Rickwood Field    Birmingham, AL
Dimensions:  LF:  325  CF:  393   RF:  335      Capacity:  10,400  (1985)        Opened: 1910

Stadium Minor League History:        Southern Association            1910-1961
                                                            Southern League                   1964-1965,  1967-1975,  1981-1987

Stadium Negro League History:        Negro National League        1923-1925,  1927-1931
                                                            Negro Southern League        1932
                                                            Negro American League       1937-1938,  1940-1950
 
                                                  
Current Status:  Used for community, high school, and amateur ball, and the annual "Rickwood Classic" Barons game

What's Good:  Rickwood Field is the closest thing the baseball world has to a time machine.  Once just another aging minor league park, Rickwood was left for dead after the Birmingham Barons moved to their new suburban stadium in 1988.  Fortunately, some concerned locals realized what they had on their hands, and organized to form the Friends of Rickwood, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving what is now the oldest ballpark in America.  They are restoring the field to the way it might have looked in the 1940s, complete with a hand-operated scoreboard, rooftop pressbox, and authentic colors of paint.  To increase awareness of the ballpark's historic status as well as to raise money for the ongoing preservation efforts, the FOR have leased out the park for use in movies (including "Cobb" and an HBO movie about the Negro Leagues), and the outfield fences are still covered with replicas of ads from the early years of the century, leftovers from the filming of "Cobb" (for a view of the fences from behind home plate, click here).
    Starting in 1996, the FOR and the Barons teamed up to stage what has become the annual "Rickwood Classic" game at the old ballpark.  The Barons and their opponents play a day game, wearing replica uniforms of an earlier era -- it's like the "turn back the clock" promotions that many teams do, but in an authentically old stadium.  I attended the first three such games (in 1996, 1997, and 1998), and enjoyed them immensely, although the magical atmosphere of the first one has disappeared as the game has progressed from hopeful experiment to slick, corporately-sponsored event.  Nevertheless, it's a wonderful thing to keep pro ball at Rickwood, even if for that one day a year.
    The grandstand is not very tall, but stretches from past third, around home, and all the way down the first base line before hooking around the foul pole.  A full roof, supported by a wonderfully complex assortment of geometrically arranged girders, beams, and braces covers the entire seating area, with enormous and rickety-looking light towers mounted on top and cantilevered out over the field (the lights are easily visible in the photo above, but for another view click here).  With the teams wearing "old" uniforms and the field looking like it does these days, it's not hard during these games to imagine that you've stepped back in time 50 years or so.  In a day when any new ballpark with green structural steel is lauded for being "just like the old-time ballparks," Rickwood Field is the real thing.  For more information about the Friends of Rickwood, call (205) 458-8161 or click here.

What's Not So Good:  Nothing.  In fact it's great that they play even the one Southern League game here every year.

This Photo:    June 12, 1997    Birmingham Barons vs. Chattanooga Lookouts
 
 

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