The Birmingham Barons and Friends of Rickwood will welcome baseball fans back to legendary Rickwood Field for the 19th Annual Rickwood Classic presented by State Farm Insurance® and YP. Set for Wednesday, June 25th, the classic will celebrate the 'Roaring Twenties'. The 12:30 p.m. contest will showcase the Birmingham Barons against the Mississippi Braves, Double-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. Former Cy Young award winner and Major League Baseball All-Star Dwight Gooden will be in attendance as the Guest of Honor and will be available for autographs during the game.
This will be the second appearance for the M-Braves in the classic having previously played in the contest in 2009, a game the Barons won 3-2. It will also be the third appearance by a Braves affiliate as the Greenville Braves played in the 3rd Rickwood Classic in 1998, picking up a 12-8 win over the Barons.
This year's classic will celebrate the 'Roaring Twenties', a decade that saw the Barons capture two Southern Association titles and set numerous attendance records at Rickwood Field. During the decade, the Barons drew 160,000 fans or more to Rickwood eight times including a then team-record 299,150 in 1927. In 1928, the team posted a team batting average of .331 while winning a club-record 99 games for manager Johnny Dobbs. That team would beat Memphis in a three-game sweep to capture their first championship since 1914. The next season, the Barons made it back-to-back titles under Dobbs as 13 players hit .300 or better, a Southern Association record. That season, the Barons also won their first Dixie Series, besting Dallas from the Texas League, 4-2.
The decade also saw some of the most iconic figures in Barons history pass through Rickwood Field. Legendary player-manager Carlton Molesworth wrapped up a storied career in 1922 and remains one of just three Barons' managers to win two Southern Association or Southern League titles. Third baseman Harold 'Pie' Traynor spent the 1921 season in Birmingham, hitting .336 with 22 doubles, 53 RBI and 101 runs scored en route to a 17-year Major League Career. He would go on to become the first third baseman elected into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. From 1927-'29 the Barons were led by hitters Clarence 'Yam' Yaryan and Elliot Bigelow who led the team with 19 home runs in 1927 and a .395 average in 1928.
Rickwood Field also experienced a significant facelift during the decade. The facelift began in 1924 when the bleachers down the right field line were covered and three years later, a roof was added to the left field line bleachers. However, it would be the additions of 1928 that would forever change the park and give it the three iconic structures that would define it into the future. A new 40 foot high manual scoreboard was built in left field which featured drop-in numbers. Second, the grandstands down the right field line were extended around the right field foul pole. To complete the facelift a new Mission Style front entrance was built, creating a welcoming entryway that greeted fans for the next 85 years.
The Barons will don replica uniforms featuring the iconic monogram B in Old English script on the left side of the jersey. The Birmingham News decried that the uniforms were, "…about the classiest ever - a white jersey with a red stripe along the outside seams and around the sleeves". Meanwhile, the Age-Herald described them as, "…some of the prettiest ever made up for the Barons".
"We are excited to celebrate the 19th installment of the Rickwood Classic by honoring Birmingham Baseball during the 20's," said Barons General Manager Jonathan Nelson. "The Rickwood Classic is a very special event in the Birmingham community and over the years has been recognized nationally as a must-attend baseball game. Along with the Friends of Rickwood and State Farm Insurance® we are looking forward to providing another fun and memorable afternoon at America's oldest ballpark."
"The Friends of Rickwood are extremely pleased to welcome-back the Barons and the Mississippi Braves to Rickwood Field for the 19th annual Rickwood Classic," said David Brewer, Director of the Friends of Rickwood. "The decade of the 1920's was an exciting period in Rickwood history, including not only the team's success, but also several iconic architectural additions to the park itself. We look forward to celebrating the "Roaring Twenties," and to hosting this annual community event. We would also like to thank our partners, the Birmingham Barons and State Farm Insurance®, for their continued support," Brewer added.
Gooden, a three-time World Series champion, enjoyed a 15-year Major League career highlighted by winning the 1984 National League Rookie of the Year award and the 1985 National League Cy Young award. He made the National League All-Star team four times including three-straight appearances from 1984-'86 while becoming the youngest pitcher ever to start the Mid-Summer Classic. His 1985 season still stands as one of the most statistically dominant in MLB history. Known as 'Dr. K', Gooden led all of baseball with 24 wins, 268 strikeouts and an astounding 1.53 ERA and was recognized as the youngest-ever recipient of the Cy Young Award following the season. Gooden spent the majority of his career with the New York Mets, who drafted him fifth overall in the 1982 draft, but would cap a stellar career for their cross-town rivals by throwing a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners on May 14, 1996.
"There is no other game in baseball with the rich history of the Rickwood Classic," said State Farm® Marketing Analyst Cathy Warren. "That is one of the many reasons that State Farm® is pleased to sponsor this game for the 11th consecutive year."
The Rickwood Classic was named Minor League Baseball's Promotion of the Year in 2010 and in 2009 the event was named the most desirable Minor League Baseball game to attend in a poll on MiLB.com. Over 115,000 people have attended the Rickwood Classic since its inception in 1996 while it has been covered by dozens of local and national media outlets including HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, ESPN and MiLB.com.