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Rickwood Field, where Willie Mays played his first professional game and a site both of opportunity and oppression, is hosting MLB

The entrance of Rockwood Field (Via Bryan Evans/Getty Images)

Gerald Watkins watched Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and other New York Yankees walk through cornfields onto an Iowa field in 2021, near where the 1989 baseball movie “Field of Dreams” was filmed.

Thinking of Rickwood Field, the 114-year-old ballpark in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, where Willie Mays began his career, Watkins contacted Major League Baseball.

“The Field of Dreams is amazing,” said Watkins, 68, “but we have a real Field of Dreams here. This is where Willie Mays and others stood in the outfield dreaming of playing in the big leagues.”

Rickwood Field is seen from the roof (Via Bryan Evans/Getty Images)

Now, Birmingham will host a Major League Baseball game. Rickwood Field, the oldest professional ballpark in the U.S. and former home to baseball Hall of Famer Mays and the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues, will feature a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants on Thursday.

The game, meant to honor Mays and other Negro League players, will be both solemn and reminiscent. Mays, the dynamic center fielder who made a lasting impact on baseball, passed away on Tuesday, a day after announcing he would not attend the game in person.

“Today, all of Major League Baseball mourns as we gather at the very ballpark where a career and legacy like no other began,” said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in a statement. “Willie Mays brought his exceptional talent from the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League to the historic Giants franchise, inspiring generations of players and fans across the country as baseball grew and truly became our National Pastime.”

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