The story of Rickwood Field, America's oldest ballpark, began in 1910 when millionaire Birmingham industrialist A.H. "Rick" Woodward brought the Barons from J. William McQueen. Until this point, the Barons had played all their games since their inception in 1885 at the Slag Pile, which seated 600 and was leased 60 days at a time.
Woodward announced plans to build the first concrete-and-steel ballpark in the minor leagues (and the fifth in all of baseball at the time). Woodward consulted with Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics during an A's exhibition game in Birmingham. Mack helped lay out the site of the diamond and suggested the installation of wooden louvers between the top row of the grandstand and the roof. The original layout mirrored Shibe Park in Philadelphia.
A newspaper decided the name of the new structure, Rickwood Field, through its use of the first name and part of the last name of the owner. By the time Rickwood was ready for baseball in August 1910, the project cost had increased to a staggering $75,000 for the 7,000 facility.
The Barons played their first game at Rickwood against the Montgomery Climbers on August 18th, 1910. A crowd estimated at 10,000 jammed into the new facility for the opener. In true style, Woodward threw out the first pitch (for real, not for ceremony) and handed the ball to Harry Coveleski with a 1-0 count on the first batter. Barons' manager Carlton Molesworth scored the first run in the new park. The Barons trailed 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth and scored twice to beat the Climbers by a 3-2 final.
Several structural changes took place to Rickwood Field during the 1920's, which included the roof's extension over the concrete bleachers along the right-field line and the addition of stell bleachers down the left-field line. The 1927 season brought the installation of concrete bleachers along the third-base side, as well as new box seats. The final expansion of the facility came in 1928 with the construction of a covered grandstand. The grandstand went down the first-base side and curved around the foul pole in right and behind the right-field wall. The same year saw the addition of Rickwood Field's distinctive Spanish Missionary-style entrance arcade with a two-story structure.
However, some changes in Rickwood Field were not planned…a tornado ripped through Rickwood the morning of April 16th, 1921. The twister destroyed the wooden outfield fence and bleachers, which caused approximately $30,000 in damages and required the rapid construction of a temporary fence. A 10-foot concrete wall and 30-foot-high mechanical scoreboard in left-center field soon replaced the temporary wooden fence.
Two more structural changes took place in the 1950's as the original dugouts at Rickwood Field were removed and rebuilt below ground level and box seats were added to the ballpark. The same year saw the construction of the Dugout Restaurant along the first-base side of the stadium.
Rickwood Field hosted its final game as the mainstay of the Barons on September 9th, 1987. Jack Mcdowell took the mound for the Barons in the second game of the Southern League Championship Series. Despite a game one loss, the Barons went on to "win one for Rickwood," and claimed the Southern League title by a 3-1 margin.
Rickwood's Field's finest moment came in the Dixie Series of 1931. The Barons won the Southern Association by 10 ½ games and faced the Houston Buffaloes. An all-time Rickwood Field record crowd of 20,074 shoe-horned into the park on September 16th, 1931, to see the game one matchup as the Barons sent 43-year-old Ray Caldwell to the mound to face Houston's young ace, Dizzy Dean. Both pitchers turned in masterful outings, and Birmingham's Billy Bancroft settled the affair in the bottom of the eighth inning with an RBI-double to left field. Caldwell retired the side in the ninth as the Barons claimed a 1-0 victory.
Rickwood Field's single-season attendance record came in 1948 when 445,926 fans walked through the turnstiles. The Barons won the Dixie Series by a 4-1 margin over the Fort Worth Panthers the same season behind slugger Walt Dropo.
The Barons were not the lone championship team to call Rickwood Field home during the 1948 campaign. The Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League played their games at Rickwood, as well, from 1920-1963. The Black Barons claimed the 1948 Negro American League title under star player-manager Piper Davis and 17-year-old budding star Willie Mayes before they bowed out to the Homestead Grays in the Negro League World Series.
In tradition which dates back to 1996, the Barons return to Rickwood Field once per season to play the "Rickwood Classic," a "turn back the clock" game to honor the history of baseball in the city of Birmingham. The annual induction class of the Barons Hall of Fame is announced during the Rickwood Classic, as well.
Rickwood celebrated it 100th year on August 18th, 2010, as it became the first ballpark in America to reach the historic centennial figure.