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A stand-up double for baseball fans in Birmingham
By Tom Adkinson
June 17, 2022

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Even casual fans of baseball can hit a figurative stand-up double by visiting two attractions in Birmingham that are steeped in baseball lore and history.

birmingham rickwood field
Rickwood Field in Birmingham, where play began in 1910, is the oldest baseball stadium in America. Image by Tom Adkinson

The road for many stars who are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, played here in the deep South, and their legacies live on at Rickwood Field and the Negro Southern League Museum.

Rickwood Field can claim a title no other place can – it is America’s oldest baseball stadium.

Steel company industrialist Rick Woodward, owner of Birmingham’s Coal Barons professional baseball team in the early 1900s, envisioned “the finest minor league ballpark ever” and enlisted baseball legend Connie Mack to help design it. The year was 1910.

With only minor changes, what you see today when you walk through a portal that goes underneath the bleachers and directly onto the field (which you are welcome to do) is what Woodward built.

Look across the lush, green infield and outfield grass to an unelectrified scoreboard that still needs people to post scores, and directly behind you are 9,400 seats. A thousand of them came from the Polo Grounds in New York City.

Babe Ruth, Roger Hornsby, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Dizzy Dean and Stan Musial wowed crowds here. They are among more than 180 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who played on this storied field.

Other legends make their mark at Rickwood Field, too, because while major league teams staged exhibitions and the minor league Birmingham Barons played here, so did the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues.

That’s why Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays are honored here. Mays grew up just minutes away from Rickwood Field and as a 16-year-old high school junior was the starting centerfielder for a championship Black Barons team.

Rickwood is so authentic that it was a filming location for three movies (“42,” Jackie Robinson’s story; “Cobb” about Ty Cobb; and “Soul of the Game” for HBO).

The Birmingham Barons moved out in 1987, and Rickwood Field’s survival was in doubt. Local baseball fans organized Friends of Rickwood and found ways to keep the old diamond alive. Rickwood Field remains in use for college, high school and travel baseball games, meaning it’s possible for you to see America’s oldest baseball park in action. It’s also open for drop-in visits.

Gerald Watkins, chairman of Friends of Rickwood, shows off a photo of Willie Mays at Rickwood Field. Image by Tom Adkinson
rickwood field
The green grass of Rickwood Field beckons you to walk on the turf where Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth played. Image by Tom Adkinson

You may encounter Gerald Watkins, chairman of Friends of Rickwood. Watkins dives into all type of work, including selling Rickwood Field merchandise in a beneath-the-bleachers shop.

Negro Southern League Museum
A tour of the Negro Southern League Museum begins by examining a U.S. map that shows where Negro League teams played. Image by Tom Adkinson
jackie robinson
A photo of Jackie Robinson, whose 42 uniform number became a baseball touchstone, greets you in the museum lobby. Image by Tom Adkinson

More baseball lore is downtown at the Negro Southern League Museum. It is next door to Regions Field, the modern home of the AA Birmingham Barons. Just as at Rickwood Field, you needn’t be a baseball fan to appreciate the story the museum tells. It is a look at American life through sports.

“My goal is telling the story of black baseball in America through the eyes of Birmingham,” says Dr. Layton Revel in a museum film. Revel, founder and executive director of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research, provided most of the museum’s artifacts, which have been called the largest collection of Negro League memorabilia anywhere.

birmingham black barons
The Birmingham Black Barons were the longest-running team in the Negro leagues. Image by Tom Adkinson

When steel manufacturing ruled Birmingham, steel companies fielded both black and white baseball teams.

Birmingham factored into the nine major Negro leagues that operated from 1920-1963. The Birmingham Black Barons were the longest-running team, and they won league championships three times, but never a World Series.

It is here that you will learn about an often overlooked story from Birmingham’s race-tinged past – that the (white) Birmingham Barons were Alabama’s first integrated professional sports team. The year was 1964, the year after 1963’s horrors of fire hoses and attack dogs, when the Barons integrated – well before schools, lunch counters or college football.

Trip-planning resources: -,, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available on

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