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MLB at historic Rickwood Field: What you need to know as Giants vs. Cardinals pays tribute to Willie Mays and the Negro Leagues

MLB at historic Rickwood Field: What you need to know as Giants vs. Cardinals pays tribute to Willie Mays and the Negro Leagues

Major League Baseball is headed to Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday to pay tribute to the Negro Leagues and Willie Mays, the legendary Hall of Famer who died Tuesday.

Here’s what you need to know about the special regular-season game between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants.

This game is being played to pay tribute and homage to the legacy of the Negro Leagues. A once shunned and ignored part of baseball history, the Negro Leagues are now getting more spotlight than ever. In late May, MLB incorporated the statistics of the leagues into the official records, shedding light on some of the best Black players who were denied entry into the major leagues due to segregation.

Before the announcement of his death, MLB was scheduled to also celebrate Willie Mays, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest MLB players in history, at Rickwood Field. Mays, an Alabama native, played with the Birmingham Black Barons at Rickwood Field as a 17-year-old in 1948 before he went on to play the majority of his MLB career with the Giants.

"It has been 75 years since I played for the Birmingham Black Barons at Rickwood Field, and to learn that my Giants and the Cardinals will play a game there and honor the legacy of the Negro Leagues and all those who came before them is really emotional for me," Mays told MLB.com last year.

On Monday, Mays informed the San Francisco Chronicle that he would not be in attendance at Rickwood Field.

“I’m not able to get to Birmingham this year but will follow the game back here in the Bay Area,” he said in a statement to the paper. “My heart will be with all of you who are honoring the Negro League ballplayers, who should always be remembered, including all my teammates on the Black Barons. I wanted to thank Major League Baseball, the Giants, the Cardinals and all the fans who’ll be at Rickwood or watching the game. It’ll be a special day, and I hope the kids will enjoy it and be inspired by it.”

Thursday's events will now feature a pregame ceremony honoring Mays' life and impact. Additionally, MLB is holding a moment of silence before first pitch in all games Wednesday.

On Tuesday, during a minor-league game at Rickwood Field, fans gave a respectful and somber standing ovation in tribute to Mays.

Rickwood Field, located in Birmingham, is the oldest professional baseball park in the country, having opened in 1910. Initially home to the Birmingham Barons, the park then became home to the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues from 1924 to 1960. Baseball legends including Mays, Jackie Robinson and Josh Gibson played there during their careers.

After the disbandment of the Negro Leagues, the iconic field remained a staple in the Birmingham community, hosting youth baseball camps and other community events. Rickwood Field as placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Over the past year, MLB, along with the city of Birmingham, worked to renovate the 114-year-old ballpark in anticipation of this MLB event.

On Thursday, the Giants and Cardinals will be taking Rickwood Field to play in the first non-exhibition MLB game at America’s oldest professional ballpark. The game is the teams' first matchup of the 2024 season. Last year, the Giants dominated the Cardinals, winning six of their seven contests.

The Giants and Cardinals will wear special throwback uniforms for this game. The uniforms will be representative of Negro Leagues teams from each squad's city. The Giants will represent the San Francisco Sea Lions, while the Cardinals will boast the threads of the St. Louis Stars.

The game starts at 7:15 p.m. ET Thursday and will be broadcast nationally on Fox.

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