Tour of Play Day #2
“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama is the oldest professional baseball field in the United States. The construction of the concrete and steel stadium cost $75,000 and Connie Mack gave his input into the stadium’s design. For decades, it served as the home for both the Birmingham Barons and the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues and in May 2012, a few scenes of the movie 42 were filmed at Rickwood.
When I get home, I’ll be re-watching 42 to see if I can guess which scenes were filmed at this field.
The field still plays host to more than 100 games annually, including the Rickwood Classic, when the Birmingham Barons return to the field for one game.
“Just two years before the Rickwood Classic started, Michael Jordan played for the Barons.”
I knew my sister-in-law would find that connection fascinating.
Dan escorted Kaylea and me into the stadium and onto the field.
As soon as we stepped on the field, I was struck by its size, especially the space behind home plate.
“The distance from home to the backstop is greater than the distance from the mound to home,” Dan laughed. “Pitchers and catchers aren’t a big fan of it.”
Dan serves on the board of the Friends of Rickwood and operates the large manual scoreboard in left field which has got to be one of the coolest baseball jobs. Kaylea took a quick break from taking pictures and grabbed a glove. We stepped out onto the grass and each pop of the gloves echoed in the empty grandstands. In between tosses, I tried to take in all the surroundings.
When Dan was ready, for the second day in a row, I played catch with a Reds fan.
“I was lucky to see the Big Red Machine play,” Dan said as we tossed the ball in foul territory on the first base side.
After catch, once my new hat was saturated and my shirt was sticking to me, Dan gave us a tour of the stadium, taking us into the locker room and telling us of the incredible history of the field and baseball in Birmingham.
“More than 175 players in the Hall of Fame have played baseball at Rickwood,” Dan told me, “More than any other stadium.”
Players like Babe Ruth and Willie Mays and Ty Cobb and Satchel Paige.
Players like Reggie Jackson and Dizzy Dean and Double Duty Radcliffe and Cool Papa Bell.
Immediately, I wanted to call Bob (Day #34) to hear more stories of the Birmingham Black Barons.
Dan told us how segregation used to play out in the stadium that was shared by both teams.
“Here in the south, segregation was always an issue. During the Barons games, the black community would have to sit in the fenced-off section in right field. But during the Black Barons games, it was reversed, and the white fans would sit out there. Thankfully, there aren’t any reminders of that fence remaining.”
In 1948, both the Barons and the Black Barons won their pennants.
If I was thinking, I should have worn my First Boys of Spring uniform to play catch on this field.
Or at least tall socks.
After posting the story, Shirley Virdon sent me a note.
“Bill played there in 1953. He was with the AAA KC Blues (Yankees) until about mid July, when they sent him down to the AA Birmingham Barons. He finished the season there and injured his knee in the last few games or maybe last game of the season (Labor Day weekend)! We really liked Birmingham. Mayo Smith was the manager there that year. Jerry Lumpe and Norm Sieburn were both there, so we finished the season with someone we knew from here. The Field still looks really good!”