During their game against the Montgomery Biscuits on May 29, the Birmingham Barons turned back the clock, wearing vintage uniforms and playing a baseball game at the oldest ballpark in the United States: Rickwood Field.
If you consider yourself to be a baseball fan in any way, shape, form or fashion, you owe it to yourself to visit Rickwood. A relic of a long-gone era, Rickwood Field stands out as a shining gem of baseball history.
The year was 1910. William Taft was President of the United States, George V ascended to the British throne and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was swinging a hot bat for the minor league team in New Orleans. Meanwhile, in Birmingham, Barons owner Allen Harvey “Rick” Woodward decided to give his team a proper facility, a showcase venue that would help truly demonstrate the up and coming promise Birmingham held for the future. So, Aug. 18, 1910, Rickwood Field opened to great fanfare throughout the city. An overflow crowd turned out to watch the Barons beat the Montgomery Climbers as the team pushed for a third-place finish in the old Southern Association.
For more than a century, Rickwood Field has played host to a number of great games, and the list of players who have taken the field there over the years reads like a who’s who of Cooperstown. Babe Ruth bashed home runs there in exhibition games as the Yankees returned to New York at the end of spring training. Willie Mays snared fly balls in Rickwood’s outfield as a member of the Birmingham Black Barons before being signed by the New York Giants. Reggie Jackson spent time on Rickwood’s turf as he came up through the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics organization, while Dale Murphy and the Atlanta Braves battled the Southern League All-Stars in 1982. With so many iconic names having played at Rickwood Field, the ballpark always feels alive, no matter how empty the seats may seem.
Honoring all of the history that has happened at Rickwood since it opened, the Barons take the field each year during the Rickwood Classic wearing vintage uniforms. Over the years, they have portrayed the 1910 Barons for the park’s centennial, the Birmingham A’s of the late 1960s and the 1964 Barons, the first integrated baseball team in Birmingham’s history.
Its history has even helped Rickwood be a valuable filming location for baseball movies. Among the movies using the ballpark as a film set was 1994’s “Cobb,” about Ty Cobb, and the 2013 blockbuster about Jackie Robinson, “42.”
Even when there are no games being played at the ballpark (high school teams do occasionally play games there as well and local team Stanhope Elmore got a chance to do so this past season), Rickwood still welcomes guests to visit its historic field. Self-guided tour brochures are available near one entrance, pointing visitors to various spots around the stadium, while also providing a little more insight into the history of the park.
Rickwood Field was once described as a field of dreams, and there is little doubt how true this statement is. While an overwhelming majority of ballparks from the early years of the 20th century have long since vanished, being demolished and replaced with newer venues reflecting the changing times, Rickwood, like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, stand as testaments to the days when ballparks were built with the fans in mind.
So, if you find yourself in Birmingham and are looking for something to do, go check out Rickwood Field. It’s well worth your time to take a look around and imagine what it might have been like to watch some of the greats who once played there, and whose spirits may be right next to you as you admire the ballpark.
Donald Campbell is a former staff writer for The Outlook.