In the new Jackie Robinson biopic 42, which opened Friday, Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese (played by Lucas Blake) does his best to put Robinson - portrayed to near-perfection by 30-year-old Chadwick Boseman - at ease in a hostile ballpark environment during his 1947 rookie season as the first African American player in Major League Baseball. "Maybe tomorrow, we'll all wear 42," Reese says. "That way, they won't be able to tell us apart."
Today, all MLB players actually will wear number 42 on their uniforms, as they pay their annual respects on Jackie Robinson Day. And while commemorations will be held at pro stadiums around the country, a trio of much smaller but significantly more historic baseball fields - Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala.; and Luther Williams Field in Macon, Ga. - also are celebrating Robinson's legacy. Not only did the man play ball on each of those fields, but all three were used in the filming of 42.
Engel Stadium, the former home of the minor league Chattanooga Lookouts from 1930 to 1999, is currently owned by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Many of 42's baseball scenes were shot at Engel, which also doubled as Brooklyn's Ebbetts Field. In July 2012, after filming was complete, crews began restoring the ballpark to its previous state. In addition to repairs made during and after the making of the movie, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that new advertisements now painted on outfield walls are intended to raise money for further renovations. (See video of those efforts here.)
Engel was the perfect place to film, 42's location manager Eric Hooge told the paper, because it was in such a state of disrepair that the required renovations were not going to be a problem. Rickwood Field and Luther Williams Field, on the other hand, had already undergone independent renovations and reconstruction, he said, and were not allowed to be touched. "Engel Stadium turned out to be our crown jewel of all our stadiums because of the freedom to manipulate it the way we needed to," Hooge added. "What we gave them in the end was a playable ball field. We helped them to get started on the restoration of Engel, which is great."
Photos of Engel Stadium by Andy Broome http://www.andybroome.com
Rickwood Field, built in 1910 and considered the oldest ballpark in the United States, starred as itself in 42 in an opening Negro Leagues sequence featuring Robinson's Kansas City Monarchs against the Birmingham Black Barons and then doubled as old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh - where Pirates pitcher Fritz Ostermueller beaned Robinson in the head early in the 1947 season. The field is currently undergoing restoration.
Photos of Rickwood Field by Charlie O'Reillyhttp://www.charliesballparks.com
Film crews also shot multiple scenes at 84-year-old Luther Williams Field - home of the Macon Pinetoppers of the Peach State League and the Macon State College Blue Storm. "There's a key sequence at Luther Williams Field that's one of the highlights," Daniel Pryor, a 42 co-producer, told The Telegraph of Macon. "It shows Jackie Robinson's ability running the bases."
Photos of Luther Williams Field by Jim Ambshttp://kentuckybaseball.blogspot.com
All three stadiums are on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and "the bones" of Rickwood and Luther Williams fields were used to "create our CGI world for Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds," 42 writer-director Brian Helgeland recently told Sports Illustrated.