Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTX.com LogoFeatured Columnist IVJune 21, 2024

BIRMINGHAM, AL - JUNE 20:  Fans are seen entering Rickwood Field through the Fan Plaza prior to the 2024 Rickwood game between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by Russell Kilgore Jr./MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Russell Kilgore Jr./MLB Photos via Getty Images

The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants met on Thursday for a matchup at Rickwood Field, the oldest ballpark in the United States and the home of the Negro League’s Birmingham Black Barons between 1924-60.

Before Thursday’s game, Major League Baseball paid tribute to the Negro Leagues and its storied history:


The original Negro Leagues players are here at Rickwood Field 👏 <a href=”https://t.co/A2YiDflPK6″>pic.twitter.com/A2YiDflPK6</a>


Former Indianapolis Clowns 2B, Reggie Howard, tells <a href=”https://twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Ken_Rosenthal</a> about reuniting with some friends from the Negro Leagues at Rickwood Field 👏 <a href=”https://t.co/fyFzs7E0BB”>pic.twitter.com/fyFzs7E0BB</a>


The National Anthem at Rickwood Field.<br><br>Pure chills.<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MLBatRickwood?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MLBatRickwood</a> <a href=”https://t.co/BiAJksSxoz”>pic.twitter.com/BiAJksSxoz</a>


“Today feels like it’s a little bit bigger than baseball.” – Masyn Winn<br><br>The <a href=”https://twitter.com/Cardinals?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Cardinals</a> and <a href=”https://twitter.com/SFGiants?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@SFGiants</a> are ready for <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MLBatRickwood?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MLBatRickwood</a>. <a href=”https://t.co/8Ddjh6wIeZ”>pic.twitter.com/8Ddjh6wIeZ</a>


Today’s Rickwood Field game features the 1st all-black umpiring crew in AL/NL history 🙏 <a href=”https://t.co/SPrHepWfoz”>pic.twitter.com/SPrHepWfoz</a>

One of the coolest moments was seeing former Black Barons’ pitcher, Bill Greason, throw out the first pitch:


99-year-old Bill Greason, a former Birmingham Black Baron and St. Louis Cardinal, delivers the first pitch. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MLBatRickwood?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MLBatRickwood</a> <a href=”https://t.co/aIZTGYKrJH”>pic.twitter.com/aIZTGYKrJH</a>

MLB legend Willie Mays—who died this week at the age of 93—started his professional career with the Black Barons in 1948 before going on to become arguably the greatest all-around player in MLB history.

Major League Baseball had already planned to pay tribute to Mays before the game. But in the wake of his death, it took on an even greater weight:


“He was larger than life, but bigger than no one. He gave his whole heart to this game, and we gave our love right back.”<br><br>Tonight’s for you, Willie Mays. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MLBatRickwood?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MLBatRickwood</a> <a href=”https://t.co/oNqyMF7SWm”>pic.twitter.com/oNqyMF7SWm</a>


An emotional welcome to <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MLBatRickwood?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MLBatRickwood</a>.<br><br>Michael Mays, Willie’s son, with Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. at his side. <a href=”https://t.co/BBFyzieymn”>pic.twitter.com/BBFyzieymn</a>

SF Giants on NBCS @NBCSGiants

Barry Bonds stands with Willie Mays’ Hall of Fame plaque at Rickwood Field<br><br> <a href=”https://t.co/rrtCA8Lxfj”>pic.twitter.com/rrtCA8Lxfj</a>


Countless flowers and momentos have been added to the Willie Mays statue ahead of the Rickwood game today 💐 <a href=”https://t.co/Xxlwmh9dMa”>pic.twitter.com/Xxlwmh9dMa</a>

During the game, the broadcast threw back the clock with a 1954-style replay:


Camerawork fitting for <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MLBatRickwood?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MLBatRickwood</a>.<br><br>A double play for the <a href=”https://twitter.com/Cardinals?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Cardinals</a> straight out of 1954. <a href=”https://t.co/5GAL4A9lmT”>pic.twitter.com/5GAL4A9lmT</a>

A number of current and former athletes were also on hand to take in the game and ceremonies beforehand:

Derek Jeter @derekjeter

Special to be able to bring my Dad to Rickwood to honor the history of the Negro Leagues and those that came before us! <a href=”https://t.co/wBtKKyGiM7″>pic.twitter.com/wBtKKyGiM7</a>

Jameis Winston @Jaboowins

Grateful to be back at Rickwood Field honoring &amp; celebrating the greats! <a href=”https://twitter.com/MLB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@MLB</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/uninterrupted?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@uninterrupted</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RIPWillieMays?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RIPWillieMays</a> 🙏🏾 <a href=”https://t.co/wUzEXy8Hzx”>pic.twitter.com/wUzEXy8Hzx</a>

St. Louis Cardinals @Cardinals

The Machine at Rickwood! <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ForTheLou?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ForTheLou</a> <a href=”https://t.co/SNKpcAo4Tp”>pic.twitter.com/SNKpcAo4Tp</a>


“I had to walk on the mound and feel like one of my heroes, Satchel Paige.” 🙏 <br><br> <a href=”https://twitter.com/DTrainMLB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@DTrainMLB</a> joins the show live from Rickwood Field and shares his emotions of being at the historic ballpark. <a href=”https://t.co/GDfspce4fJ”>pic.twitter.com/GDfspce4fJ</a>

But there were also the lingering memories of racism and discrimination experienced by the men who played at venues like Rickwood in the past:


“Coming back here is not easy.” <br><br>Reggie Jackson shares his emotions of visiting Rickwood Field. <a href=”https://t.co/dSK7hmCJZd”>pic.twitter.com/dSK7hmCJZd</a>

Don Van Natta Jr. @DVNJr

Reggie Jackson is raw and real on FOX Sports. The racism he played through at Rickwood Field and beyond. <br><br>A riveting, powerful history lesson.

Howie Rose @HowieRose

I’m trying to get a handle on which is my dominant emotion after the pre game ceremonies at Rickwood. The beauty and joy of celebrating the achievements of so many great players or the sheer anger that most of them never had the chance they deserved to play in the major leagues.

In that regard, there was a bittersweet nature to Thursday’s proceedings. Any chance to honor the players of the Negro Leagues should be taken, and it was high time to pay tribute to a historic and important venue of Rickwood Field.

But it also serves as a reminder that those men weren’t granted the same opportunities as their white counterparts, and regularly endured horrific racism and discrimination. Thursday provided an important moment to reflect on the dark history of segregation as well.


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