Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rickwood Field: Oldest Baseball Park in America

These are photos of the oldest baseball park still in use in America, Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala.

The middle image is a post card of Opening Day, 100 years ago today, August 18, 1910. The Barons defeated the rival Montgomery Climbers 3-2 before 10,000 fans. The AA Barons of the Southern League played at Rickwood until 1987 when they moved to Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

The famous Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League also called Rickwood Field home. Willie Mays, who grew up minutes away, was a 16-year old centerfielder on the 1948 championship Black Barons team. My good Greensboro friend, Ken Free, the first African American player I ever saw play in person, told me he played at Rickwood in the Negro League several times between 1953 to 1959.

Since 1996, the AA Barons have returned to their roots for one afternoon game a year. They say that many of the older black fans who attend sit out in the right field bleachers, where they had to sit in the old days. Friends of Rickwood have spent $2. million refurbishing the park in recent years. Scenes from the movies Cobb and Soul of the Game were filmed there.

I can envision now, a Black Barons game in the '40s, a hot Birmingham Sunday afternoon packed house, African American brothers and sisters, "dressed to a tea", escaping the toil of 20th century Birmingham, cheering on those Black Barons. Next time I am close to Birmingham, you will find me seated in this place.

Here is an excellent Rickwood Field website. (Click on "History" and pull the ball down for outstanding photos).

(Post card image compliments of friend Neal Robertson)

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