CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee -- If you're making your way to the Chattanooga Lookouts' home of AT&T Field, you'll hear Wanda Goins long before you see her. Her voice, lilting yet forceful, rises above the gameday din and carries well beyond the front entrance. The phrasing has changed over the years, but
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee -- If you're making your way to the Chattanooga Lookouts' home of AT&T Field, you'll hear Wanda Goins long before you see her. Her voice, lilting yet forceful, rises above the gameday din and carries well beyond the front entrance. The phrasing has changed over the years, but the message is always the same:
"Right here, buy your programs! Right here!"
Goins is Wanda the Program Lady, a Chattanooga icon and without a doubt one of its most recognizable citizens. Her voice, and the warm and welcoming presence behind it, is synonymous with Lookouts baseball.
"Wanda’s a constant. She knows more people here than anyone else," said Lookouts vice president Andrew Zito. "And she treats everybody like they’re her best friend. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen her for a long time or it's your first time. You get hugs, you get greetings and it’s a great first touchpoint for us as well."
Heading into the 2021 season, the Lookouts -- Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds -- switched from paper programs to digital. Wanda's role, however, remains fundamentally the same. She is stationed at the entrance to the ballpark holding a mini-bat in each hand; attached to the mini-bats are signs with a QR code that fans can scan with their phones.
"They come in and I say, 'Get your programs, right here. Scan for your programs, right here,'" said Wanda, a Georgia native who moved to Chattanooga in the 1970s. "We don't have paper no more. Don't matter to me."
2021 may be Wanda's first season operating within the digital realm, but it's her 32nd season overall. As for how she came to work for the Lookouts? It all started, as many things do, with Jimmy Buffett. In the summer of 1990, the laid-back beach rocker embarked on the "Jimmy's Jump-Up!" tour, which included a July 14th stop at the Lookouts' then-home of Engel Stadium. Wanda worked the concert as an usher, leading Parrotheads to their seats in the pouring rain. Her exemplary work on this front led to an offer to work for the Lookouts.
Wanda, sitting in a high-backed chair with her name taped to the back, laughingly relayed her Program Lady origin story while speaking prior to Friday evening's Lookouts game.
"I used to take tickets for a month or two, and then they just asked me, 'Want to sell programs?' I said, 'I don’t care.' Back then a program was $3. Or was it $1? I used to say, 'Get your program, get your program, you can’t tell a player without a program.' When it went down to 25 cents I said, 'Programs, 25 cents. Juuust 25 cents. 25 cents for your program.' I had a little thing going."
From the 20th century to the 21st, from Engel Stadium to AT&T Field, from $1 to 25 cents to a mini-bat-enabled QR code scan, Wanda has kept her little thing going.
"I met a lot of friends here. They come in and say, ‘I remember you from when I was a little boy.’ Now they’re with their own kids," she said. "And did you know they had a bobblehead of me [in 2007]? I was so embarrassed. I didn’t know it was mine in [the box]. It was a surprise."
Throughout the pandemic, when there was no Minor League Baseball at all, Wanda said she was constantly recognized around Chattanooga even while wearing a mask. This year, fans are letting her know just how much they missed her at the ballpark.
"Now I hear so many folks, they say, 'I’m so glad you’re here," she said. "It's not a ballgame without you!'"
She certainly has no plans to stop now.
"I'm still here, thank the Lord. I have to give him all the glory and all the praise. I love every minute of it."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.