CHATTANOOGA -- Spend a few hours here, and a fella from Knox Vegas can't help but ask, "What if?"
AT&T Field is nudged comfortably into downtown, as all ballparks should be, just a stone's throw from three hotels and up the hill from that cool aquarium. It's within walking distance of several restaurants. You can get to and from the interstate with ease. People are actually walking around downtown on a Monday night.
Ahh, our neighbor to the south has one-upped us.
We arrived at the ballpark an hour or so before first pitch. I walked into the gift shop and secured a Lookouts hat that I'd wanted for several years. Then I walked around the concourse for a few minutes before stopping to flirt with the girl working the Yuengling table.
Our seats are on the first row, literally behind home plate. I chew on my burger, fill out my scorecard and again ask myself, "What if?"
"Man, if the Smokies played in a park like this downtown, I'd be there every night during the season."
But, they play in Kodak, another county away, and gas is four bucks a gallon. Sigh.
Chattanooga jumps out to a 4-0 lead in the second over the visiting West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. Looks like a blowout's brewin', but Jaxx starter Travis Chick settles in and doesn't allow another run during the five other innings he works. The Lookouts, in fact, fail to score again.
But the Jaxx whittle away, taking advantage of those dreaded late-innings walks. Their cleanup hitter, right fielder Mike Wilson, sends a shot out to left-center in the fourth, providing the offensive highlight of the game.
The Lookouts have to send five pitchers to the mound, but they stave off the comeback, and Derrik Lutz wiggles out of a jam in the 9th to win 4-3.
We walk into a picture-perfect summer night amid happy partisans. Several hop on a trolley waiting at the bottom of the hill. Others head toward one of the hotels.
I walk in the direction of the parking lot across from the aquarium and curse Victor Ashe for the 100th time for letting my team escape to Sevier County.