We end 2015 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Ballpark Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #9: The Rickwood Classic from the Birmingham Barons, highlighted by an appearance from Darryl Strawberry.
It is a mandatory pilgrimage for any ballpark or baseball-history fan, as the annual Rickwood Classic hosted by the Birmingham Barons (Class AA; Southern League) celebrates America’s Pastime in one of America’s oldest ballparks still in use. Opening on August 18, 1910, the ballpark was a hub of baseball activity in the city, hosting various professional minor-league teams as well as the Birmingham Black Barons, one of the preeminent Negro Leagues franchises. (Among the legends who played for the Black Barons: Satchel Paige and Willie Mays.) Racial integration didn’t necessarily come easy to Rickwood Field – side events hosted there included KKK rallies, some as late as 1946 — but it did. By the 1950s MLB teams played integrated exhibitions at Rickwood Field, despite an edict from sheriff Bull Connor forbidding integrated baseball. By the 1960s a talented group of African-American players, including future Oakland Athletics Vida Blue and Reggie Jackson were making their marks on the field with the Birmingham A’s, as owner Charlie O. Finley brought affiliated baseball back to his hometown — and where he served as a batboy as a 13-year-old at Rickwood Field.
That rich history is celebrated annually by the Barons, who stage a single-game classic complete with historic uniforms and game-day ops. Former MLB and Barons players are invited to attend and participate, and this year’s guest was Darryl Strawberry, whose career was marked by incredible highs (Rookie of the Year in 1983, second in MVP voting in 1988) and lows (a 1995 drug suspension) and highs (rehab followed by a triumphant stint with the St. Paul Saints and a return to MLB with the New York Yankees).
The Barons announce the date and opponent for Rickwood Classics every January. We can’t wait to see what’s on tap for 2016.
Previously in our Top Ten Stories of 2015 List:
#10, Hartford Yard Goats