Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Cory Gearrin (62) throws during a spring training baseball game against the New York Mets on March 5, 2011 in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Atlanta Braves reliever and Rhea County native Cory Gearrin studied the infield at the McCallie School baseball complex Sunday afternoon.
The sun was beginning to set, the time having passed 5 p.m. on the Legends of the Game Baseball Clinic that was supposed to have ended more than an hour earlier.
Yet more than 75 youngsters of the 325 that attended the clinic run each year by Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe native Rick Honeycutt were still hanging around, hoping for one last tip from a star-studded cast.
“Every kid seemed like they wanted to spend more time out there,” said Gearrin, who made the Braves’ 25-man playoff roster earlier this month.
“Whether they were 8 or 14, they were excited to be out there. That’s really good to see. That’s good for the future of baseball in our city.”
The Engel Foundation — which hopes to preserve Chattanooga’s rich baseball past by renovating Engel Stadium — helped sponsor the free clinic, which pulls many of the participants from YMCA programs and the Chattanooga Recreation Department.
“I learned to pitch and work on my footwork,” said Andreas Yearby, who plays the infield at Brown Middle School. “It was great.”
“I learned a better way to catch the ball,” said Reginald Wadley, a third grader who plays catcher for Lakeside Academy. “And I learned to keep my elbow up when I’m batting.”
Showing off his new pitching motion, Signal Mountain sixth grader Jarren Radden said, “I learned how to throw a fastball.”
And in what could only be good news for Honeycutt’s employer, two of the three listed the Dodgers, not the Braves, as their new favorite major league team as they headed off to gobble down the hotdogs that closed down the clinic.
“We used to have it at Engel,” said Honeycutt. “But McCallie has an artificial turf infield and a batting cage with a roof on it, so it was a better situation if we got some bad weather. And I think the crowd was probably twice as big as last year. So I hope we can do it here again.”
It was certainly a team effort. The Tennessee Temple University baseball team worked the event, as did McCallie’s team, Philadelphia Phillies roving instructor and former Lookouts manager and player Sal Rende, Gearrin and a host of other baseball lifers.
Nor is Honeycutt finished making life better around here this month. His charity golf tournament at Battlefield Golf and Country Club on Tuesday will feature such celebrities as Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez and former Atlanta Falcons kicker Morten Andersen. A few slots remain and anyone interested can phone 423-802-4085.
Still, after a successful Knothole Gang reunion at Engel last week and the Foundation helping sponsor the clinic, Gearrin, Honeycutt and Rende couldn’t help but reminisce about the 82-year-old stadium.
“I played there in high school,” Gearrin said. “I’ll always remember how it sounded pitching in that stadium.”
Added Honeycutt: “My senior year [at Lakeview] we won the state championship at Engel. Obviously the film [“42”] has sparked a lot of interest. I’m excited to see what they can do with it.”
Then there’s Rende played for the Lookouts from 1978 to 1982, managing the team in 1987.
“Saving Engel is great for the city, great for baseball,” he said. “It’s one of the few ballparks from that era still standing anywhere. Some of my fondest memories are looking up and seeing maybe 50 people in the stands — a lot of the same people on a nightly basis — and you’d go to the mound to talk to the pitcher and half of them would chant, ‘Take him out,’ and the other half would chant, ‘Leave him in.’ Those were great times.”
Now Honeycutt, Rende, Gearrin and their friends are determined to help this city’s youth make their own great baseball moments.
“I was in Arizona in training camp when Rick had the camp last year,” Gearrin said. “I wanted to make sure I could be a part of it this time. We all want to grow baseball in Chattanooga.”
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...