America’s Oldest Ballpark Getting Makeover

Rickwood Field (Photo by: Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

America’s oldest ballpark is getting some much-needed repairs.

The city of Birmingham, Ala., which owns Rickwood Field, was forced to close the ballpark in April for structural repairs to the grandstands. Construction for restoring the ballpark has already begun with hopes of re-opening in 2018.

The ballpark, which was built in 1910, was the original home field for the Birmingham Barons, a White Sox Double-A affiliate, and the Birmingham Black Barons, a Negro Leagues team.

“You’re inevitably going to have those problems with a 107-year old ball park,” Barons General Manager Jonathan Nelson said.

In its history Rickwood Field has seen players such a Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Satchel Paige play on its grass. Willie Mays once started in center field for the Black Barons at Rickwood Field before his major league career began.

David Brewer, the executive director of Friends of Rickwood, said 112 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame have played at Rickwood Field.

“It is a who’s who in the history of baseball that have played there,” Nelson said. “It (has so) much history, not just for Birmingham, but baseball in general.”

The Barons left Rickwood Field in 1987, but starting in 1996 the team began playing an annual game at the stadium, known as the Rickwood Classic, to honor the ballpark’s history. The event drew more than 7,000 fans in each of the past five seasons.

“That event is a big deal not just for this community but for baseball fans around the country,” said Nelson, who noted that fans from all over the United States travel to Birmingham every year for the game.

The Barons were supposed to host the Chattanooga Lookouts for the 22nd annual Rickwood Classic on May 31. Nelson said the team made “lemonade out of lemons” by moving the Turn-Back-the-Clock game to Regions Field, where the Barons play most of their home games. The contest drew a crowd of 4,671 fans.

Before it was set for repairs, Rickwood Field was being used for amateur and semi-pro games. Miles College, a local Division II school, played its home games at Rickwood Field late into March. The park was also kept open for use by the public.

“The park is significant for its role in shaping community identity, and serving as a source of civic pride,” Brewer said in an email. “As the home park for both the Barons and the Black Barons, it contributed to the social fabric of both the Caucasian and African-American communities. Today, we view Rickwood as both an economic and a cultural asset for the community.”

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