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Giants-Cardinals Cap Emotional, Inspiring Week of Historic Baseball in Birmingham, Alabama

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The Rev. Bill Greason, the 99-years-old former Birmingham Black Baron, flanked by players from the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Thursday's game. (FOX Sports Screengrab)

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

For The Birmingham Times

As he walked around the concourse of historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Atlanta’s Danny Reines borrowed from the movie ‘Field of Dreams’ as he asked, “Is this heaven?”

And, answering his own question, Reines responded in the affirmative.

“Yes, it is,” he said. “It’s got the people. It’s got the vibe, the emotion. It’s just so positive. It’s just so positive.”

For several thousand people who filled the stands of the venerable ballpark, nothing could come closer to heaven with the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals playing an official Major League Baseball game won 6-5 by the Cardinals on the hallowed diamond in front of a sold out crowd of 8,332.

Current major leaguers stood respectfully behind Negro League players as a sold out crowd of 8,332 packed into historic Rickwood Field. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr., For Birmingham Times)

The game was the crowning jewel to a week of baseball excitement in the Magic City for MLB at Rickwood. It began with a Minor League contest between the Montgomery Biscuits and the Birmingham Barons and was followed by Barnstorm Birmingham, a celebrity softball game that was followed by a performance by music superstar Metro Boomin.

But the real stars of this show were the former Negro Leagues baseball players who filed into the stadium. Fans stood and cheered as they made their way onto the infield. A few were pushed in wheelchairs, others aided by steadying canes. All were inflated with a pride that was beyond measure.

The Rev. William Greason, a former Birmingham Black Baron who had a “cup of coffee” with the Cardinals, was tabbed with the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. The pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham’s West End was flanked by a player from the Giants and Cardinals as he lofted the ball in the neighborhood of the plate.

A buzz built in the stands as the beginning of the game neared. Nearly all the fans obliged when asked to stand in honor of the metro Birmingham native Willie Mays, whose passing was announced during the minor league game Tuesday night. Ken Griffey Jr. walked out to home plate along with Michael Mays, the son of the legendary slugger.

The younger Mays said his father was present at his old stomping grounds in spirit. “Let him hear ya,” he yelled. “He’s listening.”

The crowd responded with chants of “Willie! Willie! Willie!”

The Rev. Robert Bearden sat behind home plate and reminisced about his days of playing youth baseball for the city’s first Police Athletics Team program at Rickwood Field. He said he’d have had some advice for the major leaguers patrolling the outfield Thursday night.

“That outfield is a big outfield,” Bearden said. “You’ve got to play deep so the guys won’t hit it in the gap and get doubles and triples.”

Former Industrial League player Michael Jackson sat way out in the right-field bleachers. The Roebuck resident said it’s “about time” that players in the Negro Leagues got the due they are getting today.

The Major League game was a hot ticket as fans from near and far clamored for a chance to be a part of history. Tuesday and Wednesday night contests were ‘every man’ events that anyone could likely attend. Major League Baseball made accommodation for some youth groups to attend, including youngsters from A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club (AGGBGC).

Com-Batting Food Insecurity

Earlier in the day MLB helped the Boys and Girls Club unveil its first hydroponic farm where club members will not only learn about growing fruits and veggies but serve and donate food to surrounding areas.

A group shot with members of the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, U.S. Rep Terri Sewell, Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred Jr, and players from the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. (Sym Posey, The Birmingham Times)

Hydroponics is the technique of growing plants using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil.

The gift came as part of MLB’s 28- year partnership with the Boys and Girls Club.

Among the dignitaries in attendance were Commissioner of Baseball, Robert D. Manfred, Jr. along with players from the Cardinals and Giants.

“I can’t tell you what a pleasure it’s been to spend the last couple of days here in Birmingham, the city has been an unbelievable host to major league baseball,” Manfred said. “From the very beginning when we started talking about the event at Rickwood we wanted to treat it like one of most important events, like the All-Star game, like the World Series … a key feature is to give back to the community.”

Mikayla Scott, Farms Operations with AGGBGC, said she was excited “excited for the kids. I know once they get inside, they are going to really enjoy it … It’s like a classroom. I just want them to enjoy it and really learn where their food comes from. MLB supported us because of food access. They wanted to make it more accessible.”

U.S. Rep Terri Sewell and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin were also on hand.

Times staff writer Sym Posey contributed to this post