Polishing the Diamond
David Brewer: B.A. History, 1996 • M.A., History, 2002By Andrew Clark
As the oldest remaining professional baseball park in the country, Birmingham’s Rickwood Field has seen its fair share of Hall of Famers.
Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Willie Mays all suited up inside the local landmark. With its familiar forest-green facade, unique architecture, and rich legacy, Rickwood is a dream for baseball nuts and history buffs.
David Brewer, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Rickwood, fits both of those categories. “I’m not sure how to explain it, but baseball is a game that we feel an emotional connection to,” says Brewer, who calls Rickwood a “cultural and economic asset for the community.”
Love of the Game
Rickwood played a major role in Birmingham history, Brewer says. “Going to games was a big social event. It was a source of community identity and civic pride and a core component of how people in Birmingham saw themselves.”
In his role with Friends of Rickwood, Brewer is the chief steward of that legacy. It’s a job that has him doing everything from scheduling events—Rickwood hosts 200 games per year, along with camps, memorabilia shows, and more—to fundraising and restoring the park’s physical structure. Key improvements during his tenure include remodeling the press box and adding an impressive throwback scoreboard in the outfield (visible in the photo above). In 2012, Rickwood played a key role in the Jackie Robinson biopic 42. For a week, the park had a taste of Hollywood as it was turned into a replica of both Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh for the film.
After leaving college early in the 1980s to become a crane operator, Brewer returned to UAB in 1994 to finish his undergraduate degree. “I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in history,” and faculty including Raymond Mohl, Ph.D., and Carolyn Conley, Ph.D., “encouraged me to pursue my master’s,” he says. A graduate assistantship made that choice financially viable.
While Brewer was working on his master’s degree, faculty member Pamela Sterne King, M.A., told him that Friends of Rickwood was looking for an executive director and recommended that he pursue the position. He was hired in 1998 but continued to work on his master’s thesis at night and on the weekends, finishing in 2002. “The history department taught me the writing and research tools to succeed in the field,” Brewer says. Grant writing, for instance, is an important part of keeping the park in operation, he notes.
Considering his passion for industrial history, Brewer says “Birmingham is the ideal location to be.” Industrialist Rick Woodward, president of the Woodward Iron Company, built the ballpark in 1910. (Many of the city’s factories and mills fielded baseball teams up until the 1960s, Brewer says.) For the working side of Birmingham industry, Sloss Furnaces in downtown Birmingham “is a great asset,” he says. Tannehill and Brierfield state parks illuminate the state’s charcoal iron industry, and Shelby Iron Works Park and West Blocton Coke Ovens Park are also key sites. Then there are the Ruffner Mountain and Red Mountain parks, which offer access to many old mining locations and the remnants of mining communities, Brewer says. “We are fortunate to live in a historically rich community.”
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