America’s Oldest Ballpark

Older ballparks are hidden treasure, a Cliché, but true, a time capsule to this country’s history. Too often, they are at risk of demolition to give way for new development. In this case, Rickwood Field is in the shadows of downtown Birmingham, away from any risk of that. Birmingham Barons, a White Sox Double A Affiliate, is still in town. As of April 10, 2013, they play at Regions Park, a state of the art 8500 seat capacity Minor League facility, just 3.5 miles away. City of Birmingham owns Rickwood Field. Friends of Rickwood Field, a private group of 40 board members, have done an amazing job of conserving this place.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Rickwood Field opened in 1910, the oldest surviving professional baseball park in the United States. Many Baseball Legends have played here at one time or another. Willie Mays played here as a teenager with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues, just before he signed with the New York Giants. Babe Ruth among other Baseball greats barnstormed here. The Dixie Series of the Southern Association was played here. Between 1911-1920 The Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates held their Spring Training here. Seemed easier to walk in than to walk out, kept finding myself frozen in place. If you look around long enough, you can feel the years wearing on the grandstands.

The book “Rickwood Field : A Century in America’s Oldest Ballpark,” written by Allen Barra, chronicles the stories here. In a sense, its a time capsule depicting a Century in America, a great resource to the rich history and its place in the game. The park is still here for other generations to appreciate.

Allen Barra describes Rickwood Field as a place where Ku Klux Klan once held rallies and is now a symbol of hope and triumph. Some of the Legends who played here were Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Ted Williams, and Willie Mays.

Design and construction is very similar to Forbes Field. Local Industrialist Rick Woodward built it with the help of Major League Baseball owners Connie Mack and Barney Dreyfuss. Once a year, the Birmingham Barons vacate their home at the New Regions Field to play in the Rickwood Classic, a turn-back-the-clock game, wearing throw back unifroms with one of their Southern League foes. Throughout the year high schools and colleges also host tournaments on this field.

Louisville Bat Factory Closes

Associated Press reported that Louisville Slugger Bat Factory & Museum, otherwise known as Hillerich & Bradsby Company, officially closed on Sunday April 19, 2020. Due to the economic affects of COVID-19, the company furloughed 90% of its employees or 171 workers.

It’s a primary source of baseball bats for Major League Baseball. The Factory has been in operation for 176 years, about as long as the history of the game itself. It produces an average of 2 million bats a year. Closing it only adds pressure to their mill in Pennsylvania. “If the company doesn’t soon crank up its Pennsylvania mill–and MLB has no timetable to start its season–then some of the set to become bats might spoil,” said CEO John Hillerich IV to “The Louisville Courier Journal.” The situation remains fluid.

The tours started in the actual factory, where no cameras were allowed, a safeguard against spies trying to steal trade secrets. As our tour guide introduced himself, nearby workers were filling actual orders. When we visited, the presence of pink bats served as a clue for the time of year. MLB Players would use these bats for Breast Cancer Awareness on the upcoming Mother’s Day Game. This place has obviously evolved with the game over the years. One giant milling machine was used exclusively for the bats made for all the MLB Players. All the precision cuts per specification were made there. Countless players have personally visited and placed there autographs on this machine.

Among many of the strong connections to the game, Louisville Bat Factory & Museum had the latest Major League Baseball Standings for each division as a testimonial to the hits and runs being produced by players using Louisville Slugger bats. Also on exhibit were recent display additions to celebrate the induction of Ken Griffey Jr. into the National Baseball Hall Of Fame (during the summer 0f 2016) in Cooperstown, New York.

Negro Leagues 101

This week was the 46th Anniversary of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth to the top of the all-time list. He ended the 1973 season with 713 and waited through a year of hate mail, insults, and other malicious treatment. On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron reached the pinnacle that transcended all adversity which held him back before that moment. It was a long way from that 16 year old kid in Mobile, Alabama, who first signed with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues. In his 23 MLB seasons, he went on to hit 755 home runs, 3771 hits, & had 2,795 runs batted in with a .305 life time batting average. There are so many other highlights and awards, including holding about a dozen MLB records. One undeniable feat is that, without his home runs, he still holds more than 3,000 hits. He was the last player from the Negro Leagues to make it to MLB.

This year is also the 100th Anniversary of the Founding of the Negro Leagues. Unlike, the well documented history of MLB, much of the history has been lost with the years. What we know is due to the sacrifice of those few who have volunteered their blood, sweat, and tears to meticulously sift through hours and hours of research. The history can be traced back to the 19th Century, But, in a nutshell, there were numerous professional leagues that came and went. Together, they form an era of baseball that thrived and became a source of pride and accomplishment in the Black community.

  • Negro National League (1920-1931)
  • Eastern Colored League (1923-1928)
  • American Negro League (1929)
  • East-West League (1932)
  • Negro Southern League (1932)
  • Negro National League (1933-1948)
  • Negro American League (1937-1960)

Today, the challenges to raise awareness of the history, and its impact on the game continues. Last February, MLB & MLBPA donated a combined $1 million towards that effort. Groups like Center for Negro Leagues Baseball Research and Society American Baseball Research Negro Leagues Research Committee have championed the way. MLB has plans to celebrate the centennial in the 2020 post season.

The epicenter is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. A lot of thought went into curating this 10,000 square foot space. A group of local historians, business leaders, and former baseball players came together to create the NLBM in the early 1990’s. It’s located next door to the American Jazz Museum, near the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District of Kansas City, the center for Black Culture and life in Kansas City from the late 19th Century to the 1960’s.