Sports Stuff

Keeping Score: Manual Scoreboard At Birmingham’s Rickwood Classic Keeps It Old School


Post by Solomon Crenshaw Jr. from Alabama NewsCenter

When teams score 13 runs in a baseball game, you might say they are lighting up the scoreboard.

Unless you’re talking about Wednesday’s 23rd annual Rickwood Classic game, in which the Montgomery Biscuits beat the Birmingham Barons 9-4.

The high-scoring contest didn’t light up the scoreboard at Rickwood Field because the scoring on the board beyond the outfield fence isn’t kept by electrically powered light bulbs. The old-time manual scoreboard is one of the unusual features of the ballpark that drew 7,015 to the 12:30 p.m. contest.

Volunteers from the Friends of Rickwood scaled a 30-foot ladder and stood on a scaffold to change the score each time a baserunner crossed the plate.

That was tough, 18-year-old Carson Weldon said, since you can’t see what the fans in the stands are seeing. Tougher still, he said, is updating the men on the mound and behind the plate.

“Pitchers and catchers are hard because you’ve got to see the (jersey) numbers from all the way back here and you’ve got to put it up fast enough for everyone to see,” he said.

Weldon and his brother Connor were among the volunteers working with the Friends of Rickwood. Dan Weinrib, a board member with Friends of Rickwood, couldn’t have been more pleased with drawing scoreboard duty for the Classic.

“The best part of doing this job is you get to watch the game,” he said. “All the other volunteers have to tend to other duties, but the job of the scoreboard folks is to keep current. We get to watch the game, but we also welcome visitors to come up and take in a view of the game.

“They can’t do this at Wrigley or Fenway because those are working areas for staff only,” he said of the major league ballparks in Chicago and Boston. “We’re a living museum. We want people to explore and experience Rickwood from all 360 degrees.”

Scott Marona was among those who scaled the ladder behind the scoreboard. In doing so, he took a trip down memory lane.

The Huntsville resident played at Rickwood as a 15-year-old ninth grader in a state Dizzy Dean all-star tournament. At 45, he was back at the venerable ballpark playing in a 35-older baseball league.

Rickwood Field even transcended generations for him. His son played there as a 17-year-old and the ballpark is where his father saw his first pro baseball game in 1948.

“I come back here every year,” Marona said. “You love the nostalgia of this park. This is one of the meccas of baseball. You don’t see many old-time things that are kept intact, that are kept outdated on purpose, and this is one of them. Unless you go to Fenway Park you don’t experience what It’s like to go back in old-time baseball.

“It’s a great venue, a great atmosphere,” he said. “It’s a shame they only do it once a year. We love it and it’s really worth coming down here for it.”

Birmingham native Richard Kaley drove from Mobile Wednesday morning to take in the game. Well before the first pitch, he ventured beyond the outfield fence to see the X that marked the spot where a mammoth home run hit by Walt Dropo made contact.

Hal Burton, 70, drove Tuesday night from Key Largo, Florida. He snapped pictures of the X, thinking about a time when home runs were no big deal on the diamond.

“Home runs weren’t popular before Babe Ruth,” the Jasper native said. “Babe Ruth made it popular. These old walls were moved in to the current walls. At this (original) distance, nobody could hit it over the wall.

“That’s how baseball has changed over the last 100 years,” Burton said. “I used to come to Rickwood in the late ‘50s. I grew up in Jasper and we’d come over and watch the Barons at Rickwood Field.”

Weinrib, the Friends of Rickwood board member, noted that the current outfield wall was designed for the movie “Cobb” with a 1948 style.

“The scoreboard that was put up by movie studios wasn’t meant to last decades, but it lasted close to 20 years,” he said. “We replaced it but made it look like it did in 1948 once again. People think this is the original scoreboard; it isn’t. It’s a recreation of what was here in ’48. Incidentally, the remnant of chain link fence here was part of the outfield fence in the 1980s when the Barons last (regularly) played here. It’s all part of history.”

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