Another chapter in Chattanooga’s comeback story

Chattanooga Times Free Press
April 3, 2010
by David Magee

The fact that a 17-year-old female pitcher once struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in a legendary exhibition baseball game in the stadium is only the icing on the cake.

Even without that 1931 theatrical minor league promotion, saving Chattanooga's Engel Stadium should not even be a discussion. More than 80 years of irreplaceable community history, memories, contests and architectural presence along Third Street make the case abundantly clear.

We can't let Engel wither away.

Yet in a city known for creatively bringing the past into the future -- imagine, for instance, if the Walnut Street Bridge had been torn down when it no longer served as a viable passageway for vehicles -- the vital structure is perilously close to an end.

With each passing year since 1999 -- the year Chattanooga's minor league Lookouts franchise moved to a new stadium -- the aged and all-but-abandoned structure has fallen further into decline to the point that there's little time left to save it. Using baseball as an illustration, that means the stadium's future has reached the bottom of the ninth inning, down five runs with two outs and two strikes on the batter.

Nobody wants to see it go, of course. Like Engel, this city has been on a rallying mission of its own, building upon the best of yesterday for a better tomorrow. But gathering funding in this era for a stadium that appears to have little use is a big challenge. That $2 million renovation Engel got in 1989 is so unnoticeable now it looks like it hasn't been touched since that 1931 game.

The city does not need a professional baseball stadium or even an amateur baseball stadium that seats more than 5,000, since Lookouts owner Frank Burke runs a fine facility downtown. But the city does need more outdoor public gathering places rooted in the past and aligned to the future.

Imagining thousands crossing the Walnut Street Bridge on foot each week might have been difficult 20 years ago, just as trying to picture thousands gathered in a renovated Engel Stadium for community or educational rallies or events might be difficult now. History, though, suggests that vision easily could become reality if the right people and resources come together.

If that happens before it's too late, Engel's revival undoubtedly will become another important part of Chattanooga's continuing comeback story.

Article courtesy of Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Engel Foundation in the News
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