2010's Promotion of the Year was a Classic in every sense of the word.
After a week of fan voting on MiLB.com, the Birmingham Barons' "Rickwood Classic" emerged triumphant over its fellow finalists. In this annual event, which has been held in each of the past 15 seasons, the Barons return to their old home of Rickwood Field for an afternoon of nostalgia-drenched baseball at America's oldest professional ballpark.
The Rickwood Classic garnered an impressive 45 percent of the total vote, edging out the Arkansas Travelers' pregame boxing match featuring Jose Canseco (which received 39 percent). The Lancaster JetHawks' Robert "Hoot" Gibson bobblehead and the Fresno Grizzlies' "Twilight Night" finished in third and fourth place, respectively.
The 2010 Classic held special importance, as it marked Rickwood Field's 100th anniversary (the Barons played there from 1910-86 before moving to Regions Park in nearby Hoover, Ala.). To celebrate the occasion, the Barons and visiting Tennessee Smokies wore 1910-era uniforms (the Smokies' read "Appalachians" in honor of the region's team during that period). Dozens of Rickwood's Negro League and Southern Association alumni were in attendance, and the guest of honor was Harmon Killebrew. The Hall of Fame slugger was a frequent visitor to Rickwood during his stint with the Southern Association's Chattanooga Lookouts.
"For this to be named the Promotion of the Year is a huge honor for us," said Barons general manager Jonathan Nelson. "Rickwood Field has created so many memories for generations of baseball fans, and we wanted to make sure that this year's Classic was extra special.
"We spent a lot of time preparing and planning, but [the Classic] is like anything else in baseball," he continued. "Sometimes you have a magical day, but sometimes it all gets washed away. This year everything went right. We couldn't have asked for more when it came to the weather, the crowd, and the game itself."
The afternoon's ballgame was a highly entertaining seesaw affair, with the Smokies pulling out an 8-7, 11-inning victory. Marquez Smith provided the ballgame's deciding blow, blasting a leadoff home run over the left-center-field wall to lead off the Smokies' half of the 11th.
That the Barons are able to play at Rickwood Field each year is a testament to the hard work and perseverance of the Friends of Rickwood, the non-profit organization dedicated to operating and restoring the ballpark on a year-round basis. Rickwood stages hundreds of amateur ballgames each season in addition to the Classic, and visitors to the ballpark are able to take part in self-guided walking tours.
"I can't say enough about the Friends of Rickwood," said Nelson. "Maintaining a 100-year-old ballpark is not easy, and they do an incredible job making sure that everything -- from the playing field to the stands to concessions -- stays in good shape."
As a result, the Rickwood Classic is destined to be one of the highlights on the Barons' schedule for many years to come.
"No matter what the specifics, people really enjoy seeing baseball in its simplest form with no bells and whistles," said Nelson. "It's just a grand old day at the ballpark."
Results for Top Promo of the Year:
|Rickwood's 100th anniversary
|Jose Canseco vs. Gary Hogan
|Twilight Night in Fresno
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com.