Fundraiser aims to save America's oldest ballpark

By Alex Butler  |  Updated June 20, 2017 at 3:09 PM
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June 20 (UPI) -- A campaign is hoping to save historic Rickwood Field, a ballpark once used by Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb and other icons.

Birmingham, Alabama's baseball jewel is currently closed for structural repairs. It is one of two original Negro League home fields still standing and considered one of Birmingham's most precious historical artifacts, according to a GoFundMe page.

The facility was authenticated by the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), a division of the National Parks Service.

A non-profit organization called The Friends of Rickwood Field started the fundraising campaign.

So far the GoFundeMe page has raised $3,270 of its $25,000 goal. The money will be used to restore the park and turn it into a museum, according to the page.

"The Friends of Rickwood saved Rickwood Field from the wrecking ball way back in 1992," said Gerald Watkins, chairman of the Friends organization, according to the GoFundMe page. "We have raised and invested over $2 million to preserve, maintain, and market Rickwood as America's Oldest Baseball Park, a Ruthian effort, considering we only have two employees and an all-volunteer board."

"The unique public-private partnership we have enjoyed with the City has quite frankly given Rickwood an entire extra generation of life as a working museum, and it is certainly our hope we can preserve the park for the next generation."

A who's who of baseball played at the field. Those names also include: Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, 'Satchell' Paige and Stan Musial, according to Rickwood.com.

The field was named after Alabama industrialist Rick Woodward, who bought controlling interest of the city's professional team, the Coal Barons, in the early 1900s.

Rickwood Field opened its doors on August 18, 1910. It was modeled after Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Woodward's grandson, an attorney named Woody Webb Sr., recently spoke with the News & Observer about trying to save the ballpark. That report stated that the park cost $75,000 to build. The city has pledged $500,000 to the project, according to the News & Observer.

"Rickwood Field is a significant part of the history of Birmingham and of baseball. We are thankful that we found the problem areas and can work to get them repaired and restored for the next generation of baseball fans," Birmingham Mayor William Bell told AL.com.

Friends of Rickwood executive director David Brewer spoke with the News Observer about the initiative.

"What we're in now I would describe as phase one. It's the engineers, the architects doing a survey of the park, trying to establish the scope of the project," Brewer told the News & Observer. "We're very optimistic that the park will reopen."

Michael Jordan's former team, the Birmingham Barons, left the field in 1987. But the facility was revived following the departure of the Chicago White Sox's Double-A affiliate. In 1996, the field hosted the Rickwood Classic throwback game. That annual contest returned for 21 consecutive years, until ending this season. The Barons and Chattanooga Lookouts will instead play on May 31 at Regions Field for the 22nd Annual Rickwood Classic.

The ballpark shutdown on April 7. The field also served as the home field for Miles college and hosted high school baseball teams.

Brewer said the objective is to reopen Rickwood Field in 2018. The Friends of Rickwood Field lease the park from the city. There are about 175 games played there annually.

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