Birmingham, AL – Baseball fans from across the South took advantage of a sunny afternoon to visit America’s Oldest Ballpark Wednesday for the annual Rickwood Classic. This year’s contest between the Birmingham Barons and Mississippi Braves marked the 99th year of baseball in Birmingham and the teams provided everything a fan could want including a great pitching duel, monster home runs, and ninth inning heroics.
The Braves edged the hometown Barons 3-2, scoring all three runs courtesy of the long ball, including a first inning blast by Travis Jones and a ninth inning, two-run game winner by Eric Campbell. It was Campbell’s first homer of the season and came in his first game at Rickwood. The Barons provided some bottom of the ninth drama, but came up short when John Shelby struck out with two runners on to end the game.
In spite of the loss, Birmingham continues to lead the Southern League South by a full five games. The Braves improve to 21-25, but remain well back in the division.
The throwback uniforms of the 80’s that both teams sported were a perfect backdrop to a special visit by former Atlanta Braves TV and radio announcer Pete Van Wieren. When asked on the field what was his greatest memory of his years with the Braves Wieren responded the worst-to-first Braves of 1991.
The 14th installment of the Rickwood Classic maintains the parks’ claim as “America’s Oldest Ballpark.” Rickwood was built in 1910, two years before Boston’s baseball Mecca, Fenway Park. The first concrete and steel park in the minor leagues, Rickwood served as the Barons home from 1910 until 1961, again in the mid sixties and from 1981 to 1987 when the team moved to a new stadium in Hoover. The team returned in 1996 for the first Rickwood Classic. Just over 5,300 attended that game, compared to 7,400 this year, the fourth largest crowd in the event’s history.
That attendance figure is a good sign for the historic park as the Barons will be hosting the 2009 Southern League All-Star game in July. Although the game will be played at Regions Park, the Barons have given a nod to the old lady by announcing that the All-Star Home Run Derby will be held at Rickwood. The last time the Southern League All Star game was held in Birmingham was 1982 at, of course, Rickwood Field.
Article by Keith George
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