Engel Stadium Foundation has big plans, but still no lease

July 16, 2011

Leaders of the Engel Stadium Foundation say they have lots of ideas for restoring the historic baseball park, but still no lease.

Executive Director Janna Jahn said at a Choose Chattanooga forum at the Library that UTC cannot grant the lease until it finally gets full title from the state.

UTC is due to take over ownership of the stadium property, and Vice President Richard Brown said recently there is full intention to save the stadium that dates to 1929.

Ms. Jahn said there are plenty of ideas for bringing the famed stadium back to life - including opening it up for use by a number of local baseball teams of all ages, setting up a museum, and holding concerts there.

She said, "We are putting the finishing touches on our business plan. The next six months will be pretty crucial. There are a lot of decisions to make that will determine Engel's fate."

One volunteer said he drove by the stadium recently and "it's in bad shape. The neighborhood's not that good."

Officials this spring said the stadium was so run-down that Tennessee Temple University could no longer play its home games there.

Ms. Jahn said a 2009 engineering study showed the stadium "is structurally sound. But it needs a lot of maintenance."

Ideas include fixing the field and letting Tennessee Temple return along with use by UTC club baseball as well as sponsoring baseball for inner-city kids. There might be an occasional appearance by the modern-day Lookouts.

Ms. Jahn said Kids on the Block recently held a fundraiser there, and she said a baseball memorabilia antiques roadshow is in the works.

She said she receives many calls about the stadium, including recently from a college coach who was driving through and wanted to see the stadium where Ruth and Gehrig played and Jackie Mitchell pitched.

Steve Martini, who wrote a book about Chattanooga baseball, said Engel Stadium is actually more famous elsewhere in the country than it is here.

Ms. Jahn said two books have been written about the girl pitcher Mitchell - by West Coast authors.

Merrill Eckstein, director of Finley Stadium, said Rickwood Stadium in Birmingham is often cited as one of the best of the few remaining old baseball stadiums. But he said Rickwood can't hold a candle to Engel.

Smith Murray told story after story about Joe Engel, the colorful longtime Lookouts owner and about many of the famous players who were here, including Satchel Paige, Willie Mays and Harmon Killebrew.

Article courtesy of Chattanoogan.com: http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_205272.asp

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