BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Gerald Watkins walks the grounds of Rickwood Field with reverence and respect fitting the nation’s oldest ballpark, a diamond that has welcomed the immortals of the game.
”There’s just so much history here. 161 hall of famers have played here. The greats like Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth,” said Watkins, chairman of the Friends of Rickwood.
On June 20, modern day big leaguers will take the field when the Cardinals and Giants meet at Rickwood. It’s a matchup that Giants head man Gabe Kapler is already looking forward to.
”You get a sense of the history of the sport by playing in some of these old ballparks and old cities in the south and I just feel like the giants and all of us associated are lucky to be a part of that game,” Kapler said.
Rickwood will undergo an expansive upgrade before the first pitch is tossed out. To fund those upgrades, the Birmingham City Council approved $4.5 million on Tuesday to get the legendary ballpark ready for a return to the spotlight in June. Rickwood sits in the district of Birmingham city councilor Carol Clarke, who is excited about the marquee matchup.
”We are really excited that district 8 and Rickwood Field the major league baseball game next year. So, the funding was to allow them to capitalize repairs that have to start next month, to be on time,” said Clarke.
To get ready for prime time, Watkins said a major upgrade will take place, beginning with the field itself.
”The first thing you will see is the playing surface. Our playing surface is going to be redone with major league quality grass and major league quality dirt and clay on the field,” Watkins said. “The playing surface that we will have out here will be smooth as glass. It will be perfect in every way.”
Another noticeable change will be in the dugout, which will be expanded to nearly double in size. It’s an overhaul and makeover that will put both the field and the city of Birmingham on display for a broadcast that will be seen around the nation and in 55 countries.
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Watkins said it’s a priceless opportunity for both.
”It’s going to be a commercial for Birmingham that we couldn’t pay for $4.5 million,” he said.
Construction is expected to begin on Oct. 21.