Engel Turns 80

Chattanooga Times Free Press
April 16, 2010
by Jay Gressen

The famous names who played at Engel Stadium are easily recoginized.

Ruth and Gerhig, Killebrew and Mays -- one-name icons that are just as identifiable by ardent fans and those who don't know a pop-up from a Pop Tart.

Thursday night, as Engel celebrated its 80th birthday, the names on the field were less famous, but baseball returned to the familiar venue on the corner of 3rd and O'Neal in Chattanooga.

Andrew Williams Jr. of Summerville, Ga., was not among the fans who watched exhibition mini-games involving Chattanooga's National Adult Baseball Association league Thursday, but the 86-year-old was at the stadium's opening game on April 15, 1930.

"I was there for that first game -- the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Atlanta Crackers in front of 16,000 people," Williams said. "I have no idea how much the ticket cost, but I know the Lookouts won and I was there to see it."

His recollection of the first game is cloudy -- "You could buy a Coke for a nickel, but I think they were a dime at the ballpark" -- but his memories of days spent at Engel are as real and eye-watering fresh as pollen.

He was there when female pitcher Jackie Mitchell made history by striking out Bade Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He was there when Harmon Killebrew hit mammoth home runs. And, boy, was he there when the Lookouts won their first pennant, claiming the 1932 Southern Association title.

"I went to every game in 1932. Every game," said Williams, who rattled off the names of the pitchers like they were presidents and the regulars like they were relatives. "They played day games because they didn't have lights, and either my dad or my uncle took us from Trion to every home game."

Other than his time in the Army during World War II, Williams was a regular, just one of the millions and millions of fans who have watched baseball at Engel.

Thursday night was as much birthday party as baseball playing. There were speeches and efforts to raise awareness about the efforts to help save the stadium.

"Basically it's a celebration of the anniversary of Engel," said Jeff Santaite, president of the local NABA league and a volunteer member of the Engel Foundation. "It's a little public awareness of what's going on there with the NABA and the Engel Foundation, and looking to basically get Engel put back together again. Things are happening and the stadium has a future again."

That future remains uncertain.

The Engel Foundation, director Janna Jahn has said, is attempting to raise $150,000 to make renovations and repairs to the aged facility. The group is hoping to attract various levels of amateur baseball from youth leagues up to high school and area colleges to Engel.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which was deeded the property by the city in 2004, is trying to complete a six-year quest to gain complete control of the 28-acre tract of land for a number of possible additional projects that range from parking lots to a concert venue to a track and field facility.

Thursday, as the stadium became an octogenarian, there was baseball on the grass. Today, there are few solid answers about Engel's future -- only strong memories of its past.

"I don't have a ticket stub or anything like that," Williams said of that first game 80 years and a day ago, "I just have my memories.

"And that's enough for me."

Article courtesy of Chattanooga Times Free Press: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2010/apr/16/engel-turns-80/

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