Nothing minor: second stop, Chattanooga (AA baseball)
Like a number of cities in the Southeast, there's a rebirth when it comes to investment in downtown and the interlocking areas. It's more than just named after a song (Chattanooga Choo-Choo) as well as more than just the home of the Tennessee Aquarium (which is still a key spot despite the presence of the Georgia Aquarium).
It's a quiet hotbed for some great minor league action.
The AA Chattanooga Lookouts are part of the Cincinnati Reds system, and they are just a step below AAA (which is a step below major league baseball). It's more than just a "middle of the road" stop for professionals as there are times players at this level excel to where they are called up to the Major Leagues and bypass AAA.
Yes, the level of play is this good and accessible.
And yes, you can connect with highly regarded players and prospects before they get the proverbial "cup of coffee" (another way of saying they are in the big leagues).
June 29, 2019: Tennessee Smokies vs Chattanooga Lookouts (Pre-game):
My pre-game interview with outfielder Taylor Trammell and catcher Tyler Stephenson truly captures the spirit, focus, and energy that you get to see at this or any level. Both are not only from Metro-Atlanta, but literally grew up together playing on some of the same teams, and now, both are not only key players for the team (which at game-time are a game out of first place), but highly touted (both the top and 5th rated) prospects in the Reds' system.
When asked about a key area of focus which allows for individual and team growth, Trammell (who is voted as a Southern League all-star) notes, "Taking no days off, and working on something new allows you to grow. Having a consistent mindset (allows you to improve your game)".
Stephenson adds, "Staying healthy (as he has injuries in his first two seasons of professional baseball) is equally important. It's a long year and a lot of games; building relationships and having fun every day (is just as important)".
Individual and collective progress is the mindset they (and others) have as they continue with their season and hopeful winning the Southern League Championship and beyond.
(View the full pre-game interview below):
June 29, 2019: Tennessee Smokies vs Chattanooga Lookouts (In-game)
On Superhero night, both starting pitchers Scott Moss (Chattanooga) and Thomas Hatch are coming off two tough starts in a row, so something has to give.
In Moss's case, he gives the Lookouts a solid 5 inning effort, allowing 2 runs on 6 hits, having an excellent strikeout/walk ratio of 4:1 (he finishes with 8 strikeouts and 2 walks), and even helping himself at the plate with a run batted in (going 1 for 2 in the game).
Chattanooga opens the scoring in the 2nd inning thanks to a triple by second baseman Caltan Daal who would score thanks to Moss's RBI single to take a 1-0 lead. RBI doubles by first baseman Mitch Nay (who would go 4 for 5 with 2 RBI's) and Tyler Stephenson (who would finish the game getting 2 hits in 3 at-bats) put pressure on Hatch and the Smokies by extending the lead to 3-0.
An RBI triple by Smokies' shortstop Zack Short (who finishes the game going 2 for 5 with a run batted in) and a sacrifice fly by catcher PJ Higgins (2 for 4 with 2 RBI's) cut the Lookouts' lead to 3-2 going into the bottom of the 5th. However, a 3 run inning keyed by a 2 RBI double by right fielder Ibandel Isabel puts Chattanooga up by a 6-2 margin. A solo homer by Nay (in the bottom of the 7th inning) puts the Lookouts up by a 7-2 margin and solid team relief pitching by Aaron Fossas and Juan Martinez (who would earn his 3rd save) in allowing 2 runs in 4 innings help push the team to an 8-4 win (click HERE for the box-score).
And then, it's getting on the bus to get back at it for their current road trip to Jacksonville.
Nothing minor about a major hidden gem, minor league baseball.
Quick notes: to find out more about the team, including their schedule, promotional nights, and other info, please visit the website for the Chattanooga Lookouts (click HERE to visit their site). Make sure to add them on social media on Facebook (Chattanooga Lookouts), Twitter (@ChattLookouts), and Instagram (@chattlookouts) for breaking news and updates.
Photo credits: EmoryRose Photography and Andrew Snorton.