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MLB at Rickwood Field: What to know about Giants-Cardinals game at historic landmark

Rickwood Field, the oldest professional ballpark in the United States, will be the host of an MLB game between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants on Thursday night.

The stadium, which opened in 1910, is located in Birmingham, Alabama, and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

It was the host for the Negro Leagues’ Birmingham Black Barons, as well as the minor leagues’ Birmingham Barons and Birmingham A’s. The Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates used the ballpark as a spring training site in the early 1900s.

Baseball Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner were among the legends who came through. However, for many, fans got to see the talent of the Negro Leagues, including Willie Mays, who got his start with the Black Barons at the age of 17.

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A manual scoreboard is seen at Rickwood Field on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Mays, who passed away this week at 93, told the San Francisco Chronicle that playing in the majors was not something he thought he could attain – at least not until Jackie Robinson first broke the color barrier in baseball, and Larry Doby followed him in the American League.

Mays got his start with the New York Giants in 1951 and was the Rookie of the Year.

“The majors? I didn’t dream about the impossible,” he told the paper before his death. “I was taught to see your goal in your mind and work toward it. I could work toward getting to Rickwood Field and the Birmingham Black Barons. I didn’t need to dream for that. For that, I needed to work hard. So, I did. Rickwood became my training ground.”

Willie Mays mural

Thursday night’s game was set to honor Mays, who before his death announced he could not make the trip to Alabama.

“All of Major League Baseball is in mourning today as we are gathered at the very ballpark where a career and a legacy like no other began,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Willie Mays took his all-around brilliance from the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League to the historic Giants franchise. From coast to coast in New York and San Francisco, Willie inspired generations of players and fans as the game grew and truly earned its place as our National Pastime.”

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Rickwood Field memorabilia

Rickwood Field was also noted for its play in American Civil Rights history.

It was one of the sites of marches for voting rights and boycotts, but on the end, brutal beatings, civil unrest and bombings.

“It was a place where horror was allowed to take a pause for nine innings,” comedian Roy Wood Jr. told The Associated Press. “… Rickwood was never going to solve Black people’s problems, but it represented a place where Black people didn’t have to think about them for a few hours.”

Rickwood’s head groundskeeper, Jabreil Weir, helped MLB get the facility ready to host a game.

Some of the renovations included a new drainage system and backstop netting.

“Who would have thought MLB would come to Birmingham, Alabama?” Weir told The Associated Press. “Who ever thought that I would be in the position that I am to be a part of this event? These are moments that you dream of.”

Birmingham Barons uniforms

Game info

Matchup: St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Francisco Giants.

Time: 7:15 p.m. ET/6:15 p.m. CT

Place: Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Alabama

TV: FOX

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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