Giants set to play at historic Rickwood Field, honor Negro Leagues

The San Francisco Giants will make history on June 20, when they take a road trip to Birmingham, Alabama to play the St. Louis Cardinals at historic Rickwood Field.

"Rickwood Field was the place that a 17-year-old kid, named Willie Mays began his illustrious professional baseball career," said Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

Before Willie Mays was a Giant, before he was a hall-of-famer and before he left an indelible mark on baseball, as one of the greatest to ever play the game, the Say Hey Kid was a star for the Birmingham Black Barons.

"That makes the game even more meaningful for Giant fans," said Kendrick. "Your greatest star, that’s where he grew up, played and was part of the Negro Leagues."

The special Giants-Cardinals match-up will be the first AL-NL game at Rickwood Field. Rickwood Field is the oldest professional ballpark in the US and was home to the Black Barons from 1924-1960.

"I wanted them to understand they have the opportunity to be part of making history," said Kendrick, who spoke to Giants players before African American Heritage Night "This is not just one of 162 regular season games, this is historic."

Kendrick also joined former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a panel on the impact of the Negro Leagues.

"Birmingham was a place where you couldn’t go to a movie theater, a restaurant if you were Black," said Rice. "Rickwood Field was where the Black high schools played all their sports."

Rice was born in Birmingham during the segregation era. Her mother was Mays’ ninth grade English teacher, a story she once shared with the hall-of-famer.

"He said ‘oh I remember, Ms. Ray, she told me, son you’re going to be a ballplayer, if you need to get out of here a little early, you can." Rice recalled his response.

While the Negro Leagues were no longer prominent when she was growing up, Rice says the impact of what those players did and endured, lived on.

"When you look back at the Negro Leagues, that exceptional passion, that exceptional commitment, that exceptional defiance," said Rice. "Without which frankly, I don’t think Black America exists today. I think it was emblematic of so much more than what was happening in sports."

The game comes on the heels of Major League Baseball including statistics from the Negro Leagues in its historical records. It’s steps like this, that Kendrick hopes will preserve the legacy of these remarkable athletes. "It moved Negro Leagues baseball history, one more step closer to mainstream and that’s been the mission."

KTVU will be traveling to Birmingham to cover "MLB at Rickwood Field: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues." Be sure to follow our coverage of the historic game.


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