wrapping up their first homestand of the 2012 season against the Tennessee Smokies.
Carlos Subero is returning as Chattanooga's manager with Chuck Crim and Franklin Stubbs back as his coaches, but there is a sizable unknown with spring on the not-too-distant horizon. The storied Class AA franchise remains up for sale, with owner Frank Burke devoting his time to that process.
Burke stepped away from the daily operations of the club last September, a month after Rich Mozingo returned to the organization for a second stint as general manager.
"When we're talking about the staff here, there is absolutely zero we can do to affect any of what's happening with the sale," Mozingo said. "I have got to assume that on Sept. 15 of this year that Frank Burke still owns this baseball team, and that's the only way we have gone about this since minute number one. We're spending his money and we're making money for him, and everything we're doing is focused on that right now.
"If something changes it changes, but all we can focus on is exactly what we have in front of us, and that's to put on the best 2012 season we can."
Burke continues to provide no specifics about any potential transaction. What is certain is how different these days have been for Burke, who has owned the team since 1995.
"It's unbelievably strange," he said. "It was strange to miss the winter meetings, and it's strange to not be planning a trip to spring training. Most of my adult life has been spent doing stuff like that."
The Lookouts are entering their fourth season as Double-A affiliates of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that partnership runs through the 2014 season.
Mozingo said the Lookouts are ahead of last year in terms of season tickets, group and picnic sales, and advertising. There are new ticket packages this year, as 7-, 14- and 21-game books are available so fans can choose the days or nights of their choice at AT&T Field.
"If you're going to spend 70 nights at the ballpark, I love you and I wish there were more of you, but that's an awful lot of time to spend out here," Mozingo said. "If you want to come out and think that 20 games is perfect, then I'm going to sell you a 21-game package. The beautiful thing is that you can come here right now and pick out the seat you want for every single game you want to attend, and it's a discounted price from a normal ticket.
"You could buy our fireworks package if you want, or you could buy our entertainment package if you want. It is a really big deal, and we're doing the same thing in the luxury suites."
The Lookouts also have made their "Little Debbie Kids' Club" free, so any child 12-under can register free for membership and then attend every Sunday afternoon home game at no charge by presenting his or her membership card. There is a Kids' Club picnic session and autograph session scheduled for late in the season.
Chattanooga went 77-62 last year and reached the Southern League playoffs for the first time since 2006, but the Lookouts were swept in three games by Tennessee.
The Lookouts could open this season with starting pitchers Allen Webster and Chris Withrow, two of the top seven organizational prospects according to Baseball America. Chattanooga led the league in team earned run average and slugging percentage last season, but the Lookouts may not have the same firepower at the plate.
Outfielders Scott Van Slyke and Alfredo Silverio likely will move on to Triple-A Albuquerque after hitting .348 and 306, respectively, a year ago.
Burke believes Mozingo is doing an excellent job and a lot of nice things are in store for this season. Mozingo started working for the Lookouts a year before Burke became owner, and his first stint as GM was from 1999 to 2002.
Arriving at the ballpark this time of year and not seeing Burke has been strange for Mozingo as well.
"That part stinks, because Frank is my buddy," Mozingo said. "I can't go anywhere and somebody not ask me about Frank, and that's how it should be. I think it's exactly how it should be, because they all want to know how Frank is doing, but it is absolutely weird."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...