Suns top Barons in Rickwood Classic

Southern League foes turn back clock at century-old ballpark

(Birmingham News)

May 28, 2008 2:53 PM ET

For a few hours on a warm Wednesday afternoon, Birmingham's Rickwood Field again was the center of the baseball world.

Rickwood Field was alive with the sounds of a game that has kept fans coming to the historic ballpark for nearly a century. With more than 7,500 on hand, the Jacksonville Suns edged the Birmingham Barons, 4-2, at the 13th annual Rickwood Classic.

James McDonald (3-1) allowed two runs on two hits with five strikeouts over six innings and Jamie Hoffmann lined a go-ahead two-run single in the fifth for Jacksonville (24-29).

Lucas May gave the Suns a 1-0 lead in the first when his two-out single plated Ivan DeJesus.

Barons starter Justin Cassel (3-3) was reached for four runs -- one earned -- on nine hits over seven innings. Javier Castillo's two-run homer in the first was the only offense for Birmingham (31-22).

As has been the tradition since the Rickwood Classic was launched in 1996, both clubs wore vintage jerseys. The Suns honored the 1967 team that featured future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, while the Barons, donned uniforms worn by the team in 1951-'52, when it was an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.

Former Major Leaguer Jimmy Piersall, who played for Birmingham in 1952, was the special guest for this year's Classic. The Barons gave away 1,500 vintage Piersall portraits and inducted Rollie Fingers, Satchel Paige, Burleigh Grimes and veteran local sportswriter Rubin E. Grant into the club's Hall of Fame.

The game has become an experience for baseball fans who seek a trip down memory lane. The ballpark is being transformed into a museum, and fans and players on Wednesday had their annual opportunity to take part in the historic meeting. The game was listed fifth on the list of top events in 2008 by the Alabama Department of Tourism.

Built for the Barons in 1910, Rickwood has hosted various Minor League and Negro League clubs. A.H. "Rick" Woodward, chairman of Woodward Iron Co., had the park constructed for $75,000 and opened it on Aug. 18, 1910, when the Barons defeated the Montgomery Climbers, 3-2.

"The Rickwood Classic is a very special event in the Birmingham community," said Barons general manager Jonathan Nelson. "Over the years, it has been nationally recognized as a must-attend baseball game."

The ballpark, under renovations supervised by the Friends of Rickwood, has slowly returned to its former glory. The field was vacant for two seasons before the Barons were reborn in 1964 in the newly formed Southern League. "Cobb" and other motion pictures were filmed at the stadium, and renovations undertaken in the mid-1990s have helped keep it alive. Antique advertisements adorn the outfield fence under the shadow of a manually-operated scoreboard.

Many aspects of the ballpark's glory days have been recreated, based on photos and blueprints.

Danny Wild is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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