Rickwood Field: A Century in America's Oldest Ballpark
Rickwood Field – the country's oldest ballpark – is rich in baseball lore and legend.
In recent years, a raft of books about major league baseball stadiums have been published. And why not, since for many fans their fondest sporting memories have to do with the sights and sounds of being at the ballpark.Skip to next paragraph
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The romance for these venues, however, isn’t limited to the big leagues. Allen Barra makes that point abundantly clear in his book Rickwood Field: A Century in America's Oldest Ballpark. Rickwood Field opened in 1910 in Birmingham, Ala., and thus predates even the oldest extant big league stadiums, Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field, which opened in 1912 and 1914 respectively.
Beyond the physical structure, however, is a history that traces the evolution of the sport and the social changes wrought in the game’s most storied Southern hotbed. Many of the greatest names in baseball passed through Rickwood’s gates over the years, either as minor leaguers on the way up or as major leaguers on teams that stopped over in Birmingham on their way north from spring training.
In 1921 the Yankees and Dodgers squared off there, and over time everybody from Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Dizzy Dean, Rogers Hornsby, and Satchel Paige to Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays (a Birmingham native) did star turns at Rickwood.
At the turn of the last century, Allen Harvey “Rick” Woodward, the son of a local iron baron, felt Birmingham – a booming industrial center at the time – needed a ballpark befitting its stature. He set about erecting one modeled after Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, the first concrete-and-steel sports structure in the United States. Woodward fused his first and last names in naming the park.
Birmingham was the epicenter of black baseball up through World War II, as the game was highly popular with African Americans working and playing for in the steel mills and iron mines, and cheering for the Black Barons Negro League entry.