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  • Writer's pictureDavid Welch

Rickwood Field – MiLB at Rickwood



Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

Rickwood Field 1137 2nd Ave W Birmingham, AL 35204


Year Opened: 1910

Capacity: 8,300

 

It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham

Professional baseball returned to Birmingham’s Rickwood Field in 2024 as part of Major League Baseball’s Tribute to the Negro Leagues. Previously the field has hosted the Rickwood Classic, an annual minor league baseball game between the Birmingham Barons and a Southern League opponent, from 1996 to 2016. After a hiatus in 2017 for stadium maintenance, the Classic resumed from 2016 to 2019. Following the cancellation of the 2020 Minor League Baseball season, Rickwood Field would not see professional baseball again until MLB announced that 2024 would feature both minor league and major league games to pay tribute to those who played in the Negro Leagues, as well as to honor the career of Willie Mays – Mays, from neighboring Fairfield, Alabama, began his professional career at Rickwood Field as a member of the Birmingham Black Barons.


 

Food & Beverage   5

MLB’s use of Rickwood Field to showcase minor league baseball includes a full production effort, with concessions being no exception. MiLB at Rickwood Field: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues highlights some of Birmingham’s local staples.


Fans can still enjoy ballpark classics like hot dogs, burgers, and nachos, but with a local twist featuring some of Birmingham’s well-known eateries. Dreamland BBQ offers smoked pork and chicken sandwiches with classic Alabama white sauce, nachos, and smoked sausage on a stick. Eugene’s Hot Chicken provides jumbo chicken tenders with signature sauce and loaded “chix fries”. Local food truck Awww Shucks serves gourmet roasted corn on the cob in three styles.


Alcoholic beverages include common national brands, along with selections from Alabama breweries Yellowhammer and Cahaba, featuring Groovy Dan’s West Coast IPA and Blonde Ale, respectively.


What Rickwood has done is take the basics and simply make them not so basic any more, just by partnering with some of Birmingham’s more notable establishments to add their own touches.

 

Atmosphere   4

One of the most beautiful aspects of Rickwood Field is that it has retained much of its original charm. The cupola on the tiled roof remains consistent with the original design, and additions such as the fully covered grandstand reminiscent of the 1920s, and the reconfigured main entrance reminiscent of the 1930s, are very similar to their original forms.


With MLB's decision to play at Rickwood, the stadium required upgrades to meet major league standards, including minor adjustments to home plate positioning, field angle, and bullpen relocation behind the outfield fence. What is a bit disappointing is with MLB’s oversight of stadium upgrades, some of the classic signage throughout the field’s confines was replaced in favor of MLB’s sponsors – gone is the Alabama Power Company mascot holding electric bolts and the “It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham” signs, which have been replaced by current MLB advertisers.  The saving grace is the new signs were designed in a historically accurate representation, but it’s just disappointing that some of the classics are no longer there. Another casualty to the upgrades were the in-ground dugouts that you often saw players sitting on top of during the game, due to the coziness of the original dugouts.


Keeping with the kitschy-ness of minor league baseball, the Rickwood game utilizes interactive games with fans throughout the stands to fill the time between innings. A temporary video screen was also installed in right-center field for the MLB game to broadcast mid-inning contests, replays, and serve as an auxiliary scoreboard alongside the manual scoreboard in left field.


When choosing seats, it's tough to go wrong – seats around home plate and up the lines keep fans close to the action, while the covered right field area provides great views of the stadium. However, be mindful of the steel support beams used for the roof, as they can create obstructed views.

 

Neighborhood   2

Rickwood Field is located in the Rising-West Princeton neighborhood of Birmingham’s west end. The area presents a mixed impression, characterized by a combination of residential and industrial zones, but with a notable number of abandoned and decaying homes and businesses – the neighborhood may elevate visitors' situational awareness rather than create a sense of immediate intimidation.


Food options in the vicinity are predominantly chain restaurants, though there are a few independently owned establishments as well. One nearby option is Southern Caribbean, which serves Jamaican cuisine and might be worth a visit.


Birmingham holds significant historical importance in the civil rights movement, particularly during the 1950s and 60s. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, located about four miles from Rickwood Field, is in an area rich with historical landmarks – the 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, and the marked routes of protestors through the streets of Birmingham highlight the pivotal events that occurred during the city's fight for equal rights.

 

Fans   5

One of the beautiful aspects of Rickwood Field games is the fans who use the occasion to showcase their prized throwback jerseys of teams and players that have graced this field. And while you will find jerseys of recognizable teams and players, some represent obscure figures that only well-educated students of the game might recognize.


Fans from around the South, and even the country, make a pilgrimage to see a game at the nation’s oldest stadium used for professional baseball. Rickwood games typically see a 4,000 to 5,000 bump in attendance compared to typical weekday games for the Birmingham Barons. Fans are not just there to experience the spectacle of the historic stadium; they also passionately support the Barons and show strong pride for Birmingham. Rickwood itself is also a source of great civic pride for Birmingham natives, who all seem to have a story about playing there.


 

Access   3

Getting to Rickwood Field is typically straightforward, with just a few turns needed off Interstate 20/59, which bisects Birmingham. However, the high demand for games here can overwhelm the area's parking capacity; as a solution, fans park at nearby Legion Field and are shuttled to the streets outside Rickwood.


Accessing the stadium requires patience due to the large crowds. The main entrance along 12th Street can take time to get through, but opens up once you are past the security check. The area immediately outside the stadium serves as an external concourse, allowing visitors to navigate without contending with a crowded internal walkway.



While there are limits to how much a historic stadium can be upgraded, Rickwood’s field concourse is designed to allow fans to move fairly easily in both directions, provided there are no obstructions. However, when fans stop to take photos or to simply admire the stadium, it can create significant backups. Additionally, the step up from the concourse to the upper section of seating is substantial, so care is needed when navigating the aisles.

 

Return on Investment   4

Tickets for games at jewel sites like Rickwood Field come at a premium price. For the last MiLB game played at Rickwood in 2019, tickets started at $10. However, with the heightened interest due to MLB's involvement and the game's tribute to the Negro Leagues, ticket prices have significantly increased – for the latest event, prices started at $30 for seating in the sections above the walkway. Although this is higher than typical minor league ticket prices, the historic nature of Rickwood Field and the unique atmosphere of the game make it a reasonable investment.


Concession prices are comparable to restaurant rates for similar quality food, though serving sizes on some items could be a bit more generous. However, where prices do seem to be rather inflated are with souvenirs, such as on t-shirts starting at $35.


Overall, the inflated prices for games at special locations like Rickwood Field should not come as a surprise given the unique experience and historical significance of both the stadium and the event itself.

 

Extras   5

Simply walking through the front entrance of the stadium and first laying your eyes upon the field is breathtaking for those who appreciate the historical importance of Rickwood Field. Not enough can be said about how special a game at Rickwood Field is.


Rickwood Field itself is a museum of baseball. The thought of being in a stadium that has hosted so many greats of the game is enough to send chills down your spine. The stadium even has both clubhouses set up with lockers adorned with replica jerseys, of players who have graced Rickwood’s field in the past. Additionally, a combination gift shop and museum is located on the first base side of the exterior concourse.



When professional baseball comes to Rickwood Field, there is a nod to the stadium's history in the music played before the game – music specific to the era plays over the stadium’s public address system, and is accompanied by a live organist entertaining fans during pre-game.


Despite changes over the years, some historical aspects have remained; the manual scoreboard was added in 1928 and the lighting stanchions from 1936 stand out immediately. Rickwood was the first minor league stadium outfitted for night baseball, so the scoreboard and lighting towers are features that just are not seen in today’s stadiums.

 

Final Thoughts

From its early days hosting industrial leagues near the turn of the century, to the Southern League and Southern Negro League until the 1960s, Rickwood Field has been integral to the sport's history.


For baseball and stadium enthusiasts, Rickwood Field is a must-visit – it serves as a live action museum. From the moment you pass through the entryway, it is impossible not to feel the history of the stadium and imagine all the greats who once played on this field.


Rickwood Field offers an experience where fans forget about the modern comforts of present day stadiums and enjoy the game as the main attraction. Unlike modern day stadiums with social gathering areas and children’s play zones, Rickwood focuses purely on the game on the field.


Major League Baseball’s decision to use Rickwood Field for their tribute to the Negro Leagues put a much-deserved spotlight on this historic relic, which had begun to fall into disrepair. The upgrades the stadium received in preparation for hosting Major League Baseball should ensure that Rickwood Field continues to stand as one of the most important baseball stadiums for generations to come.

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