We reported this last week, and now it’s official: Rickwood Field, the oldest pro baseball ballpark in America, will host the 2024 Field of Dreams game between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants on June 20, as announced by MLB.
The game is the culmination of a three-day event centered on Juneteenth. Included is a tribute to the Negro Leagues and Hall of Famer, Giants Legend and Birmingham native Willie Mays, who made his pro debut at the age of 17 as a Birmingham Black Baron in 1948. Also on the agenda: A Double-A Southern League game between the Birmingham Barons and Montgomery Biscuits on June 18.
Throwback games are nothing new at Rickwood Field. The Friends of Rickwood and the Birmingham Barons have previously hosted the Rickwood Classic, 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. The Barons called Rickwood Field home during three different time periods (1910-1961, 1964-1965, 1981-1987).
“We are proud to bring Major League Baseball to historic Rickwood Field in 2024,” said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred via press release. “This opportunity to pay tribute to the Negro Leagues as the Giants and Cardinals play a regular season game at this iconic location is a great honor. The legacy of the Negro Leagues and its greatest living player, Willie Mays, is one of excellence and perseverance. We look forward to sharing the stories of the Negro Leagues throughout this event next year.”
“I can’t believe it. I never thought I’d see in my lifetime a Major League Baseball game being played on the very field where I played baseball as a teenager,” Mays said via press release. “It has been 75 years since I played for the Birmingham Black Barons at Rickwood Field, and to learn that my Giants and the Cardinals will play a game there and honor the legacy of the Negro Leagues and all those who came before them is really emotional for me. We can’t forget what got us here and that was the Negro Leagues for so many of us.”
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.