published Thursday, March 31st, 2011

As Engel Stadium ‘strikes out’ ...

It has been many years since Engel Stadium on East Third Street was the fine home of the Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball team. A few old-timers may remember the first game there in 1930.

Now, though, Engel Stadium is being “benched,” and locked, altogether because the aging facility is considered unsafe.

The ballpark was named for Joe Engel, who was a great promoter. He had a knack for attracting opening-day crowds. Remember his “Elephant Hunt,” complete with spear-bearing hunters?

But after the initial hoopla that drew big opening-day crowds, Joe’s Chattanooga Lookouts often quickly faded.

Some of the biggest crowds at Engel Stadium were not attending a baseball game at all. More than 280,000 people showed up in 1953 for a Billy Graham Crusade!

If Lookouts players were really good — and some were — they were quickly sent from the Lookouts to its affiliated big league teams.

Some locals will recall that in 1931, the New York Yankees came to Engel Stadium for a spring exhibition game. For the Lookouts, Joe Engel put in young female pitcher Jackie Mitchell, who lived on East Fourth Street in Glenwood. How did she do? Well, she struck out Yankee stars Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in one game!

There is talk of eventual renovations and repairs to Engel Stadium. But for now, Joe and Jackie, and Engel Stadium, are colorful memories of Chattanooga’s baseball past.

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