Tag Archives: Southern Association Conference

Babe Ruth, Explained

This image of me with one of my idols takes a little explaining, but I need to set the timeline in order.

The oldest existing ballpark in America, Rickwood Field, is in Birmingham, Alabama. Recently closed for repairs and scheduled to re-open in 2018, it has been in use by colleges and amateur teams for ages. The Birmingham Black Barons hosted Negro League games at Rickwood for many years.

Built in 1910, the first game hosted by the Birmingham Barons was on August 18 of that year. The Barons have called two newer ballparks as home field since leaving Rickwood after the 1987 season: Hoover Met and Regions Field. But there has been one game each season that allows players and fans another chance to visit the grandest ballpark in the South in all her glory.

Every year since 1995 the Barons have hosted a Southern League rival in a “Turn Back the Clock” game known as the Rickwood Classic.

“The Friends of Rickwood saved Rickwood Field from the wrecking ball way back in 1992[1],” states Gerald Watkins, Chairman of the organization on the group’s website. Over $2 million has been raised by the group to maintain “America’s Oldest Baseball Park”; but often, funds fall short of their intent as the ballpark has aged to a cautious degree.

Due to structural repairs at Rickwood, the 2017 Classic will be relocated to the Barons home ballpark, Regions Field in downtown Birmingham.[2] The game will be played on May 31, against the Chattanooga Lookouts.

“Rickwood Field is a significant part of the history of Birmingham and of baseball. We are thankful that we found the problem areas and can work to get them repaired and restored for the next generation of baseball fans,” says Mayor William Bell.[3]

I have attended many Classics since 2002, having made friendships with many Birmingham baseball “brothers” through the annual Southern Association conference held each March. It is a treat to visit the ballpark, rekindle our love for the beloved league and share research, photos, and documents. Having the conference and the Classic at a venue such as Rickwood is an added treat.

In 2010, I rekindled a friendship with Hall of Fame member Harmon Killebrew at that year’s Classic. I had met him in 2009 at our Old Timers Baseball Association banquet. He was a delightful guest, dynamite speaker, and even made friends with my dad, Virgil Nipper, at breakfast the next morning.

I was not surprised, in fact, when he saw me at the Classic that hot summer June day, when the first thing he said after we exchanged pleasantries was, “How’s your dad?”

Another Hall of Famer in attendance that day was Babe Ruth. Not really “The Babe”, but a near stand-in double for him. His name is Steve Folven. I had to look twice, as the similarity is quite stunning, although this Babe is several inches shorter than the Sultan of Swat, who stood 6’2”. The snapshot that was taken of us shows the difference: I am 6’0”.

Steve has a website, http://www.ImBabeRuth.com, where he can be booked for events, and where he states that his long-term goal is to be the honored guest at Yankee Stadium. Ironically, he grew up within a few blocks of Boston’s Fenway Park, and was born six weeks before Babe Ruth passed away on August 16, 1948.

One of the first events he attended was in 2005, at a Las Vegas minor league game at Cashman Field, but he also threw out the first ball at a Red Sox vs. Yankees fan charity softball game in May, 2007. He has attended card shows, dinners, and galas, and was even the honored guest at a Bar Mitzvah. He has returned to Birmingham on various occasions.

My day with Steven was a memorable one, planted in my love for the Yankees and “The Babe” himself. I cherish the photograph, the memories, and the joy that baseball has brought to me through my Birmingham “baseball buddies” and Rickwood Field. Thanks, Steven.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] “The Rickwood Classic,” http://rickwoodclassic.com/, retrieved May 10, 2017.

[2] “May 31 Game Against Chattanooga To Be Played At 7:05 p.m.,” https://www.milb.com/barons/news/may-31-details/c-227071942/t-196093346, retrieved May 10, 2017

[3] “The Rickwood Classic.”

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14th Annual Southern Association Conference at Rickwood Field

scan0001Yesterday, I attended the 14th annual Southern Association Conference in Birmingham, and want to take this time to encourage you to be a part of this event next year. The Rickwood Field SABR chapter put on quite a conference, led by David Brewer and Clarence Watkins; but the opportunity to visit Rickwood Field is great in itself – it is truly one of America’s historic ballparks.

To be able to hear presentations about baseball in the South, among friends in a casual setting, was great. To wax poetic: Baseball was literally “in the air”.  Attendees came from Mobile, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Atlanta; we heard presentations about baseball in Montgomery (and pitcher Roy “Goat” Walker), Selma, the Southern Association, and vintage player A. T. Pearsall, but sidebar conversations were ongoing beyond.

An added treat was lunch with former Montgomery Rebels player and minor league manager Ted Brazell. One could literally hear and feel the passion Ted has with his love of the game of baseball. It was inspiring.

More than anything, the friendships rekindled and friendships made were more than worth the trip. The date could change, but put the first Saturday of March, 2018 on your calendar. You won’t be disappointed.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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2014 Area “Hot Stove” Baseball Events

stoveNow we can put the year 2013 behind us. As a New York Yankee fan, it’s really easy to do to! Looking forward to the 2014 season is one thing, but there are many opportunities to be a part of “Hot Stove League” baseball through the rest of the winter. Pitchers and catchers will be reporting to their team’s spring training camp in only a few weeks, but in the meantime one can partake of one or more of these opportunities:

Thursday, January 23, 2014: The Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association will hold their 76th annual banquet at the Millennium Maxwell House. Former New York Yankees second baseman and 1960 World Series MVP Bobby Richardson will be the speaker.  The doors open at 5:30 PM with the banquet starting at 6:30 PM (CT). Tickets are $50.00 each; email me if you need more information: skip@sulphurdell.com

Saturday, January 25, 2014: Fifth annual SABR Day. Our local Grantland Rice-Fred Russell (Nashville) chapter will meet at Shelby Park in east Nashville in the “Junie” McBride Old Timers board room from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM (CT). The Old Timers Nashville Amatueur Baseball Hall of Fame is displayed there. More information to follow. Guests are always welcome at SABR chapter events.

Saturday, January 25, 2014: Fifth annual SABR Day. The East Tennessee Chapter will also be meeting at 10 AM (ET) at the Knoxville Lawson McGhee Library in Knoxville. Email Bryan Stepherson: steverson@charter.net or Mark Aubrey: mark.aubrey@gmail.com for more information. Once again, guests are welcome.

Thursday, February 6, 2014: 13th annual American Baseball Foundation Lead Off Dinner, Birmingham, Alabama. Roger Clemens, seven-time Cy Young award winner, is speaker. Tickets are $150.00 each and more information may be found here:  http://www.americanbaseballfoundation.com/lead-off-dinner/

Saturday, March 1, 2014: 11th annual Southern Association Conference will be held in Atlanta. Presentations will consist mainly of Atlanta’s long and memorable tenure in the Southern Association although other topics related to baseball in Atlanta and the South may be included. Should you wish to be considered as a presenter, send a brief synopsis to David Brewer:  david@rickwood.com.

Friday, April 4, 2014: The 19th Annual Conference on Baseball in Literature and Culture will be held at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.  The luncheon speaker is former Kansas City Royals star Willie Wilson. Additional information will be updated soon here:  http://www.mtsu.edu/english/BBConf/

Opening Day is right around the corner, too.  In 2014 there are many opportunities to enjoy the Game! Here’s a list of area minor league teams’ games to kick off the home season:

Thursday, April 3, 2014:

Bowling Green Hot Rods vs. South Bend Silver Hawks, 7:05 PM (CT)

Chattanooga Lookouts vs. Jackson Generals, time TBA (ET)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014:

Birmingham Barons vs. Jacksonville Suns, 7:05 PM (CT)

Huntsville Stars vs. Pensacola Blue Wahoos, time TBA (CT)

Jackson Generals vs. Mississippi Braves, 7:05 PM (CT)

Tennessee Smokies vs. Chattanooga Lookouts, 7:05 PM (ET)

Thursday, April 10, 2014:

Louisville Bats vs. Columbus Clippers, 6:35 (ET)

Friday, April 11, 2014:

Memphis Redbirds Opening Day vs. Iowa Cubs, 7:05 PM (CT)

Nashville Sounds Opening Day vs. Omaha Storm Chasers, 7:05 PM (CT)

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