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Rickwood Field Game This Week Celebrates Negro Leagues

The San Franciso Giants and St. Louis Cardinals will face off on Thursday in Birmingham, Alabama at the oldest surviving professional baseball park in the United States. Rickwood Field was built in 1910. From 1924 to 1960 the Negro Leagues Birmingham Barrons played at the site. The oldest living MLB Hall of Famer got his start at the field, when Willie Mays played there from 1948 to ’51 before joining the New York Giants.

Rickwood Field Game This Week Celebrates Negro Leagues

“Rickwood’s been part of my life for all of my life. Since I was a kid,” Mays said in a statement. “Like a church. The first big thing I ever put my mind to was to play at Rickwood Field. It wasn’t a dream. It was something I was going to do. I was going to work hard to be one of the Birmingham Black Barons and play ball at Rickwood Field. That’s what I did. It was my start. My first job. You never forget that.

Tribute To The Negro Leagues

The game will be the finale of a week-long celebration at Rickwood that bridges Juneteenth. Former Negro League players will be in attendance to watch the game and celebrate the history of the Negro Leagues.


“This is going to be a watershed moment for Negro Leagues history,” said Bob Kendrick, President of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum when the game was announced in 2023. “We cannot wait until June 20 to bring the spirit of all those legendary Negro Leaguers back to these hallowed grounds.”

The Negro Leagues paved the way for Black players to eventually be allowed to play in MLB. Black players competed in the Leagues exclusively until in 1947 when Jackie Robinson famously broke the race barrier in Major League Baseball. Willie Mays was just the seventh Black player to play in the League when he left the Barrons for the Giants in 1951.

“For me it’s important to shine a spotlight on the past and the guys that played this game before me and built it to where as a Black man I had a chance to play in the big leagues. I had a chance to play with some of the best players of my generation. The chance to stay in the game after,” said Randy Winn, a former MLB outfielder at the announcement of the game. “All of those gentlemen that played this game it’s important that we shine the light on what they did and the opportunities and access they created for people like me.”

The game at Rickwood comes just about a month after Negro League stats were incorporated into official MLB stats.

Cardinals And Giants Excited For Opportunity

The Giants are celebrating their star Willie Mays in the game at Rickwood. Manager Bob Melvin used the opportunity to reflect on May’s greatness.

“I’m probably a little biased, but I think he’s the greatest player of all time,” Melvin told reporters in May. “What he meant to this area, not just with the performance on the field, just how he played the game was with a lot of fun. That’s what it’s supposed to be playing a game. I think he embodied everything that’s great about baseball, and on top of that was a fantastic player.”


Melvin himself played at the field while in the Minor Leagues with the Detroit Tigers from 1982 to ’84. He says the team is looking forward to the game.

“We’re really excited about that,” Melvin said. “You know, Willie [Mays] played there, so that’s something that everybody’s extremely excited about, celebrating the Negro Leagues and all that transpired there. Personally, I played over a year there at Double-A with the Tigers, so I’m excited about going back, too.”

Cardinals rookie shortstop Masyn Winn and his family are looking forward to the chance to play at a Negro League stadium as well.

“It’s super special. Me and my stepdad have been talking about it. He’s been excited since Spring Training,” Winn said. “To be able to be out there and represent the black community, I think I might be the only black person on either team while we’re out there so it’s pretty cool, it’s definitely special for me and my family.”

The Cardinals organization said it is honored to be a part of the game.

“It’s an honor first off to have Major League Baseball ask us to participate in this,” said John Mozeliak, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations on Sunday. “Given our history, Giants history, it’s obviously something both organizations understand how special that is.”

Willie Mays Won’t Attend Game, But Will Watch

Despite being a central figure in the Rickwood Game, Mays will not be in attendance. Mays announced he wouldn’t be able to make it last month.


“I’d like to be there, but I don’t move as well as I used to. So I’m going to watch from my home,” Mays said in a statement. “But it will be good to see that. I’m glad that the Giants, Cardinals and MLB are doing this, letting everyone get to see pro ball at Rickwood Field. Good to remind people of all the great ball that has been played there, and all the players. All these years and it is still here. So am I. How about that?”

Mays is from Alabama and started playing for the Barrons while he was still in high school. This will be the first MLB game in Alabama on record.

Teams will wear throwback uniforms

The MLB unveiled the uniforms for the Rickwood game last week. Both teams will be wearing modern versions of former professional baseball team uniforms. The Giants will wear a San Francisco Seas Lions uniform, which was a West Coast Negro League team in 1946.

The Cardinals will wear uniforms of the St. Louis Stars. The stars formed as an independent team in 1906 before joining the Negro National League in 1920. The Stars won three pennants during their time in the league.


“They look good, just the throwback in general,” Winn said. “I used to play on a team called the Negro League Legends and we had some throwback jerseys so to be able to rock it in the big leagues is pretty cool. They look pretty swaggy to me.”

About Rickwood Field

The 114-year-old field was put on the National Register of Historic places in 1991. The field served as not just a baseball park, but a cultural center for Black people in Birmingham.

“Rickwood field is hallowed grounds,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin in 2023. “Where sports became more than entertainment. It was a source of empowerment. That’s what this game represents. Progress, power, and my favorite, pride.”

The Birmingham Barrons formed in 1921 primarily from local company ACIPCO’s Black company team. The Barrons won three Negro American League titles in 1940’s but lost each time in the Negro League World series.

Rickwood Field and the Birmingham Barrons are special to a lot of families with roots in Alabama and the South. Families like former MLB first baseman Ryan Howard, who spoke at the announcement of the Rickwood game.

“For me hearing the stories of my grandfather, where he had the opportunity, and he actually played against Willie Mays in some of the coal mining leagues,” Howard said. “He never got the opportunity to play in the Negro Leagues, he was offered it, but at the time he had a wife and three kids to look after so he chose the steady job. So, for me this is a very special and humbling moment being here in Alabama, at Rickwood, not far from where my family is originally from and being able to live this moment for him.”

Main Photo Credits: Courier-Post photo by Jim Walsh / USA TODAY NETWORK


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