The 15th annual Rickwood Classic was played Wednesday afternoon as the Birmingham Barons hosted the Tennessee Smokies at the oldest professional ballpark in the United States.
And when it comes to a place as iconic as Rickwood Field, everyone's got something to say. Below is a smattering of remarks made by some of the afternoon's special guests:
Harmon Killebrew (Hall of Fame slugger and the game's guest of honor): "The park is different as far as the fences are concerned, but the stands and dugouts are the same. The clubhouse is the biggest change, though. It didn't used to have air conditioning in the clubhouse, so it's kind of nice they've refurbished the clubhouse. ... I heard that Jim Lemon hit four home runs in an All-Star Game here. And with the old fences being what they used to, it's just an amazing thing to me that he could have done that. ... It's like going back in time being here today. It's hard to believe, but it was 50 years ago that I played here. The Southern League was a real strong league when I was there, one of the premier places to play."
Roger Brown (Birmingham Black Barons, 1957-60): "Being from Birmingham, I thought it was just awesome playing here. We had wonderful support from the community, it was just outstanding and they kept this stadium packed. I played third base and shortstop and hit in the middle of the lineup. But my most famous moment was getting to play in Yankee Stadium in a game against the Kansas City Monarchs."
Henry Elmore (Birmingham Black Barons, 1957-62): "I'm from Birmingham and I loved being at Rickwood and having folks come out to see me play. My mama ... everybody. They'd come out and I'd get three or four hits. When we were playing here, the center field fence was set back so far that even Babe Ruth couldn't put one over. I just hit doubles and singles."
Ray Haggins (Memphis Red Sox, 1953-55): "I played here with one of the teams in the industrial leagues, U.S. Pipe. They furnished us with equipment, bats, balls and everything for the games. I was in high school at the time and glad I got a chance to play. ... [Rickwood] had a great background for hitters and I used to love to hit here, they just couldn't get me out here. ... I really loved playing out here and always looking forward to having a good day."
Frank Marsh (Birmingham Black Barons, 1954): "I was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals organization and when I left St Louis I came into the Negro Professional Baseball League. I was a home run hitter, you had to be to do this (here, Marsh took out a baseball card noting his three consecutive years playing in the Negro Leagues' East-West All-Star Game). I could hit the ball over the right field wall, and that old fence was a distance. I remember those home runs and still have that feeling. When you hit a home run there's a feeling you get, it's embedded in my memory. Coming back here is very inspiring and very gratifying. There wasn't no money for us, we played for the love of the game."
Pat O'Conner (Minor League Baseball president): "The essence of Minor League Baseball is history and tradition. And to come back to Rickwood for its 100th anniversary allows us to return to our roots and celebrate what Minor League Baseball means to our country. It's a tough proposition to restore a ballpark of this size, but it's something that tugs at the heart strings. [The Minor League] business model doesn't support ballparks of this style, but it is very important to preserve them."