Celebrations honor Willie Mays, Negro League players ahead of SF Giants game at Rickwood Field

Chris Alvarez Image
Friday, June 21, 2024
MLB honors Willie Mays, Negro League at historic Rickwood Field
MLB honored Negro League baseball with a game between the SF Giants and St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, at the historic Rickwood Field Ballpark.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (KGO) -- Major League Baseball honored Negro League baseball with a game between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, at the historic Rickwood Field Ballpark in Birmingham, Alabama.

It was even more meaningful because it came just days after the passing of Giants legend, Willie Mays, who started his baseball career there. This event was originally intended to honor Mays' career and life and now fans are also mourning his passing.

RELATED: Fans pay tribute to Willie Mays at San Francisco's Oracle Park

The game, which MLB called "A Tribute to the Negro Leagues," was meant to honor the legacy of Mays and other Black baseball greats who left an enduring mark on the sport.

ABC7 Sports Anchor Chris Alvarez was there to chronicle the day.

Fans came out to celebrate Willie Mays and other Negro Leaguers in several events and festivities around the historic Rickwood Field. The celebration started hours before the game and continued into the pregame ceremony.

MLB planned a week of activities around Mays and the Negro Leagues, including an unveiling ceremony on Wednesday of a Willie Mays mural in downtown Birmingham.

RELATED: New mural honoring Willie Mays unveiled in Birmingham ahead of historic MLB game at Rickwood Field

You could hear the celebration at Rickwood Field on Thursday even before arriving at the ballpark with the rapid thumping of a drum echoing from inside the ballpark, excited murmurs from fans skipping toward the music and frequent bursts of laughter.

Inside, there were reminders of history all around.

There were photos and artifacts of baseball Hall of Famers who played at the 114-year-old ballpark, including Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. The original clubhouse of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues, where Mays got his pro start in 1948, was open. A memorial of Mays was at the front, with bobbleheads, a signed glove and his Black Barons and San Francisco Giants jerseys on display.

Outside, fans stood in line to hold a baseball bat used by Mays in 1959. They took photos sitting inside an original bus from 1947 that was typically used during barnstorming tours by Negro Leagues teams. They danced to live music and ate food from concession stands featuring menu boards designed to reflect the look and feel of the 1940s.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here