MLB remembers Willie Mays as baseball great is honored before historic first ever game at Rickwood Field after death at 93

Willie Mays was remembered at his old stomping grounds on Thursday night as the baseball great was honored at Birmingham, Alabama’s Rickwood Field.

Mays, who began his pro career at Rickwood with the Birmingham Black Barons, died this week at the age of 93.

And while MLB had already planned the ‘Tribute to the Negro Leagues’ game before Mays’ passing, the matchup between the Giants and Cardinals took on a more significant meaning when news of the icon’s death spread.

For the game, Mays’ No. 24 was painted behind home plate, while the crowd also rose to give him a standing ovation before the contest.

His son, Michael, addressed the crowd and referenced his father’s disappointment at not being healthy enough to travel to the game before his death.

A plaque honoring Willie Mays is seen before a game at Rickwood Field on Thursday

The field was painted with Mays' No. 24 in honor the legendary baseball player

The field was painted with Mays’ No. 24 in honor the legendary baseball player

Mays was nicknamed 'The Say Hey Kid' due to his upbeat manner and positive spirit

Mays was nicknamed ‘The Say Hey Kid’ due to his upbeat manner and positive spirit

‘Birmingham, I’ve been telling y’all that if there’s any way on earth that my father could come down here, that he would,’ he said. ‘Well, he’s found another way.’

At the front of the ballpark was a memorial of Mays, with bobbleheads, a signed glove and his Black Barons and San Francisco Giants jerseys on display.

The stadium was decorated with photos and artifacts of baseball Hall of Famers who played at the 114-year-old site, including Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige.

Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who spent time at Rickwood with the Birmingham A’s in Double-A baseball, was also in attendance and shared what it was like to return.

‘Coming back here is not easy,’ he said on the FOX broadcast. ‘The racism that I played [under] here…

Mays' son, Michael (center) addressed the crowd before the game in Birmingham, Alabama

Mays’ son, Michael (center) addressed the crowd before the game in Birmingham, Alabama

Eddie Torres, right, and son Junior, from California and wearing San Francisco Giants uniforms with Willie Mays' No. 24 on the back

Eddie Torres, right, and son Junior, from California and wearing San Francisco Giants uniforms with Willie Mays’ No. 24 on the back

Rickwood Field in Birmingham is 114 years old and played a pivotal role in the Negro Leagues

Rickwood Field in Birmingham is 114 years old and played a pivotal role in the Negro Leagues

‘Fortunately I had a manager, and I had players on the team that helped me get through it. But I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.’

The original clubhouse of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues, where Mays got his pro start in 1948, was open on Thursday.,

MLB also recognized the occasion by naming an all-black umpiring crew for the first time in the league’s history.

In its storied history, Rickwood – which opened in 1910 – has hosted 181 of the 351 total Hall of Famers, per CBS Sports. 

The San Francisco Giants legend is considered by many as the best baseball player ever

The San Francisco Giants legend is considered by many as the best baseball player ever 

Rickwood Field also featured tributes to players like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and more

Rickwood Field also featured tributes to players like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and more

The Negro Leagues were started because black players were not allowed into Major League Baseball, with the Negro National League in particular founded in 1920.

And Rickwood played a pivotal role in the league, as the Black Barons shared the ballpark with the all-white Birmingham Barons for 40 years.

MLB released a statement from commissioner Rob Manfred after Mays’ death, which said, ‘His incredible achievements and statistics do not begin to describe the awe that came with watching Willie Mays dominate the game in every way imaginable. We will never forget this true Giant on and off the field.’

A cause of death was not given for Mays, 93, who was baseball’s oldest living Hall of Famer.

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