Durall Dobbins Jr - Alabama
I was born in 1971 and I have many fond memories of going to games at Rickwood Field in the early 1980s with my grandparents, friends and cousins. You never saw the stadium then, but in my opinion it was better without the fake 1940s signs that were installed for the Cobb movie. At that time, the scoreboard was modest with just a message board and there was a big Mello-Yello sign in right field that had a basketball goal that was worth $5,000 for any player who could ring it. I attended 20+ games a year from 1981-85 and I never saw it happen. I hope you can find some pictures of the way it was then.
Art Clarkson bought the Montgomery Rebels and moved them to Rickwood in 1981 and the memories were great. We even had to drive 30+ minutes from the west end of Birmingham back to our home in the suburbs but it was worth it. I remember seeing the San Diego Chicken whenever he visited Rickwood (twice a year) and the Phillie Fanatic and Max Patkin (the clown prince of baseball he was billed) and collecting all 26 MLB helmets (no Marlins or DBacks then...) filled with ice cream from the Barons Cafe (which is now the museum you may have seen during the Classic).
I've attended 3 Rickwood Classics (the first in 1996, 1999 and 2003.) I don't like them simply because it makes me remember the past and how much has changed for the worse. But I still love seeing the Grand Old Lady... I remember one time where the game was cancelled due to a power failure (it was already underway and pitch-black dark when everyone filed out)... and another game (Colonial Bank Night) when the crowd was so large (over 12,000) they had to rope off about 10 feet on the field itself and let people stand on the warning track...The best feature for me was how my Grandfather would always buy box seats in "double E" that were only a few dollars at the time, which were primo seats behind the catcher right by the opposing dugout and now would only be for corporate clients. A player from the Columbus Astros gave my cousin and I each a real bat...from the opposing team no less! I'll never forget his name was Leo Vargas... probably a construction worker or garbage collector now but it made my day then...The older black folks would always sit up in the grandstand while the white folks would sit in the lower box seats. It wasn't weird for Birmingham considering the racial division, it was just the way people had grown up at that time... Now everything is different and the average fan sits well away from the corporate elite who are checking their stocks and mutual funds while sipping on Grand Marnier in the best seats. We smell bad I guess? But any visit to Rickwood should serve as a memory to when baseball was a game the average fan could love and cherish.
Larry Jones - Tallahassee, FL
Glen West, who was the GM for the Birmingham A’s in 1975, told me that the seats in the right field stands came from the original Polo Grounds after it was torn down. These seats dated back to 1910.
It is a great old ball park and I enjoyed many days there, even after the A’s moved from Birmingham and became the AA Nashville Sounds. After that the University of Alabama/Birmingham started a baseball program, hiring Harry “The Hat” Walker to head up the program. In 1982 he brought in the St. Louis Cardinals (who were the eventual world champs that year) to play against his team. It was amusing and entertaining to see the kids face John Tutor, Bruce Sutter, Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark…great days at the park!
Jim Beckham - Katy, TX
I grew up in Birmingham during the 1940s and 1950s when Rickwood and the Barons were cultural icons. There are many memories, but here are a few that lasted. The original fences at Rickwood were progressively shortened over the years. By the 1950s I recall they were about 350 at the corners and 425 or more in center field. To promote the game, players were awarded “prizes” for doubles, triples and home runs, and as I recall there was a bulls eye of sorts on the roof in right field. The player hitting a home run got a suit from Steins (Fred Hatfield had about 30 one year). We went to see the Birmingham Black Barons on occasion and sat in the right field bleachers where black people sat during the Barons’ games. It was a hoot.
Rickwood was meaningful because it was a centerpiece of our day to day lives, as kids and grownups. You’ll see this in New York and other places, but never again in the South.
Andrew Howard - Niceville, FL
I grew up in Tuscaloosa, about 45 minutes from Birmingham. The first professional ball game that I attended was at Rickwood as a kid. I remember the replica batting helmet my dad bought me; I had it until I went to college. I'm sure it was thrown out years ago. But it was always special - black with a white panel in the front with a red Old English style B. Looking back, I am sad that the Barons moved to Hoover, but who can blame them in today's environment. Hoover is more centrally located south of the mountain where most of the population lives, it's more family friendly, and the taxes are lower.
Rickwood is a special place for me though. I'm a baseball purist and history nut. Going to Rickwood is literally like stepping back in time. Farther back then when I first visited in the mid-80's, but back to the early days and golden era of baseball. I am proud of what they have done to restore it and hope they maintain the 20's - 30's era feel as they continue restoring it. I can't wait to see it as they make progress and complete the project. It will be something for Alabamians and baseball enthusiasts alike to embrace and take pride in.
I took my children for a tour just this past weekend (3/31/07). I want them to appreciate the history of the game that so many of us love. The history that doesn't include drugs or steroids or arbitration, but the one that taught us lessons about humanity, how to see a man for what he is - not the color of his skin, the one that the small guy can play and compete in, and the one that taught us statistics by reading the box scores. The great past time that is Americana. I hope to take them to one of the Classics in a few years, when they're a little older.
I think Dave Brewer and the folks at Rickwood should be proud of their work and stay focused on the goal. They are doing an outstanding job of preserving this landmark, not only for Birmingham and Alabama, but for the game itself.
I encourage any baseball fan to visit Birmingham for a tour of Rickwood. There's plenty to see and do while you're there. Plan a Barons game, a tour of Rickwood, and dinner at Dreamland - a perfect weekend trip!
Don Dickerson - Huntington Beach, CA
My Uncle Hubert Conwill who lived in Fairfield, Alabama and worked in the steel mills took me to see the Birmingham Barons play in the very first professional baseball game I had ever seen in 1948. Over the next few years I would travel from Prairie, Mississippi where we lived to spend a couple of weeks with my Uncle in the summer and go see Baron games. I was 10 years old and my hero was Walt Dropo, the big 1st baseman for the Barons. I followed his career into the majors with the Boston Red Sox. Other memories include seeing Ted Williams give a "hitting exhibition" before a Red Sox-Barons game during spring training when the Red Sox were on their way back to Boston to open the season. As a pre-game joke, Charles Coburn, the actor, once dressed as an umpire and began the game with outrageous calls, prompting the team to pick him up and carry him off the field to the crowd's delight. Only then was it announced that it was the actor and not a real umpire. I remember a game being suspended because a team (I think it was the Fort Worth Cats) having to catch a train for their next game. And shinning above all the action nightly was the Vulcan torch in the distance. What great memories!