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Engel Stadium

From BR Bullpen

BUILT: 1930

CAPACITY: 10,000 (1930); 7,500 (1999)

Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, TN, was the home of Chattanooga affiliated baseball from 1930 through 1999. After that, the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League began playing in a new downtown ballpark.

It also hosted Negro Leagues baseball in at least the 1920s and 1940s.

Engel joined the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 and now belongs to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga - which, ironically, has no varsity baseball.

The park was named after Lookouts owner Joe Engel. It featured a unique centerfield: Its distance was a vast 471 feet, and a five-foot incline with sharp sides lay in front of it.

Engel hosted various Lookout teams for 60 summers and pinch-hit for Brooklyn's Ebbets Field in the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 (2013). It was also the ballpark where Satchel Paige and Willie Mays played their first professional games.

Paige delivered his first pro pitch here in 1926. He played that season and some of 1927 for the Chattanooga Choo-Choos before jumping to the Birmingham Black Barons. Paige's pitches moved in ways many observers found unreal, and he delivered them in Negro and Major League seasons through 1953, plus a three-inning shutout comeback in 1965. No less a baseball mind than Bill Veeck's perceived Paige as the greatest pitcher ever.

Mays played his first professional games here in 1946. Some sources including The Engel Foundation say he also played there in 1945. These usually quote a man who claimed to have discovered Willie, but neither his discovery story nor pre-1946 play jive with the definitive biography Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, an authorized tome that included Willie's direct participation and interviews.

Built to hold 12,000, Engel reported 26,639 during a 1936 house raffle. Many sources say the winning ticket went unredeemed, but Stephen Martini's The Chattanooga Lookouts & 100 Seasons of Scenic City Baseball - which is cited in the National Register paperwork[1] - says 26-year-old Charlie Mills won. Mills lived in Georgia, worked in Chattanooga, and according to the book was quoted in the Chattanooga Free Press the next day. The book goes on to say "[Joe] Engel congratulated the boy, saying he'd won a fine new house for his wife and family. When Mills replied that he wasn't married, Engel laughingly replied, 'Son, you'll have ten thousand girls waiting just outside and you can pick your bride.'"[2]

Even more famously, 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back here in 1931; history has not decided whether that was on her talent or their deference.

A previous ballpark, Andrews Field, opened on the same site in 1911.