Birmingham’s Rickwood Field will be MLB epicenter on June 20

Birmingham’s Rickwood Field will be MLB epicenter on June 20
Alabama will be the center of the Major League baseball universe on June 20, even though the Yellowhammer State is not home to any of the league’s 30 teams.
Birmingham’s Rickwood Field, opened on Aug. 18, 1910, is older than both Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, and it will host its first-ever regular season Major League Baseball game, when the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants play in a special tribute to the Negro Leagues.
The three day fest will attract the giants of the game, including Willie Mays, who played with the Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro League before he played for the Giants.
On June 18, America’s oldest professional ballpark will host a Double-A game between the Montgomery Biscuits and Birmingham as part of MLB’s festivities honoring the Negro League. A celebrity baseball game will be held at the field as part of MLB’s Juneteenth Celebration. The Negro Southern League Museum in Birmingham will also be part of the celebration.
More than one-quarter of the 8,300 seated tickets being sold for the MLB game were made available to youth-based organizations in Birmingham at no cost. Alabama residents were also given precedence in an April lottery for tickets. As of June 10, tickets were selling for $250 per on the secondary market.
MLB has dedicated a page on its website promoting the game (
“The legacy of the Negro Leagues and its greatest living player, Willie Mays, is one of excellence and perseverance,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “We look forward to sharing the stories of the Negro Leagues throughout this event.”
Mays, 92, is generally considered baseball’s greatest living player. After playing with Birmingham, the Alabama native (Westfield) signed with the New York Giants and was voted the 1951 National League Rookie of the Year while leading the Giants to the NL pennant.
In addition to Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Cool Papa Bell, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Oscar Charleston, Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby, Rube Foster, Lou Gehrig, Josh Gibson, Monte Irvin, Reggie Jackson, Buck Leonard, Biz Mackey, Mickey Mantle, Connie Morgan, Stan Musial, Satchel Paige, Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Duke Snider and Honus Wagner played on the hallowed grounds of Rickwood Field, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Black Barons called Rickwood Field home from 1924 through 1960.
Rickwood Field was the site of the final Negro League World Series game in October 1948. Mays’ Black Barons lost to the Homestead Grays in five games.
The Barons have played since 2013 at Regions Field, about three miles away. They play one game annually to Rickwood as a tribute to the team’s history.
MLB is paying to install new grass and outfield wall padding, enlarge the dugouts, extend nets around the field and add a big screen to the park.
“This field is special because 182 hall of famers have played here and that include greats of the game from the Negro leagues like Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson and then Babe Ruth played here and Ty Cobb,” said Gerald Watkins, executive director of the Friends of Rickwood. He added that the improvements will have long term benefits for the park.
“We were at the point where there were many things we couldn’t get done and the promise of MLB coming here caused the city to step up in a big way and really put the ballpark back in shape. It is a blessing and it will allow Rickwood Field to be relevant for a long time to come,” Watkins said.
St. Louis will be the home team for the game, scheduled to start shortly after 6 p.m. It will be televised on Fox. Uniforms will be a tribute to the Negro League history of the participating teams.
“The legacy of the Negro Leagues and its greatest living player, Willie Mays, is one of excellence and perseverance,” Manfred said. “We look forward to sharing the stories of the Negro Leagues throughout this event next year.”
A World Series champion with the Giants in 1954, Mays was a 24-time All-Star, tied with Stan Musial for second-most behind Hank Aaron’s 25. Mays won the 1954 major league batting title and was voted NL MVP in 1954 and 1965.
“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. “It has been 75 years since I played for the Birmingham Black Barons at Rickwood Field, and to learn that my Giants 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.”
The Negro Leagues were created for black players during Jim Crow’s heyday (1920). It was a time when segregation laws did not allow them to play in the major leagues.
Negro League players will now hold historical MLB records. Because of the added data from more than 2,000 players in the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige is now the 3rd best of all time for single season pitching. Josh Gibson is now the career leader in batting average, slugging parentage and OPS. Jackie Robinson, of course, was the first to break the MLB color barrier in 1947.
MLB Hall of Fame players Hank Aaron and Satchel Paige played for the Mobile Black Bears in the Negro League. MLB Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams also all grew up playing baseball on the fields of Mobile.
And at one point in 1969, Mobilians Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee were starters in the outfield for the Amazing Mets. Another Mobile native, Amos Otis, was also an outfielder on that World Series Champion Mets’ team.