Rickwood Classic: Returning

(Photos by Taylor Bruce, Tanner Latham, and Robin Weekley)

I was 15 when, as a high school player from Georgia, I first visited Rickwood Field in Birmingham. Forever afterwards, no ballpark experience matched up. None. Suiting up for a game in America’s oldest ballpark is the apex. But watching the game from the scoreboard heights might be a close second.

America’s Oldest Ballpark

People, ninety-nine percent of the time, respond surprisingly to Birmingham’s claim as home to baseball’s most aged relic. Rickwood bests Wrigley, Fenway, and Yankee Stadium. It’s the model for new park design firms, who’ve tailored new downtown stadiums like Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Memphis’ Autozone Park after fields like Rickwood.

Infieldweb

You don’t see places like Rickwood anymore, not in real life. You see movies. (Cobb, starring Tommy Lee Jones, filmed its game scenes here.) So when I walked into the timepiece yesterday, more than ten years after my time on this very field, the sacred grounds, it happened again. I had a skip in my step. I couldn’t get inside fast enough. Lay eyes on the throwback painted advertisements on the outfield wall, buy a hot dog, sit as close to the home team dugout as possible. I’d been here before, but at the same time, it was all new again. I wanted to call my old high school coach Donnie Branch. I would have given my weekend to sit with the Barons on top of the dugout. (This, I recall, was the coolest thing about playing at Rickwood – sitting with my best friends on top of the dugout, game two of a doubleheader, chewing seeds.)

Dugoutweb

Behind the Scoreboard

Somewhere mid-game, I wandered up the left field line, walking 30 yards from the Sun’s outfielder, to the back of the black-and-white scoreboard. A TV camera man finished his shots as I climbed the twenty-foot ladder to the platform. There I met Kurt Wagner and Dan Weinrib, the two guys with the best seats in the house and once-a-year jobs rivaling anyone’s- scorekeepers at Rickwood. We spoke for a few minutes about their experience.

Backofscoreboardweb

Backofscoreboardkurtweb

(High school student Kurt peeking through the opening in the metal numbers that slide into each inning’s slot on the big board.)

The day at Rickwood provided a pleasantly nostalgic afternoon for me. Rickwood is that type of place. A place where the grandson of a St. Louis Brown and nephew of a Detriot Tiger can channel the past, where I can share my city with someone new in town, where the kid who breathed baseball growing up can rise back to the surface of my consciousness. It’s nice to know he’s still in there, able to be awed at something so simple, a ballpark.

Littlekidweb

COMMENTS

  1. Charles McNair

    Taylor, this made me homesick — not just for Rickwood, a place I love, but for the day and age when I grew up, back when every scoreboard depended on boys with aluminum numbers and dependable counting skills. For the times when real grass covered the fields everywhere. When you knew the only juice in a player was from tobacco. Thanks for reminding me of good times and good memories. Charles

    June 14, 2008 at 10:41 am
  2. Debbie

    what nostalgia this article brings back. this writer makes it so real. How enjoyable are the simple things of life.
    Great article!

    June 5, 2008 at 7:16 am
  3. Brett

    Great photos. Rickwood is definitely a gem of which Birmingham should be proud.

    June 2, 2008 at 9:41 am
  4. Andrew Skinner

    Thanks for that podcast Taylor. It was a very enjoyable return to the past. I can almost smell the hot mid-summer days.

    June 2, 2008 at 9:34 am
  5. Bryan Johnson

    excellent work taylor bruce!
    i love it that southern living is trying to speak to our generation with online multi-media presentaions.
    this is the stuff that will keep your brand relevant when my mom’s generation has passed on.

    May 30, 2008 at 8:47 pm
  6. Paul P

    Great article! As one who was out of town for the Classic, I appreciate you sharing it with me. Keep up the good work!

    May 30, 2008 at 3:12 pm

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