In 1996, a tradition was born that returned baseball to downtown Birmingham, Ala. The Friends of Rickwood and Birmingham Barons staged the first Rickwood Classic, which brought the team from its suburban home at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium (read about my visit here) to downtown for a single game. Since 2013, the Barons have played in downtown at Regions Field (read about my visit here), but have continued to play the Rickwood Classic.
This year marks the 20th Rickwood Classic, but my first time attending the game. Each classic commemorates a different era of Barons history with this year’s event commemorating the 1948 Barons, who won the Southern Association title and their fourth Dixie Series crown.
Rickwood Field opened in 1910 after Barons owner Rick Woodward built a concrete and steel structure to mimic the grandeur of Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, and incorporated elements of Pittsburgh Forbes Field. The stadium was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 1991, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.
After getting some photos of the exterior I entered the gate with my friend to see this scene…
Once fans are through the turnstiles they quickly encounter the starting lineups, which you can see a glimpse of in the preceding picture. The complete lineups are below.
In addition to hosting the Rickwood Classic, the Friends of Rickwood maintain the field as a “living museum” that is open during the weekdays for fans to explore. To aid fans on their self-guided tour on weekdays there are pamphlets at the ballpark.
So after grabbing a brochure with about 45 minutes before the game was to start, I explored the ballpark and took some photos.
One of the best features of the Rickwood Classic is seeing the Barons, and usually the visiting team, dress in period uniforms matching that year’s theme. For the 20th Rickwood Classic, the Barons wore replica uniforms from 1948, which was also the theme of the 1st Rickwood Classic in 1996.
After exploring for a bit, my friend and I took our seats and I got in position to get a shot of the first pitch.
In addition to the period uniforms the outfield walls are adorned with retro advertisements, which adds a unique touch to the setting.
After watching the first inning from behind home plate, my friend and I moved to a spot down the first base line. It was a great spot that provided some great angles for pictures of the pitchers and batters.
I explored down the third base line and got some pictures of the grandstand and the outfield walls, too.
Finally my friend and I decided to get something to eat, just as the 7th inning began. One plus and minus of the Rickwood Classic is the limited concession items. It’s nice that you have much simpler options that many newer ballparks, even the Barons’ regular home – Regions Field. However, it means some people’s taste buds don’t get to explore quite as much. Down the first base line there was a large grill featuring hot dogs, Polish sausage, and Italian sausage. So my friend and I opted to head there when our hunger finally forced us to eat.
Despite thoroughly enjoy the stadium, the atmosphere, and the experience the Barons were not able to deliver with a win. The Suns prevailed 8-2 as first baseman David Adams went 5-for-5 with three runs scored while second baseman Danny Black went 2-for-4 with three RBIs.
After the game fans are allowed onto the field, which is not something that usually happens at any baseball stadium. Yes, many Minor League teams allows kids to run the bases, but that is usually controlled and often limited to one day a week. At the Rickwood Classic, all fans are invited down to the field.
As my friend and I were leaving the stadium we saw the home team locker room was open, and were invited in to check it out. The team had already left, which allowed us to explore the entire space and see the manager’s office recreated from 1948.
Without a doubt, the Rickwood Classic and Rickwood Field itself definitely deserve all the praise they receive. It’s a well-preserved historic field, and the game recreates that nostalgic experience. Attending the Rickwood Classic has been on my baseball bucket list for a few years, and I’m extremely thankful that I was able to experience it. Whether you live near Birmingham or not, it’s definitely worth the trek to the West End neighborhood to explore the ballpark.
Final: Jacksonville 8, Birmingham 2