The Birmingham, Ala., stadium was home to Willie Mays in his Negro leagues days. It will host a game between Mays’s Giants and the Cardinals in 2024.

By David Waldstein
June 20, 2023

Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., believed to be the oldest professional baseball stadium in the United States, has played host to some of baseball’s greatest luminaries during its 113-year run, including Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, the latter of whom grew up a short distance from the park.

Next year, the stadium will shine once again when it hosts a Major League Baseball game between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals. The game is scheduled for June 20, 2024.

Older than both Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, Rickwood Field opened in 1910 and has been home to several teams over its many decades, including Mays’s Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League, and the Birmingham Barons, a minor league team.

M.L.B. announced the game on Tuesday in its latest effort to showcase regular-season games in unique settings. M.L.B. calls them Specialty Games, and previous versions were held at Fort Bragg, N.C.; in Omaha, at the site of the College World Series; and in Williamsport, Pa., the site of the Little League World Series.

M.L.B. has also staged two Field of Dreams games in Dyersville, Iowa, near the filming location for the 1989 baseball-themed motion picture “Field of Dreams.” The White Sox played the Yankees in Dyersville in 2021, and last season the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds got a turn in the corn fields. There is no Field of Dreams game scheduled in 2023 because of construction at the site.

M.L.B. said that the date of the Rickwood Field game was intended to coincide with Juneteenth and that the game would feature a variety of activities to celebrate the history of the Negro leagues and Mays, the game’s greatest living player.

Mays, 92, went to high school less than five miles from Rickwood Field. In 1948, despite being only 17 and still in school, he began his professional career with the Black Barons. A year later, he signed with the New York Giants.

n a statement issued by M.L.B., Mays said: “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.”

His statement concluded, “We can’t forget what got us here, and that was the Negro Leagues for so many of us.”

With a seating capacity of almost 11,000, Rickwood Field was built by the Birmingham industrialist Harvey Woodward, who was known as Rick, and it was modeled after Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and Shibe Park in Philadelphia. When it opened, on Aug. 18, 1910, businesses in Birmingham were shuttered to celebrate the grand occasion.

In its early years, the park hosted exhibition games with teams from the American and National Leagues, including the Yankees, but Rickwood was home to the Barons, a Southern League institution that featured stars like Pie Traynor and Burleigh Grimes. In later years, Bo Jackson played for the Barons at Rickwood, as did Michael Jordan during his 1994 sojourn into baseball.

A great deal of the most significant history at the park, however, came from the Black Barons, a Negro leagues team that featured stars like Mule Suttles and Satchel Paige, who won more games for Birmingham than he did for any other professional team.

In 1948, the Black Barons — with Mays in tow — faced the Homestead Grays in the final Negro World Series. While the Grays won that Series, William Greason, who went on to be the first Black pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, picked up Birmingham’s lone victory. Greason, 98, still lives in Birmingham and is the pastor at Bethel Baptist Church, less than two miles from Rickwood Field.

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