Results tagged ‘ Chattanooga ’

On the Road: A Lonely Weekday Matinee in Chattanooga

I have now visited AT&T Field, home of the Chattanooga Lookouts, on two occasions. On neither of those occasions did I see an actual Southern League baseball game. The first such occasion was in 2010, as a torrential downpour began just before game time and resulted in a rainout. I was still at the ballpark long enough to get a blog post out of it, which you can peruse HERE.

I visited AT&T Field again earlier this month, and this time there wasn’t even a hint of a game. The Lookouts had completed a homestand the day before, but — hey! — when in Rome. Why not stop in and say hello?

AT&T Field, which opened in 2000, is located in downtown Chattanooga. I parked my rented Volkswagen Bug on Chestnut Street, safeguarded all valuables, exited the car, began walking, and, soon enough, made a quick left on “Power Alley.” (This is a common feature of modern day Minor League ballparks, in that they are located on streets that have been re-christened with a baseball-themed name. This can wreak havoc if you are getting to the ballpark via GPS, which may not have been programmed to recognize “Home Run Drive” or “Fastboulevard” or “Respect the Game Lane” or what have you.)

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Located on an incline, AT&T Field is the only Minor League ballpark (that I am aware of) which has its own outdoor escalator.

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Fans disinclined to walk on an incline can also opt to take the team trolley, which runs from various downtown parking lots.

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Somewhat mysteriously, this trolley was idling in the parking lot unattended with its doors open. While I did not commandeer it for my own usage, I did hop aboard and take this world-exclusive picture of the interior.

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Also in the parking lot was this vintage vehicle, although I’m not sure if it’s in working condition.

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As for the stadium itself, it’s a solid if unspectacular turn-of-the-century model. It’s efficient, reliable, and looks pretty good, but if it was hanging out with other Minor League ballparks at a Minor League ballpark social function it would blend in with the crowd pretty easily.

004Once inside the ballpark, I met up with Dan Kopf (media relations manager) and Alex Tainsh (corporate sales). They insisted on being referred to as “esteemed tour guides.” Kopf is the guy on the right and, for the record, “Kopf and Tainsh” would be a good name for a basic cable show about crusading maverick lawyers.

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It was a pretty sleepy afternoon at the ballpark, given that the Lookouts had concluded a homestand the day before. I was poking around for something to write about (as in, for an MiLB.com article), but that’s tough to do when very few people are around and not much is going on. However! My esteemed tour guides said that, should I ever actually do my job properly and see an actual Lookouts game, Wanda Goins would be a good person to write about.

Wanda is a veteran program vendor, so well known that on the rare occasions in which she cannot attend the team plays a recording of her. And, like any Minor League celebrity worth her salt, she has been the recipient of her own bobblehead. (Which reminds me, when am I going to be honored with my own bobblehead?)

Anyhow, if you want a Wanda Goins bobblehead (and cd!), it can be currently be had for the (not-so-low) price of $75 on eBay. 

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But Wanda was nowhere to be seen on this weekday afternoon, and neither was anyone else.

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As you’ll see in the picture below, AT&T Field lacks an open concourse. For all I know, it may have been the last Minor League stadium to have been built without this feature (prove me wrong, readers. You always do.) In looking around for more info, I came across this Ballpark Digest tidbit about how the stadium was funded:

Frank Burke bought the Lookouts in the mid nineties but felt the team had to have a new stadium to stay in Chattanooga. In the fall of 1998, Burke announced that he and his ownership group would build a privately funded ballpark if the team could sell 1,800 season tickets. The 1800th ticket was sold on January 28, and construction of the park started in late March 1999. The Lookouts ended up selling over 2,200 season tickets.

Is that the only MiLB stadium to have been funded in such a manner? The only other completely privately-funded stadium I can think of, at least within the past two decades, is the West Michigan Whitecaps’ home of Fifth Third Ballpark. (Note: I have since been informed that the Lexington Legends privately funded their ballpark in 2001.)

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Some post-homestand turf maintenance had resulted in a pleasingly thick blanket of grass on the warning track.

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My esteemed tour guides told me that there used to be a cannon positioned in the outfield, which would make loud exploding noises after home runs. However, the shells for this cannon are no longer commercially available. (I blame Obama.) There is a home run choo-choo train, however.

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It hasn’t happened yet, but any Lookout batsman with the wherewithal to blast a ball through the crook of this angled dirt-scoop receives  a cool $500.

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My esteemed tour guides told me that this block of outfield seats did not have a name. I was surprised they weren’t called “The Lookout Seats” or “Lookout Landing” or something like that.

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There is a “Lasorda’s Landing,” however. Tommy doesn’t have any deep personal connections to Chattanooga, but the Lookouts are a Dodgers affiliate so there you go.

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And, well, that’s all I’ve got. Upon bidding adieu to my esteemed tour guides I trekked back down the hill to Chestnut Street, and noticed that there is a movie theater right there on the corner. Minor League Baseball teams are in a mortal war with movie theaters! Both want to procure as large a portion of your “family-friendly entertainment” expenditures as possible, and there’s only so much to go around.

IMG_1489I have now written two posts about this latest (and therefore greatest) road trip, and neither have taken place during an actual game. Third time’s the charm?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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

Swept Up in the Latest News

tidal.jpgI’m always happier, both in blogging and in life, when there’s something important to focus on. Something big, with a sense of momentum that can carry me right along with it.

But usually it ain’t like that. One simply has to make do with what’s available, imbuing it with enough meaning to make it seem worthwhile.

So welcome to today’s blog post, a full-to-bursting bouillabaisse of imminently worthwhile and meaningful material!

I’ll start with what you surely all came here for: video of anthropomorphic sushi engaged in a high-stakes battle royale amidst a sprawling winter wonderland.

Which of the Vancouver Canadians racing mascots will prevail? Only those who have watched this video know for sure!
 

But perhaps you prefer your Minor League mascots in cameo, as opposed to vegetable, rolls? If so, then watch on. You might be surprised at who turns up, as he’s a most elusive character. He’s also a vegetable. 

And, of course, hardly a day goes by when there is not a new logo to share. I’m particularly pleased to share this, the official mark of Chattanooga’s Engel Foundation:

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As you’ll no doubt recall, this is the group that is seeking to restore the iconic Southern Association facility (which played host to a veritable cavalcade of baseball greats). I wrote an article and blog about the efforts during my trip to Chattanooga last season; read all about it HERE and HERE.

Oh, so it’s more logos you want? Then more logos I have. The three images seen below were designed by the ubiquitous Plan B Branding, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Boise Hawks. Fans can vote for their favorites at the team’s web page, but as of now that image in the middle possesses a formidable lead.

Clearly, the Hawks’ are a talon-ted squad!
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Like a recently-robbed scooter store, I’m all out of segues. So let’s just keep moving…

For those who may not have seen it via Facebook, Twitter, or scrolling CNN news story, there is currently a piece on MiLB.com about Marty Dobrow’s book “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.” Check it out HERE, or just look at the cover here:

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Finally, it is worth noting that the Baseball Winter Meetings are less than a week away. Therefore, I have two questions for you:

– Will you be there?
– Regardless, what sort of articles/blog posts would most interest you?

Feedback, please. I know you’re out there.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

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