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Barons Depart Rickwood Field, Second-Oldest Baseball Park

September 20, 1987|Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Rickwood Field opened in 1910, when a new song called "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" became popular, and now the Birmingham Barons plan to abandon the nation's second oldest baseball park and take their game out to suburbia.

The first two games of the recent Southern League championship series between the Barons and Charlotte were the last for the old green stadium in a rundown section of Birmingham.

Hoover, a burgeoning suburb, is building an $11 million stadium to house the Barons starting next season.

In leaving Rickwood, the team is abandoning a field that, during the years, featured such players as Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace, Jim Piersall and Walt Dropo on Barons teams; Willie Mays, Monte Irvin and Larry Doby on Black Barons teams before the end of segregation, and visiting major leaguers Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Rickwood, named for A.H. (Rick) Woodward, a Birmingham industrialist who built the park, was dedicated in August 1910, just weeks after Comiskey Park, still the home of the Chicago White Sox and the oldest park still in use.

Lights for night games were added to Rickwood in 1938, about the same time night baseball began in the majors.

The park now is surrounded by poor housing, vacant lots, used car lots and fast-food parlors.

Only one other of the old Southern Assn. parks, Engel in Chattanooga, still is in use. Gone are Russwood in Memphis, Ponce de Leon in Atlanta, Hartwell in Mobile, Pelican in New Orleans and Sulphur Dell in Nashville.

When Art Clarkson revived baseball in Birmingham in 1981 after a five-year hiatus, he called Rickwood the "Bag Lady of Baseball."

The city did some work to restore the park but not as much as requested by Clarkson, the team's principal owner and general manager.

"I love Rickwood," he said. "Its upkeep, accessibility and utility costs forced a difficult decision."

That decision was to deal with Hoover, which agreed to build a stadium near Interstate 459 and U.S. 31. The new park will have picnic areas outside the 10,000-seat grandstand, a level for 10 sky boxes, a restaurant, and 4,000 parking places.

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