A recent work trip took me to Alabama…Prattville, specifically. If you don’t know exactly where that is, you’re much like I was when it was time to book my travel. About 15 minutes north on 65 from Montgomery, it turns out.
“Schwartz,” I said, as I handed my license to the clerk at the rental car counter. I didn’t imagine it to be an everyday last name in this part of the country.
“And you’re sure you have a car here?”
Like all modern travelers these days I took out my phone to search frantically through emails for my confirmation. Relieved it have found it quickly, I handed my phone to the clerk who would no doubt be a little embarrassed to have lost track of such an organized traveler.
“Sir, this is out of Montgomery.”
“And you’re in Birmingham.”
It was at this point that something I’d known intellectually for decades but had never really processed hit me like a ton of bricks. Montgomery and Birmingham, whatever their similarities, are in fact different cities.
Having forfeited all chances to play it cool, I asked the obvious.
“Nope, not far. You could get there in about two hours…”
“…if you had a car.”
“I take it you’re out of cars then?”
“Yep. Whole airport’s out.”
Taking a Lyft into town I was able to procure wheels from an Enterprise with one vehicle remaining, a rather large Dodge Ram pickup, and checked the map—the SABR Baseball Map that is!
Ten minutes later, there I was. The marker says it all: “The oldest surviving ballpark in America.”
I asked a guy packing baseball equipment into his truck if it was okay to go inside. “Yeah, sure thing. Have fun.”
“Satchel Paige faced Josh Gibson here,” I thought to myself. “I will definitely have fun.”
At first I simply stared out at the field. It was a site that shouldn’t exist anymore: a ballpark 113 years old being worked on for a game the same evening. So let me try again. This was a site that should exist. Living history.
The groundskeeper was fine with my walking around the field but asked that I avoid the infield dirt.
He also gave me a tip I might have missed on my own. “Go through the gate by the 392 marker to see the original wall.”
It was here I said goodbye to the spray charts of mere mortals and hello to those of Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson, Willie Mays, and Reggie Jackson. I was venturing into the land of 478-foot homers. Holy f*ck.
If I had all day I might have wandered this stretch for hours, rummaging for old toothpicks I might decide were Oscar Charleston’s or, as if it were possible, a baseball or two. Unfortunately I had to pick up some colleagues at the airport. And that would be Montgomery, not Birmingham. Different cities it turns out.
Still, I made some time to visit the gift shop, which doubled as mini-museum.
Checking the baseball map, I also found I had time for a brief stop at the Willie Mays statue outside nearby Regions Field.
And with that, it was time to hit the road. It was a dumb mistake to fly into the wrong city, but it was a smart one too. Plus, it could have been worse. Far worse.