Last week while on a road trip from Wichita to Atlanta, Lee and I heard about a baseball field we needed to see in Birmingham, Ala.
As America’s oldest ballpark, Rickwood Field is on the National Register of Historic Places. As we stepped onto the field and had the chance to talk to a groundskeeper prepping the field for high school games that afternoon, we learned that Rickwood is more than a ballpark; it’s a living history museum that transports you back in time, and it’s starring in a movie that opens tomorrow.
Opening day for Rickwood was in 1910, two years before Boston’s Fenway Park and four years ahead of Chicago’s Wrigley Field. It was home to Birmingham’s minor league team and hosted minor league and Negro League games from 1910-1987. Nearly five dozen members of the Baseball Hall of Fame played at Rickwood. Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Satchel Paige, Willie Mays and the list goes on and on.
About a year ago, Warner Bros. came to Birmingham to give Rickwood a role in its much-anticipated movie about Jackie Robinson. “42” stars Chadwick Boseman as Robinson, who broke professional baseball’s color barrier 66 years ago – April 15, 1947 – wearing uniform No. 42 (which has since been retired from all major league baseball teams in his honor). Harrison Ford plays Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey.
If you see the movie, watch for scenes shot at Rickwood. The field was used to replicate Forbes Field in Pittsburgh as well as Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J., where Robinson played for the Montreal Royals while working his way through the minors to play for the Dodgers.
Rickwood even got to play itself. Robinson played there in 1945 against the Birmingham Black Barons while playing for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League.
Today, the field hosts amateur leagues, high school teams and the annual Rickwood Classic – which brings back to the field the Birmingham Barons (who now play in a new suburban stadium). A non-profit group, Friends of Rickwood, raises funds to maintain and continue to restore the field.