On the Road: From Very Old to Very New in Birmingham

My first road trip of the season ended in Birmingham, and it ended in Birmingham for a reason: the Barons’ Regions Field is one of two new Minor League Baseball stadiums to open in 2013 (the other is in Hillsboro, Oregon, home of the brand-new Hops. I’ll be visiting on August 10).

Driving into Birmingham, I had a stadium’s address entered into my trusty GPS — 1137 2nd Ave. W . But this address wasn’t the one belonging to Regions Field. It brought me here instead:

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Yes, 103-year-old Rickwood Field, home of the Barons from 1910-1986.

If you ever get the chance to visit Birmingham, then Rickwood is a must. It’s kept in great shape by the non-profit Friends of Rickwood organization, and is open to the public daily for self-guided tours. I visited in 2010 for the annual Rickwood Classic (in which the Barons return to their old home for a mid-week matinee), and coverage from that event can be read HERE and HERE.

But let’s move from the there and was to the here and now. As you may have noticed in this post’s second photo, there was a gathering of people on the field at the time I arrived. This wasn’t just any gathering of people — it was members of the 1964 Birmingham Barons, the first integrated sports team in the history of Alabama. They were in town for a reunion, which was inspired by the release of Larry Colton’s new book on the team: Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South’s Most Compelling Pennant Race. 

As I arrived at Rickwood, the ’64 Barons were posing for pictures for a small assemblage of local media. Colton is third from the left (holding a copy of his book), while prominent alumnus Blue Moon Odom is fourth from the right.

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I made it there just in time, as mere seconds after this photo was taken these old teammates dispersed and left Rickwood in order to travel to Regions Field for the evening’s ballgame. I lingered around for another 10 minutes or so, taking pictures all the while.

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The locker rooms now serve as a makeshift museum and Friends of Rickwood office space.

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All things considered, the showers are in good shape.

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Even though I missed most of it I’d like to thank Friends of Rickwood member Joe DeLeonard for alerting me to the 1964 Barons Rickwood visit. At the very least, it gave me an excuse to visit this beautiful old ballpark.

This was my view from the Rickwood Field parking lot…

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and approximately 10 minutes and two-point-something miles later my view was this:

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 This is the parking lot, or at least one of them, for Regions Field. Its ramshackle nature is indicative of the area as a whole, which is the midst of being  — buzz word alert — revitalized! From this parking lot one can be driven to the stadium in style, but being a proud biped I chose to walk.

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 The short walk to the stadium exemplifies the current bedraggled state of the area surrounding Regions Field, as well as its promise. This is something that I wrote about more extensively in my MiLB.com piece on the stadium, which I hope you might take the time to check out.

Wide open spaces:

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A team bus cozies up to its improbable best friend abandoned building. (I’m in the midst of writing a pilot script for a proposed sitcom entitled “The Adventures of Team Bus and Abandoned Building.” Let me know if you want to contribute to the Kickstarter.)

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 Relics of an industrial past.

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 After walking underneath this bridge (as a freight train rumbled overhead), the scenery changed quite dramatically.

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 For there, on the left, is Railroad Park. This public space opened in 2010, and is the literal centerpiece of these downtown revitalization efforts.

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 I’m no cartographer, but I believe that Regions Field abuts the north side of Railroad Park. You can’t miss it.

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One thing I did miss, however, was a decent photo of the brick and steel facade that features “BIRMINGHAM” in huge letters. This aerial photo from the team’s website illustrates just what it is I’m talking about here.

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Birmingham, Birmingham, Sweetest city in Alabam

 First impressions:

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 A next level view:

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 I had proceeded to this elevated vantage point in order to see my old friends the 1964 Barons, who were conducting a pre-game press conference.

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 After a general Q and A session with local media, I had the chance to interview Colton and Odom about the groundbreaking ’64 campaign. You can read that  — please! — over on MiLB.com.

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Immediately after the interview concluded we descended to the level of Barons and Biscuits alike.

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 The 1964 Barons odyssey continued, as now they were gathering on the field for a ceremonial first pitch.

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 The purpose of this photo is two-fold — gaze upon Minor League Baseball’s newest videoboard whilst learning facts about Blue Moon.

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 Ceremonial first pitch chaos:

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 The Biscuit contingent had risen rapidly since the last time I had checked in on their visitor’s dugout environs.

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 So many ups and downs! For reasons I can’t quite recall, I was soon back up on the second floor. On the journey there I snapped this photo of the expansive bar and lounge area down below.

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 My destination was a bit more modest, however, as down this corridor lurked the press box.

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 Define “working”

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 It is from this location that I watched the game begin, with the Biscuits taking on the Barons in Minor League Baseball’s newest facility.

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I’ve got quite a bit more to report from Regions Field, so I think the best course of action would be to make this a two-part post.

But since I’m still a bit under my self-imposed 1000 word minimum, a limerick:

There once was a team called the Barons

On the side of caution, they weren’t erring

Displaying operational agility

They moved to a new facility

And well they seem to be faring

What? I’m still not at a thousand words? This is crazy. Here’s a haiku:

I’m wasting my time/obsessive and compulsive/For word counts, care not

I am STILL not at 1000 words, but at the end of this completely gratuitous sentence I will be. Or at least I thought I would be. I do my best.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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