There is much to celebrate and appreciate about baseball. The excitement of the postseason is unparalleled. But even with our team falling short of the World Series, we can still enjoy the beauty and history of the game.
I recently visited Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, and it was a welcome reminder of the joys of the game. How does this connect with the Tigers? The field was used for the filming of the movie "Cobb," the Tiger's Double-A affiliate played at Rickwood, and a high school football coach of John Wockenfuss' joined me on the field.
Rickwood Field opened in 1910, two years before Tiger Stadium and Fenway Park. It is the oldest existing baseball stadium in the world. Because of its classic appearance, a number of baseball movies have used Rickwood to stand in for other stadiums. In the 1990's Rickwood played Philadelphia's Shibe Park and Pittsburgh's Forbes Field in "Cobb." This was appropriate as Forbes inspired some of Rickwood's design features. Teams used to barnstorm their way north from spring training, thus Ty Cobb may have actually played at Rickwood. Last year the movie "42" was partially filmed at Rickwood. However, when Billy Crystal needed a setting for Yankees Stadium in the move 61*, he used Tiger Stadium. If you need a baseball fix this winter, those are three good movies to enjoy. Watch them once for the story, and again for the ballparks.
The Tigers' Double-A team was the Birmingham Barons from 1957 to 1961, and 1981 to 1985. The 1980s were lean years for the Tigers' minor league teams. While the major league team won a World Series under Sparky Anderson, the luminaries in Birmingham were Barbaro Garbey, Howard Johnson, Dwight Lowry, Bruce Fields, Bob Melvin, Doug Baker and Jim Walewander. That list may produce more full seasons of big league managing than of playing.
I toured Rickwood with a gentleman who was John Wockenfuss' high school football coach. I found this quite believable, as who could make up a story so obscure? He said ‘Fuss was an option quarterback, which is a bit harder to believe if you saw him run the bases with the Tigers. Rickwood has a football connection, as it hosted the Alabama Crimson Tide from 1912 to 1927. Wockenfuss was famous for his extremely closed stance, and being traded with Glenn Wilson for Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman. He managed the Toledo Mud Hens for two years, and also in the Pirates' organization. Perhaps he is a dark horse candidate to replace Jim Leyland?
Rickwood hosts one Double-A game each year. The Birmingham Barons and their opponents wear period uniforms. If you are in Alabama, stop by Rickwood for a self-guided tour of a piece of baseball history.