Birmingham’s venerable Rickwood Field, America’s oldest pro ballpark where Willie Mays made his pro debut as a 17-year-old Black Baron, is in line to land the 2024 Field of Dreams game, hosting the Giants and the Cardinals.
The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting on the development and–very wrongly–taking credit for suggesting the venue, ignoring the years the Friends of Rickwood spent in working toward this very moment. The Friends of Rickwood and the Birmingham Barons hosted the Rickwood Classic, which is an MiLB throwback game a la Field of Dreams featuring period-authentic uniforms (nothing like woolen unis under a midday Alabama sun!), a historic game presentation (no P.A., just an announcer with a megaphone behind home plate), an afternoon schedule (no lights!) and vintage billboards in the outfield.
Rickwood Field opened on August 18, 1910, as the home of the original Birmingham Barons. Team owner Rick Woodward wanted an opulent home for his team and budgeted $25,000 for the project; Connie Mack helps him choose a site, lay out the diamond and specify a layout similar to that of Shibe Field, down to the field measurements. (Opponents of public funding of ballparks will be happy to know that little has changed in the last 100 years: the final financial tally for the 7,00-seat ballpark was $75,000. In those days, that was real money.) A contest in the local newspaper yielded the name of Rickwood Field, a mashing of the owner’s name.
Changes were made to Rickwood Field in the 1920s, however, that yielded the ballpark we see today: the roof was extended to new seating in the right-field corner, while the Spanish Mission style front office was added in 1928. It was also a popular venue for Negro Leagues baseball; Willie Mays made his pro debut as a 17-year-old Birmingham Black Baron.
So it will be interesting to see how MLB approaches a Field of Dreams game at a venue that needs a slew of work. We took the above photo at the 2010 Rickwood Classic game, and the ballpark has seen some modest renovations since then. The ballpark does host a slew of events–the Savannah Bananas are playing there June 24, and MLB’s Home Run Derby is set to be held there in October–but the demands of MLB and Fox are significantly higher, what with clubhouses, support facilities, concessions and more.
Still, it’s great to see Rickwood Field receive some deserved attention, and we’re guessing MLB will be throwing some TLC toward the vintage facility.
Shameless plug: to learn more about the Barons (including the Charlie Finley years, where Barons owner Finley led a wave of integration in the Double-A Southern League), Rickwood Field and the Southern League, check out Never a Bad Game: Fifty-Plus Years of the Southern League.