Rickwood Field in Birmingham Alabama has one distinction that even Fenway Park and Wrigley Field do not have; it is the oldest baseball park in the United States.
It was built in the year 1910, making it 2 years older the Fenway Park, built in 1912, and Wrigley Field, built in 1914.
Located at 1137 2nd Ave West at the corner of 12th Street West in Birmingham, it is still considered to be the oldest surviving baseball park in the country.
It was built for the Birmingham Barons baseball team in 1910 by one of the major business owners in the state of Alabama at the time, Rick Woodward.
Mr. Woodward was a major industrialist in the city of Birmingham, which at the time was one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
While it was built for the Barons, it also served as the home ballpark for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues.
However, unlike Fenway Park which is the country’s oldest Major League Park still in use, the Barons eventually moved to the suburbs of Birmingham, and Rickwood Field is now considered “a working museum”.
The Birmingham Barons still plays one regular game a year at Rickwood Field, and a museum to house the Negro and Southern League Hall of Fame has been recommended and proposed at a site next to this historic field.
It also has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a fitting place to feel to the past and touch some of the grandest baseball history ever lived.
Rickwood Field, along with Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, has some of the greatest baseball history of all time.
It was the dream, as well as the passion of a very young and ambitious industrialist from Birmingham, Rick Woodward.
While he was still in his 20’s, he bought controlling interest in the existing city’s professional baseball team, the Coal Barons.
Once he made this purchase, he immediately reached out to one of the biggest living legends in baseball at the time, Connie Mack, to help him build his “dream baseball park”.
He wanted Rickwood Field to be the “Finest Minor League Ballpark Ever Built” in the county, and at the time the city of Birmingham was considered to be the fastest growing city in the United States.
It was to be modeled after the famous Forbes Field in Pittsburg, and to the delight of its owner Mr. Woodward, it surpassed even his wildest dreams.
In fact, because of his dreams and fervent publicity, when Rickwood Field opened for baseball on August 18, 1910, the entire city of Birmingham closed for business to honor this opening.
The first pitch was thrown as 3:30 PM, and over 10,000 people attended the first game, to see the Barons defeat the Montgomery Climbers by a score of 3-2.
The Birmingham Coal Barons, the team the Mr. Woodward bought, started playing professional baseball in 1887, at a very informal ballpark called “Slag Pile Field”.
Mr. Woodward, who was the chairman of Woodward Iron Company and the grandson of one of the most famous industrials in the history of Alabama, bought his team from William McQueen one year earlier, in 1909.
To build Rickwood Field to his vision and before he hired Connie Mack, he purchased land in the West End neighborhood of the exploding city of Birmingham, from the Alabama Central Railroad.
The original cost was 75,000, and it was designed by the Southern Engineering Company of Birmingham, and officially completed in 1910.
This now famous baseball park was a 12.7-acre park that was flanked along the base paths by both concrete and steel stands, a marvel for the time.
A tile-roofed cupola located on the roof behind home plate, provided the much-needed space for the announcers and the press.
To name Rickwood Field, there was a newspaper contest held.
This contest produced the name for the stadium that was taken from Mr. Woodward’s first and last names.
To add to the magnificent history of the historic ballpark, throughout the early parts of the 20th century, it had almost non-stop sellouts for both the Barons as well as the Black Barons, who would play at the park on alternate weekends.
Two years after Rickwood Field opened, a spring tornado, common in this part of Alabama, ripped through the field and pulled out the outfield fence.
In 1914 another amenity was added to this historic park, as electric fans were added to help fight the hot and humid Alabama summers.
Rickwood field also hosted a soccer match in 1913 between all-star teams from Atlanta and Birmingham, as well as college football games.
Rickwood Field was graced by some of the biggest names ever to play the game of baseball.
Once it was officially opened, this historic baseball field hosted baseball legends like Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, as well as Birmingham hero Burleigh Grimes, which is considered to be the last legal spitball pitcher to play in the Major Leagues.
The New York Yankees and the perhaps the most famous major league player, Babe Ruth, played regularly at Rickwood Field.
Also, regulars that graced this stadium were Rodgers Hornsby, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, as well as Dizzy Dean.
In fact, in what was is considered to be one of the stadium’s most famous games, the up-and-coming young star Dizzy Dean lost 1-0 to the legendary Barons’ pitcher Ray Caldwell.
Alabama Hall of Fame second baseman Billy Bancroft, as well as Baron’s Pie Traynor, considered by most baseball experts to be the best overall 3rd baseman to play the game, also played here, as well as Stan “The Man” Musial.
The Black Barons that played in Rickwood Field also had several baseball legends such as playing manager Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, as well as a young man that grew up just minutes from the historic park, Willie Mays.
All time Negro-American League home run record holder George “Mule” Suttles also played here.
For the early baseball fans that walked through the gates of this historic baseball venue, the experience of innocence, the wonder of the sport, and the pure love of baseball was experienced the way it was meant to be.
Rickwood Field and its history started to come to a close in 1938, when Mr. Woodward sold the park to Ed Norton, another local Birmingham businessman, who in turn sold it in 1940 to the Cincinnati Reds.
In 1944, Gus Jebeles, also from Birmingham, bought the Barons and their historic ballpark, where the Ringling Brothers & Barnum Baily Circus held an event in October of 1945.
A lady's restroom was added, and the outfield fence reduced in length in 1948, and in 1949 ownership changed yet once again, and was bought by a partnership of Al DeMent, Al Belcher, and Rufus Lackey.
In 1958, Mr. Belcher gained a majority share of the ballpark.
Then the inevitable struck and following the 1961 season, the Southern Association of Baseball folded, and for the first time in over 52 years, no baseball was played at Rickwood Field.
In 1964, Mr. Belcher teamed up with the owner of the Kansas City A’s, Charlie Finley, to bring the Barons back for the 1964 season, but that did not last long.
After declining attendance in the 1965 season, play was suspended.
In 1966, the lease was transferred to Finley after negotiations with the city of Birmingham failed but play at the historic stadium floundered for several years afterwards.
Finally, in 1981, Art Clarkson brought minor league baseball back to Rickwood Field, when he purchased the Detroit Tigers AA affiliate Montgomery Rebels in the Southern League and moved them to Birmingham where he renamed them the Barons.
In 1987, the Barons moved to the new Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, in the suburbs of Hoover, Alabama.
Since the year 1992, the historic ballpark has been managed by the Friends of Rickwood, who have slowly been restoring parts of it.
But not all history has been lost, as Hollywood Films such as Cobb, 1994, and Soul of the Game, 1995, have been filmed there.
In the year 2005, the Friends of Rickwood Field, spent almost $2 million in upgrades to the grandstands, the press box, locker rooms, the roof, and main entrance.
In 2009, the mayor of Birmingham announced final details for the creation of a Negro and Southern League Hall of Fame.
The $7.5 million dollar project included construction of a museum, additional renovations to this historic ballpark, as well as a skywalk that would connect them together.
The history of this famous ballpark continues to this day with the Rickwood Classic, where the Birmingham Barons still play a few games every few years to honor the Birmingham Black Barons and the Negro Leagues.
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