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Rickwood Field: A Century in America's Oldest Ballpark

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Although Birmingham was racially more progressive than other parts of the South due to its industrial base, it also was the city of Bull Connor, the public safety official who ordered the use of fire hoses and attack dogs against civil rights demonstrators. Before becoming notorious as a segregation enforcer, Connor was a popular play-by-play broadcaster for the all-white Birmingham Barons. The Sporting News, in fact, called him the “most popular baseball announcer in the South.”

Ironically, the first integrated professional game was played at Rickwood in 1954 between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox, without incident. Birmingham’s baseball fans, it appears, were more interested in seeing major league players than they were in insisting upon racial divisions.

Architecturally, Rickwood has its share of distinctive features, including the “Crow’s Nest” on the grandstand roof, cantilevered field lights, and a Spanish mission-style façade that owes its appearance to a design craze inspired by a Hollywood movie starring Mary Pickford. These have been preserved by the Friends of Rickwood, a nonprofit organization formed in 1992 to keep this landmark from crumbling.

An appendix to the book explains the many steps taken by this group to keep the ballpark intact and operative despite the loss of the minor-league Birmingham Barons, who played there from 1910 to 1987. The Barons moved to a new stadium in the suburbs, but now Rickwood serves as a civic asset that hosts about 200 games a year, including those of high school, college, and amateur teams.

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