MLB game at Rickwood Field will be etched in baseball history

On June 20, the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals will meet at historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Major League Baseball's tribute to the Negro Leagues is a game Gerald Watkins says he never even dreamed of.

"Here we are on the cusp of probably the biggest day in our history, since opening day in 1910," said Watkins.

Watkins is the chairman and executive director of the "Friends of Rickwood," a nonprofit that since the early '90s has been charged with preserving the oldest professional ballpark in the United States.

"There was talk about a wrecking ball, and a group of concerned citizens, mostly gentlemen who had been here with their fathers or grandfathers," said Watkins. "We said we can’t lose this building, can’t lose this facility."

Rickwood has a rich history dating back to its opening day in 1910. From 1924 to 1960, it was the home of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League and where Giants’ Hall of Famer Willie Mays started his professional career. It’s that history the MLB will honor with this game.


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.

"The Hall of Famers who have come through here, 182 of them," said Watkins. "Quite a few are Negro Leaguers that never made it to the big leagues. But they all had a time and place in history, and we want to celebrate that with everyone."

For Watkins, a retired banker, Rickwood is rooted deep in his childhood memories.

"As a 10-year-old coming here with friends to see baseball I remember coming here and seeing Reggie Jackson," said Watkins. "I remember coming here and seeing Gene Tenace. It always seemed like this was the biggest place in the world."

When MLB held its "Field of Dreams" game in Iowa in 2021, Watkins began lobbying the league to bring a game to Rickwood.

"We have a baseball park where it’s a real 'Field of Dreams' because imagine, Willie Mays, 17 years old, standing in our outfield and dreaming maybe one day I can be in the big leagues," said Watkins.

After years of talks, and more than $5 million from the city of Birmingham for renovations to bring the field up to MLB standards, Rickwood and the Magic City are ready to shine.

Watkins said 8,100 is the capacity, but "judging by the e-mails and the phone calls and the texts, we could’ve sold 50,000 tickets."

Watkins hopes visitors to Rickwood feel the game's gravity and understand the ballpark’s special place in baseball and U.S. history.

"You can look out there and see Willie Mays," said Watkins. "In your dreams, you can see Satchel Paige on the mound, Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig, all those greats came here. It’s a place where memories can come alive. Yet, we’re tying the future in."