For as long as I can remember, I have loved the idea of mixing baseball history with travel. I’ve written a number of related books, most notably, “Roadside Baseball, The Locations of America’s Baseball Landmarks.” Throughout the summer, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite baseball landmarks across the country. Whether you are a big fan of the game or not, I think you’ll agree, the history is interesting no matter what.
BIRMINGHAM, AL • 1137 Second Avenue West
Built in 1910, Rickwood Field was the vision of a young Birmingham industrialist named Rick Woodward. While still in his 20s, Woodward bought controlling interest in the city’s professional baseball team, the Coal Barons, and sought help from legendary baseball star and Philadelphia Athletics manager, Connie Mack, in designing the field.
Modeled primarily after Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, Rickwood lived up to its owner’s wildest dreams. Over the years, local fans were dazzled by some of baseball’s greatest stars. Standing-room-only crowds watched such future Hall of Famers as Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and home team sensation Burleigh Grimes — the last legal spitball pitcher in the major leagues.
By the 1920s, the newly formed Black Barons of the Negro League were also drawing overflow crowds, most of whom were mesmerized by the considerable talents of such Black immortals as Mule Suttles, Satchel Paige, Jimmie Crutchfield, Piper Davis and Willie Mays, who would go on to greater glory in the major leagues. The New York Yankees and Babe Ruth were also frequent visitors to Rickwood. Occasional stops were made by such stars as Rogers Hornsby, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Dizzy Dean. Old Diz, the St. Louis Cardinals’ ace right-hander, lost 1–0 to the Barons after guaranteeing a victory — one of the most famous games in Rickwood history.
Today’s Rickwood Field, technically “the oldest stadium in America,” is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Class AA Birmingham Barons come back once a year to play in the Rickwood Classic. In addition, this park is used frequently by Birmingham city schools, men’s amateur leagues, junior colleges and other groups.
DYERSVILLE, IA • 28963 Lansing Road • Located on two farms, 3.3 miles northeast of Dyersville.
“If you build it, they will come,” the voice in the movie promises. And they still do, in droves, to see, experience, dream and play on the very field where the 1989 movie starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan and James Earl Jones was filmed. One of the ultimate baseball landmarks in the country exists on two Iowa farms near a small east-central Iowa community. Tourists are allowed to run bases, play catch and bat on the Field of Dreams, or they can simply sit in the bleachers and enjoy its considerable aura. The house, part of the Lansing family farm, is also open to visitors. And so, of course, is the cornfield. Great efforts have been taken to not over-commercialize the field and surrounding area. It is pristine and simple. Since the movie, more than 60,000 people have flocked to Dyersville.
Open daily, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., April through November.
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK • 2801 NE 50th Street
The museum here, dedicated to the history of softball, is located at the ballpark. Established in 1957, it honors hundreds of players from the amateur game of softball and features many artifacts. As for the USA Hall of Fame Stadium (formerly the Don E. Porter ASA Hall of Fame Stadium), it is widely regarded as the best softball facility in the nation and has played host to the best softball competition in the world, including USA teams that represent the nation in international competitions. Among the most recent USA Softball National Teams to play in USA Hall of Fame Stadium were the 2007 USA Women’s and Men’s National Teams, which brought home the gold in the World Cup of Softball 3 and the first American Challenge Series. Annually, USA Hall of Fame Stadium plays host to a wide variety of softball events, including the nation’s number one collegiate contest, the NCAA Women’s College World Series (WCWS), which annually draws more than 63,000 spectators from around the nation. USA Hall of Fame Stadium has hosted the event 15 times and is scheduled as the home of the WCWS through 2008.
MOBILE, AL • 755 Bolling Brothers Boulevard
The Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum, dedicated to “Hammerin’” Hank Aaron, is certainly personal and special, located in the original Aaron family home built by Hank’s dad, Herbert, in 1942. Hank’s mom, Estella, lived in the home from 1942 to 2007. In 2008, it was moved from its original location to Hank Aaron Stadium. It was restored to its original glory in 22 months, with the Grand Opening being held on April 14, 2010. Seven MLB Hall of Famers and the Commissioner of MLB, Bud Selig, were in attendance.
Memorabilia for this museum comes directly from Mr. Aaron, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and the Negro League Museum.
Next week I will be on the road, reporting from the Ballpark Museum in Denver, Colorado, where the MLB All-Star Game will be taking place. Safe travels and see you soon.
Chris Epting is an author, award-winning journalist/photographer and dedicated road tripper. His best-selling books including James Dean Died Here (the locations of America’s pop culture landmarks), Roadside Baseball, and The Birthplace Book, along with many others that remain popular with many travelers and RVers throughout the country and world. He is excited to be contributing to RVTravel.com and looks forward to helping to lead you places you may not have discovered otherwise. You may learn more about Chris at his author’s site, www.chrisepting.com.