On the Road: Re-visiting a Classic in Chattanooga

Did you know? Each one of my road trip blog posts has an accompanying MiLB.com article. Click HERE to read my piece on Chattanooga’s Engel Stadium, containing information NOT included in this blog post.  

My latest (and therefore greatest) Minor League ballpark road trip kicked off in Chattanooga, home of the Lookouts. I did not see a Lookouts game, however, as they played an 11:05 contest on the day that I arrived and I was unable to make it to the ballpark on time. (My fault, as I had not noticed that anomalous game time when I booked my flight.) However, all was not lost. Far from it.

For being in Chattanooga means being able to visit Engel Stadium, which served as the home of the Lookouts from 1930-98. In the decade following the team’s departure — they now play at AT&T Park in downtown Chattanooga — Engel Stadium fell into a state of extreme disrepair. In 2009 a concerned group of community activists formed the Engel Foundation, with the quixotically noble goal of restoring this classic facility to its former glory.

I first visited Engel Stadium in 2010, where I got to know Foundation president Janna Jahn and her ragtag group of supporters. I then wrote about Engel again in 2013, after the stadium stood in for Ebbets Field in the Jackie Robinson bio-pic 42. And now, here I am writing about Engel again.

I drove to the stadium immediately after arriving in Chattanooga, marking my first excursion in the black Volkswagen Beetle that was assigned to me by fine folks at Avis. Jahn was already at the stadium waiting for me, and for the next hour or so we ambled through this historic facility as I got up to speed on the latest news.

From the outside of Engel Stadium, it’s hard to get a sense of the beauty that lurks therein.

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But once you step inside, it’s a different story.

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My MiLB.com piece detailed the specifics of the recent improvements to Engel, but what it boils down to is this: much has been done, and there is so much more to be done. To name one of many examples: Engel Stadium once had what was billed as “the world’s largest scoreboard,” seen in the photo below, and Jahn said that, long term, the Foundation would love to install a replica.

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But one thing at a time. A more pressing concern at the time that I visited was removing the dead bird from the netting behind home plate.

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A closer view.

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The grandstand looked immaculate, and the press box had recently been restored to its ’30s-era parameters and bestowed with a brand-new instrument.

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The view from the press box.

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This office area, located down the third base line, is now referred to as “The 42 Room.” Some of the film’s locker room scenes were shot here, and it is now filled with production photos and paraphernalia.

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From there, we took a nice stroll across the outfield.

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I took this photo using the MiLB Instagram account. It was the first Instagram photo I ever took, and also the first time I used a filter of any kind.

Hey, man. Nice shot! 

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That Filter reference I just made was exquisite

Engel Stadium received a laser-graded infield, courtesy of the 42 production team. The outfield remains the same as it ever was.

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For the filming of 42, the dugouts were modified to resemble those of Ebbets Field. Then, after the filming, they were changed back to their original state (more or less).

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If you’ve never spent time in the bowels of an 80-something-year-old facility…well, this is what it looks like:

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There’s a poignant scene in 42 in which Jackie finally loses his cool, going on a bat-smashing rampage in the tunnel leading onto the field. That tunnel, now inaccessible, was here:

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Which stadium has the worst bathroom facilities? Engel Stadium, or Burlington Athletic Park (home of the Appy League Royals) circa 2011?

Engel:

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Burlington:

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Have you staked out your position in this great American debate, and able to articulate it? Great. Then let’s continue.

A day or two before I visited Engel, the stadium had been vandalized (chalk it up to a security system malfunction).

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It’s hassles like these that really give me a lot of respect for the Engel Foundation volunteers. They have full-time jobs and busy lives but nonetheless must repeatedly drop what they are doing in order to deal with hassles such as the above. As Engels’s 21st-century prominence continues to grow, it is my hope (and, I’m sure, theirs) that sufficient funds will become available to pay for a full-time facilities manager.

The vandalism seemed to be limited to the above graffiti as well as a smattering of smashed fluorescent light bulbs.  I found it interesting, that in the midst of the all this juvenilia, there was what seemed to be a heartfelt nod to Jackie Robinson. Even vandals have respect for one of the all-time greats!

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The damage was cleaned up promptly, as one week after I visited Engel Stadium hosted the Southern League Home Run Derby. This picture is from the Lookouts Facebook photo album.

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But as for me, it was time to depart. Until next time, Engel:

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No filter.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

2 Comments

spent most of my playing career in that majestic old park……such charm and character……the fans were great, not big numbers, but true baseball fans and enjoyed being at the ball game…..didn’t have to be entertained between every half inning….

I met Mr. Engle in mid 50s. My cousin, Eleanor Sandlin, was his secretary. I would stay with my cousins a couple weeks of summer. Spent many days and nights at the stadium. Met Harmon Killebrew when he came in to get his pay. Lots of fun for a 12 year old kid.

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