Monday, May 21, 2012 - by B.B. Branton
It’s 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday at Engel Stadium where the grass is real, the game is played in the daytime, fans fill the stands and baseball is once again alive and well at the corner of 3rd and O'Neal.
It’s the first day of filming in Chattanooga for the Movie “42” – the life story of hall of fame baseball player Jackie Robinson – and we are taken back to 1947 and are sitting in Crosley Field in Cincinnati. Tomorrow the scene shifts to old Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis and later in the week to Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Shibe Park in Philadelphia and, of course, to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
"This is a major Hollywood movie as we tell the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in the major leagues (in the modern era), as he breaks baseball’s color barrier,” said media relations director Ernie Malik who has also worked on sports movies "We Are Marshall" and Friday Night Lights."
There’s Pee Wee Reese at shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Eddie Stanky at second and the Duke of Flatbush – Duke Snider – roaming centerfield and a rookie – actually the rookie – named Robinson at first base wearing what will become the most famous number in baseball.
Little does the rookie from the Negro Leagues (K.C. Monarchs) understand that one day Major League Baseball will retire his number for every major league team; not just the Dodgers.
“We filmed at Rickwood Field in Birmingham last week and will also film in Macon and Atlanta in coming weeks, but most of our time will be spent here in Chattanooga,” Malik stated.
Robinson withstood the jeers and boos from fans throughout the National League through the support of general manager Branch Ricky, but more visibly and probably more importantly was the friendship and support showed on the field by team captain Reese.
“The Engel Foundation and Tennessee at Chattanooga (which is owner of Engel Stadium) are so excited to have a movie filmed here in town and of course at Engel Stadium,” said Engel Foundation executive director Janna Jahn.
“We feel that a movie of this magnitude will be a great catylist for the foundation, the city and the university as we continue to move forward to bring back baseball in a variety of ways to such a great old minor league part as Engel,” she stated. “To bring Engel Stadium back to life.”
Jahn noted that Warner Brothers Pictures and Legendary Pictures have a lease agreement until early July with a two-month extension option in case additional filming needs to be done.
Fresh Coat of Paint ... And More: When Warner Bros. decided to film the movie at Engel, it accelerated the timeline on much needed improvements to the baseball park built in 1930 including painting of all grandstand seats, a new roof and plumbing and electrical work.
Once the filming is complete and all the necessary movie back drops and cosmetic effects are removed, Engel Stadium is ready to open its doors to the sounds of “Play Ball!
Big Green Monster: For now, the green backdrop outfield wall resembles one giant "Green Monster" (i.e. Boston's Fenway Park) which stretches from foul pole to foul pole.
“The Engel Foundation is pursuing groups who would like to play here including the UTC club baseball team,” she stated. “Hopefully we can have some games here this fall.”
Want to Be in the Movie? The way to register to be an extra in the film ... go to www.beinthemovie42.com
Economic Impact for Chattanooga: Malik noted that 200 cast members and staff are staying in local hotels, eating at local restaurants and shopping at area malls which will have a sizeable economic impact for this city.
The Film: The movie focuses on the baseball season of 1947; Jackie Robinson’s first season with he Brooklyn Dodgers. He played with the Kansas City Monarchs of the old Negro League, was signed by the Dodgers in Oct. 1945 and played one season in the Dodger farm system at Montreal in 1946.
Rookies of the Year: He was the 1947 National League Rookie of the Year and was the first of four blacks to earn Rookie of the Year honors for the Dodgers during a seven-year period, 1947-1953; Robinson (1947), Don Newcombe (1949), Joe Black (152) and Junior Gilliam (1953). All but Black were major players in the Dodgers winning the 1955 National League pennant and the World Series.
Film Debut: The film is slated for release on April 12,1913 … just prior to the 66th anniversary of Robinson’s first game in the Major Leagues – April 15, 1947.
Key Actors: Harrison Ford (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Air Force One”, “The Fugitive”) will play Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, Chadwick Boseman (“The Express”) as Jackie Robinson, Christopher Meloni (Law & Order) as Dodger coach Leo Durocher, Lucas Black (“Sling Blade”) as Dodger hall of fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese and John McGinley (“Scrubs”) as Dodger play-by-play announcer Red Barber.
James Ruehling from Coalmont, Tenn. will play Clyde Sukeforth who was a Dodger scout, coach and manager and a key player in Robinson signing with Brooklyn in 1945.
Local Umpires on the Big Screen: Jim Reynolds, also known as the “Voice of the UTC Mocs”, along with Gary Miller and Wayne Hickey II are umpires in the movie.
“My dad, Wayne Hickey, was a plate umpire in the movie, ‘A Winner Never Quits - The Pete Gray Story’ so this is a big deal for me to play the part of an umpire in this film,” said Hickey who played baseball at Notre Dame and Chattanooga State in the mid-1970s.
Pete Gray played 77 games in the major leagues in 1945 despite having lost his right arm in a childhood accident. He was Southern Association Most Valuable Player in 1944.
contact B.B. Branton at email@example.com