My parents Mike and Louisa first met on a blind date in 1957. Their mutual love for baseball led to their own love for each other. This past June, they celebrated 60 years of marriage. You can truthfully say that my own love of baseball is genetic.
As long as I can remember, baseball has been a part of my life. My favorite memories as a kid are the innumerable times I attended Cincinnati Reds home games with my grandfather, Reuben Herzfeld.
The first time I ever heard of Rickwood Field was in the summer of 1996. I had just moved to Birmingham and was working downtown. A colleague left work early to go to the first ever Rickwood Classic. Despite being a baseball fan, I did not go because of pressing job duties. Looking back, I wish I had.
By 2000. I was a rookie high school baseball umpire. One Sunday, my local chapter supervisor was divvying up umpiring assignments.
“Who wants Woodlawn versus Mountain Brook tomorrow?” Owen Butts asked. Another umpire and I eagerly raised our hands.
“It’s at Rickwood.”
Oh, I thought. I went home and Googled “Rickwood Field”. That’s when I first learned about its rich history. Normally on game day, I get to my assignment 30 minutes before first pitch. On that particular Monday, I arrived an hour early. I slowly walked around the outside perimeter then the warning track, just to soak everything in. I instantly fell in love with the place. It definitely is hallowed ground.
Later that summer I attended my first Rickwood Classic, and I haven’t missed one since.
In 2002, I became the newly elected Jefferson County Tax Assessor. During my transition to public office, I met county attorney Charlie Wagner and quickly bonded with him over baseball. Either in 2003 or 2004, he asked me for a favor.
“Dan, I’m on the Friends of Rickwood board,” he started. “My (teenage) son Kurt and I are working the manual outfield scoreboard. Will you help us?”
He did not have to ask twice!
After I had volunteered for scoreboard and other duties for a couple years, the Friends of Rickwood board invited me to join them.
I still work that scoreboard every year during the Classic. I also launched and still maintain FOR’s Facebook page.
Rickwood Field is more than just America’s oldest professional baseball park. It is a living tribute to the intertwined themes of change and continuity here in Birmingham, as well as throughout Alabama and our country. Rickwood also remains a popular venue for our community.
Over the years, the ballpark has hosted concerts, weddings, birthday parties, conferences, reunions, and even jousting contests!
To this day Rickwood occupies a special place in my heart. It is indeed a love affair, the only one that my wife Karen has given her approval to. As a FOR member, I will continue to do my part to keep our favorite 109-year-old ballpark going for another 109 years.