I was in Birmingham, Ala., in September 2007. Had a great time. We toured a bunch of civil rights landmarks. The 16th Street Baptist Church. Kelly Ingram Park. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
I also drove over to the Bethel Baptist Church in southwest Birmingham and interviewed Bill Greason, the long-time pastor of the church and who in 1952 broke the Oklahoma City baseball color line. He was the first black player for the Oklahoma City Indians of the Texas League.
So it was a memorable trip. But I missed a spot. I should have dropped by Rickwood Field. Birmingham’s ancient baseball park, America’s oldest still-standing baseball park, was home to Burleigh Grimes and Dizzy Dean, Rube Marquard and Satchel Paige, Willie Mays and Piper Davis. The Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association and the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues played there.
Rickwood Field turned 100 years old this week.
Minor-league baseball in Birmingham moved to the suburbs in 1987, but Rickwood still stands, thanks to supporters who rallied around the monument. The ballpark hosts instructional camps and wood-bat tournaments for amateur leagues. The park can be rented out, at $100 a game, $30 an hour extra if it requires lights.
Here’s a story on Rickwood turning 100 years old. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/17/sports/baseball/17field.html?_r=1&emc=eta1
But Rickwood made me think of sports treasures in Oklahoma that need to be salvaged as well.
We tore down venerable places like OKC’s Stockyards Coliseum and the Tulsa Coliseum. Just the other day, State Fair Speedway felt the wrecking ball. I’m not a racing fan, but State Fair Speedway was a cool-looking venue, with that solid grandstand, and racing people say it was a fabulous track.
We tore down a bunch of old ballparks. Athletic Park in Muskogee, Oiler Park in Tulsa, Holland Field in OKC, which stood from 1924-58 at NW 4 and Penn and served as home to generations of minor-league memories. Its successor, All Sports Stadium, is gone, too.
How about we let Rickwood Field serve as inspiration. Some venues could stand to be torn down. But let’s not tear down all of them. Let’s be judicious in keeping some great places with great memories.
The OU Field House, which opened in 1928. Capitol Hill High School’s dome. State Fair Arena, which still bubbles with excitement during basketball state tournament week.
Some places are valuable just on memories alone. Rickwood Field in Birmingham shows us that.