Rickwood Field, located at 1137 2nd St W, in Birmingham, Alabama, is a century-old time capsule of America’s National Pastime. It is recognized by the Historic American Building Survey as the country’s oldest surviving baseball park.
Constructed by Birmingham Barons owner Rick Woodward (hence the name), the first professional game played there was a contest between the Barons and the Montgomery Climbers on August 18, 1910. This was approximately two years before the opening of Fenway Park, major league baseball’s oldest surviving ballpark.
Rickwood was the first concrete and steel minor league ballpark constructed in the United States. The stadium’s facade is truly remarkable for its unspoiled, vintage appearance, and would be worthy of a photo essay all its own.
The first base side grandstand runs the length of the ballfield and wraps around behind right field.
Two historic plaques honor the history of Rickwood Field. The first plaque, erected by the Alabama Historical Commission in 1996, recognizes Rickwood Field’s placement on the National Register for Historic Places.
The second plaque, erected by the Alabama Tourism Department in 2010, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first game played at Rickwood Field.
The distinctive Mission style front entrance to Rickwood Field was added in 1928.
On the first base side of the ballpark, past the front entrance, is a sign welcoming visitors to a guided tour of the ballpark. Free pamphlets are available there for visitors to take along on their tour.
The main entrance way to the ballpark appears much as it did in 1940.
A chalkboard listing the players for the day’s contest sits just to the right beyond the turnstiles.
Rickwood was home to the Southern Association (later Southern League) Birmingham Barons from 1910 until 1987.
It also was home to the Birmingham Black Barons from 1920 until 1963. The Black Barons played in various leagues over the years including the Negro Southern League, the Negro National League, and the Negro American League.
Notable players who called Rickwood Field their home included Hall of Famers Willie Mays (a native of Birmingham), Sachel Paige, Willie Wells, George Suttles, Bill Foster, Pie Traynor, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, and Burleigh Grimes.
During the design phase of Rickwood Field, Philadelphia Athletics Manager Connie Mack served as a consultant. The field and stadium were patterned after Forbes Field and Shibe Park. Both the Philadelphia Phillies (1911, 1920) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (1919) held their spring training at Rickwood Field.
The distinctive cantilevered light stanchions date to 1936, when Rickwood became one of the first minor league facilities to host night baseball.
The steel and wood roof is a visual masterpiece. The supports for that roof, placed one per section, provide vintage obstructed views of the field.
Rickwood Field currently has a seating capacity of 10,800. All of the original seating has long since been replaced.
The first base side grandstand, which wraps around to right field, was designed after Forbes Field, which had a similar wrap around, right field grandstand.
The concrete outfield fence dating to 1928 sits behind the “newer” wooden fence. In 1948 Walt Dropo famously hit a home run over the wooden fence that hit the concrete fence on the fly.
Although long since replaced, at one time Rickwood Field could boast having wooden box seats and wooden row seats from the Polo Grounds, with wrought iron “NY” emblems at the end of each row. In the 1970s the seats were replaced and, for a time, could be purchased at nearby Legion Field in Birmingham.
Because Rickwood Field offers so much to see, including the colorful outfield wall signage and the recreated scoreboard, as well as so many great angles from which to photograph the ballpark, I have included a four minute video meant to capture the feel of the ballpark.
If you would like to see more photographs of Rickwood Field taken by a professional photographer, please visit Lou Dina at dinagraphics.com. As you can see from the picture below, Lou has an amazing eye for detail.
Today the Birmingham Barons play their home games at Regions Field. From 1988 until 2012, they played at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. Once a year, since 1996, however, the Barons return to Rickwood Field to take part in the Rickwood Classic. Held typically on a Wednesday around the last week of May, the game is an official Southern League contest that helps insure professional baseball is still a part of Rickwood’s present and future.
Friends of Rickwood has been the caretaker of Rickwood Field since 1992. If you are interested in reading more about their organization or how you can help insure the preservation of the ballpark, visit them at rickwood.com. Baseball fans owe that organization a debt of gratitude helping insure that Rickwood Field never becomes just another lost ballpark.