By Alyssa Cooper
For more than 113 years, Rickwood Field has been a staple in baseball and more specifically, in Birmingham.
Many professional players that would later go on to be inducted in the MLB Hall of Fame once stood in the dugout, took the mound and rounded the bases on this historic site.
Some names are recognizable, like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Satchel Paige.
Places like Rickwood Field preserve the legacy of the Negro League and pay homage to the Black baseball players who didn’t get the praise for their performance.
Major League Baseball announced that the first MLB game at Rickwood Field would be played next summer, between the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants. The league announced on Thursday, that the name would be modified next year to “MLB at Rickwood Field: A Tribute to the Negro League” to commemorate the legacy and impact Rickwood and the Negro League has had on baseball.
Several former MLB stars were in attendance for the announcement at Rickwood, including World Series champions CC Sabathia, Ron Jackson, and Ron Howard. Former MLB player turned MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds emceed the event. All took the time to provide Black baseball players’ impact on their careers as MLB players.
Reynolds’ short anecdote at the beginning of his opening speech encapsulated that, highlighting a lesser-known Hall of Famer who impacted the game.
“Oscar Charleston was such a great player that when Willie Mays was coming along, they said, ‘Wow, Willie Mays has a chance to become the next Oscar Charleston.’”
Rickwood Field is home to college and prep baseball tournaments, home run Derbies and even a Savannah Bananas game once in a while. It was also once the home of the Birmingham Black Barons, a Negro League team that shaped the lives of Birmingham’s Black community in prior generations.
Before Willie Mays hit well over 600 home runs in the majors, he was making his professional debut as a 17-year-old high school student on the Birmingham Black Barons. Satchel Paige made his professional debut with the Black Barons back in 1937, commencing a long and dominant career in baseball.
Mays expressed his thoughts via text message to Reynolds and the audience of eager NABJ attendees and local media outlets.
“I was very happy to hear the Giants and the Cardinals will play a Major League baseball game at Rickwood Field next season,” he stated. “I have wonderful memories of playing there when I was only a kid. I hope that the game will be a chance to remember so many really good ball players from the Negro Leagues who played at Rickwood Field but never got the chance to play in the big leagues.”
Former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Ryan Howard shared the same sentiment as he spoke on his family’s rich baseball history and what drove him to perform during his 14-year career.
“This moment is for all who haven’t been able to be here or be able to have the experience,” he began. “I dedicated my big-league experience to [my grandfather] because he didn’t get that opportunity, but he was able to kind of pass that [baseball ability] to me.”
Howard further reiterated the importance of giving back.
CC Sabathia works alongside fellow former MLB players with the Player’s Alliance, an organization formed in the wake of George Floyd. The Player’s Alliance provides mentorship to professional baseball players.
“You gotta pay homage to those who came before you,” he expressed.