The filming of the major motion picture “42,” combined with the fact that local boy turned up-and-coming Hollywood star Linc Hand had a role in the film, led me to spend Wednesday morning at historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham.
This wasn’t my first trip to Rickwood, but this trip was special. As I watched Chadwick Boseman running the bases at the old ball park in his No. 42 jersey, it was the closest thing I could ever experience to seeing the actual Jackie Robinson play ball. To know that Robinson had actually played at Rickwood in the 1940s made that moment even more special.
While talking to Hand at Rickwood on Wednesday, he said being in the stadium made him feel like a kid again, but a kid in the 1940s. I wasn’t even getting to play on the field, but I knew exactly what he was talking about, because I felt the same way. As I scanned the inside of Rickwood Field, I got goose bumps. It was a surreal experience.
Seeing the cast and extras dressed in clothing from the 1940s gave me a glimpse of what Rickwood would have been like in its glory days — back when a teenage Willie Mays was playing for the Birmingham Black Barons.
Rickwood Field is more than 100 years old. It’s opening day was Aug. 18, 1910. The stadium was modeled primarily after the old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The ball park still has a drop-in scoreboard and vintage signs. Over the years, that Birmingham diamond dazzled with some of the greatest players in baseball history. That list of players includes Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Rogers Hornsby, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Dizzy Dean, Stan Musial and Satchell Paige. Babe Ruth and his Yankees were even frequent visitors to Rickwood, and Ruth hit several home runs at the park.
Standing on the field Wednesday, I could imagine how awesome it would have been to see those baseball legends play in Birmingham.
During my childhood, the Birmingham Barons had already moved to Hoover. I got to see some great players during that time, including Robin Ventura and Frank Thomas. I even had the opportunity to watch one of my childhood heroes, Michael Jordan, attempt to play baseball, but the Hoover Met, Regions Park or whatever it’s being called now just doesn’t compare to Rickwood Field.
I have seen a couple of games at the 100-year-old ballpark, and it’s a terrific atmosphere. This year’s version of the Rickwood Classic is set for Wednesday, May 30 at 12:30 p.m. The 17th annual game at Rickwood will feature the Barons hosting the Chattanooga Lookouts.
With a 9-year-old who loves baseball, the sport is the center of our lives at times. Stone is a member of the Boldo 9/10-year-old team and we’ve just started our county tournament. I think his love of the game has increased my appreciation of the sport. When he scores a run, there’s usually some sort of primal scream that he lets out, and his proud dad usually has to fight back a tear or two.
Baseball is an activity that brings us together, and that’s what has made me love the sport even more. The game brings us all together — fathers and sons, friends and family. It’s our pastime, and the game and its history should be celebrated. Rickwood Field is an area treasure, and I hope we don’t take it for granted.
James Phillips is Editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at 205-221-2840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.