My 7th Inning Stretch – Stadium Reviews

My Pilgrimage to all 30 Major League Baseball Parks 2015-16

My Pilgrimage to all 30 Major League Baseball Parks

Rickwood Field – Birmingham, AL (#39)

Earlier this season, MLB announced incorporation of Negro League stats into the established MLB record book  –   players such as Josh Gibson, Satchel Page, Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston now finally have their numbers sitting side by side on the all-time leader boards along with Cobb, Ruth, Pujols and Matthewson

As part of a broader tribute to those who played in the Negro Leagues, MLB announced last year that would be playing a regular season game at legendary Rickwood Field  in Birmingham, Ala.

Rickwood Field was opened on August 18, 1910. Since the demolition of old Comiskey Park in 1991, it is now the oldest baseball park in the world – 4 years older than Wrigley Field and 4 years older than Fenway Park.

Rickwood was the first minor league park built of steel and concrete and has significant design influences from both Shibe Park and Forbes Field.

The field is nestled into a residential neighborhood, surrounded by houses with a church and a school right down the street.

Some of the remarkable features of this park are the  Spanish mission-style façade at the  entrance with  picturesque arched openings and stucco walls, the roof behind home plate has a tile-roofed cupola that provides space for the press and announcer, the vintage turnstiles and light towers, the red-brick exterior, wooden grandstand, and manually operated scoreboard and a mural of championship pennants for the Black Barons and Birmingham Barons.

A huge concern of baseball purists was that MLB would make substantial functional and aesthetic changes to Rickwood in preparation for the game. Kudos to them, the changes that were made (addition of a batter’s eye, an electronic scoreboard in right field, moving in the fences and a complete resurfacing of the field as well as a draining system) did not diminish from the nostalgic feel at all.  Although the outfield wall advert signs that were put up were for the sponsors of the game, they created a ‘vintage’ version of them that fit in nicely with the park’s aesthetics.

Some of the greatest players in the history of both the Negro and Major leagues have at one point played on the field at Rickwood. In fact, of the 351 members who have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 181 have played, managed, umpired or led a baseball team at Rickwood Field since 1910.

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to attend this game live. I got to the Field as soon as gates opened, close to 3 hours before first pitch.  Even after taking all that time to examine every square inch – the museum, the gift shop, the pavilion, all the vintage pictures and artifacts – it still hadn’t sunk in.

Rickwood had all the wonderful nostalgia of Fenway Park or Wrigley Field along with the intimacy of a minor league ballpark. The ambiance of the field transports visitors to an bygone era of baseball nostalgia that’s hard to describe.

The pre-game ceremony, with a video tribute to the great Willie Mays, who began his career at Rickwood as a member of the Black Barons who died just three days before the game and the entrance onto the field of many legendary players from the Negro Southern League accompanied by the current Cardinal and Giant players was emotional. The parade of players was headlined by 99-year-old Reverend Bill Greason, a former Black Barons teammate of Mays, who threw out the first pitch.

Earlier that afternoon these same players were taken to the Negro Southern League Museum in downtown Birmingham. I was one of the many spectators who  were gathered outside to watch them deboard their buses and go inside. It may have been the first time that many of them had ever been there and almost certainly the first time they had gone as a collective group. I can only imagine the memories that must have come flooding back to them once inside.

MLB did a great job with the logistics of the game. Transportation to and from the park, crowd management, concessions, accessibility, etc.  was done flawlessly.

The overall experience was nothing short of surreal. Hopefully MLB has plans to make this a recurring event.


MENTION extended roadtrip – Crossing of all 50 states, first time in deep south – Oxford, Little Rock, Hot Springs (bb history) – Monster truck -Brandon Crawford’s mother


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