Angeline Lassiter is familiar with “baseball vacations.” The Rossville, Ga., resident said she is passionate about the game and routinely travels to see her favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, during spring training or playing at historic Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.
This year, Lassiter’s baseball vacation is taking her to Birmingham, Macon and, this week, Chattanooga as she participates in the making of “42”-Harrison Ford’s new movie about baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s 1947 rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers-which began shooting at Engel Stadium on Monday morning.
Lassiter is one of approximately 700 extras who showed up for work today at Engel, some paid and some, like Lassiter, “promotional”-or unpaid, according to unit publicist Ernie Malik.
According to Malik, the film will be finished early next year and released during the start of the 2013 Major League baseball season and in time to commemorate the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, which is the date of his first game as a Brooklyn Dodger.
Much of the entire film’s baseball action will be shot at Engel Stadium, which will also double for Brooklyn’s Ebbetts Field. Cast and crew will be in the Scenic City until June 6, but they won’t see much more than the stadium.
Malik said there is an additional scene to be shot at a train station and some “covered sets” where scenes can be shot indoors in the case of rain.
“We’re here for 12 days. Eleven of those days are in this ballpark. So, we’re primarily here to play baseball,” he said.
Two rain delays on the field Monday prevented a full day of shooting at the stadium, but crews were able to spend most of Monday morning shooting scenes depicting a game with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. Before the rain returned in the afternoon, shooting had begun on additional scenes depicting another game with the Dodgers at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Enormous green screens have been constructed surrounding the outfield at Engel so that computer-generated graphics can be imposed during the editing process in the areas where the green appears to create backgrounds and skylines that would be found in those cities.
Other changes to the location include a slightly reconfigured angle of the entire playing field and additional seating installed to the far left and far right of home plate. The old dugout was removed in order to make room for the “set seating” to help the site also look like other locations.
The film’s biggest star was not in the stands nor on the field on Monday, according to Malik, who said Harrison Ford, who plays the innovative Dodgers manager Branch Rickey, was still in New Orleans filming another movie.
Members of the cast who are now in Chattanooga include Chadwick Boseman (“The Express”), who is playing Jackie Robinson; Lucas Black (“Sling Blade,” “Friday Night Lights”), playing Pee Wee Reese, a fellow hall-of-famer and supporter of Robinson’s inclusion in the game; and Hamish Linklater (“New Adventures of Old Christine”), who is playing pitcher Ralph Branca. Nicole Beharie (“Shame”) plays Rachel Isum, who becomes Robinson’s wife, and she is also in Chattanooga this week, though not working on Monday, according to Malik.
Historic Engel Stadium’s new future
Although the renovation of the stadium is now more than a year ahead of schedule thanks to the film, the green walls and additional seats will all be removed when the crews leave, according to Janna Jahn, chairman of the Engel Foundation.
Joe Engel became known as one of the most eccentric promoters in baseball history. He came to Chattanooga in 1929 and took over managing the Chattanooga Lookouts. One of the first things he did after arriving was construct one of the Minor Leagues’ finest stadiums, which he then named for himself. Engel remained with the Lookouts for 34 years.
“We agreed with the state historical commission to say, ‘Well, we want Engel to still be Engel when this is done.’ We want to maintain the historical integrity of the ballpark,” Jahn said.
Improvements that will remain and accelerate future use of the facility include a new playing field, new roof, plumbing and electrical work, and fresh coats of paint.
Jahn said a study to examine the best ideas of how to make the location into a community venue will be started this year.
“How can Engel become an anchor for the future of this whole area? UTC is growing, Erlanger is growing and we need to preserve the stadium; we need to preserve Fort Wood. So how does all that fit together?” she said.
Ideas in some of the early visioning meetings include everything from developing a brew pub sports bar in the location to creating a Minor League baseball museum that tributes the stadium’s namesake, Joe Engel, and his deep legacy and contributions to the game.