The best moments from a historic, poignant night at Rickwood Field

June 21st, 2024

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The moment finally arrived on Thursday night, and it lived up to every expectation.

Wearing throwback uniforms that evoked their Negro Leagues counterparts (the San Francisco Sea Lions and St. Louis Stars), the Giants and Cardinals made Rickwood Field -- the oldest professional ballpark in the country -- their own. At the same time, they paid tribute to those who came before -- central among them, the late, great Willie Mays -- both before the game and with their play during it.

When all was said and done, the Cardinals came away with a 6-5 win. Here are the best moments from one of the biggest nights in baseball history:

1. Alabama product gets the party started

While Statcast metrics aren’t available at Rickwood, you wouldn’t need them to know that Cardinals left fielder Brendan Donovan demolished the first home run of the game. The towering blast landed on the green awning beyond the right-center-field wall, giving St. Louis a 3-0 lead in the opening frame.

Donovan, who was born in Würzburg, Germany, grew up in Enterprise, Ala., and played college ball at the University of South Alabama, making it a fitting homecoming for the 27-year-old.

2. The stories you need to hear

In his 99 years on this earth, former Negro Leaguer Bill Greason -- who threw out the ceremonial first pitch -- has lived as full a life as one possibly can.

To name a few of his many accomplishments: He is the oldest living Negro Leagues player. He grew up across the street from Martin Luther King Jr. He fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima. And he spent 53 years as a minister at Bethel Baptist Church.

We'll just let Greason tell you about his life in his own words.

3. Stirring pregame ceremonies

Five-time Grammy winner Jon Batiste put on a pregame show that was both heartwarming and upbeat all at once, before he announced the entrance of former Negro League players onto the field, accompanied by players from the Giants and Cardinals.

They took their seats along the foul lines as a tribute to the late, great Willie Mays played on the video board. Then Mays' son, Michael, came out onto the field alongside Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr.

"Birmingham, I've been telling y'all if there's any way on earth my father could come down here, that he would," Mays said in a short speech. "Well he found another way. He already stands at your feet. Let him hear you, he's listening."

4. Giants CF goes deep

Giants center fielder Heliot Ramos is playing his way towards All-Star consideration, and his hot streak with the bat continued with a game-tying three-run blast to right field, depositing a hanging curveball from Andre Pallante just over the fence in the third inning.

Ramos, a native of Puerto Rico who plays the same position for San Francisco as Mays, is up to his 10th homer of the season. He brought home Brett Wisely and Mike Yastrzemski, who had singled earlier in the frame and whose grandfather, Carl, was a contemporary of Mays.

5. Donovan comes through again

It was the Alabama product’s day through and through, as Donovan drove in his third run of the evening on an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth, fighting off a wipeout slider from lefty Taylor Rogers to score Alec Burleson, giving the Cardinals a healthy 6-3 lead. Donovan’s three-hit day, in which he finished a triple shy of the cycle, was integral to providing St. Louis with enough insurance as the Giants tried to claw back throughout the night.

6. Turning back the clock

If you were tuned in to the game via the FOX television broadcast, you may have done a double take coming back from commercial break during the fifth inning. The game was coming into your television sets exactly the way it looked some 70 years ago, when baseball first made its way onto the screen.

"You haven't lost your mind. Your TV's not broken," play-by-play man Joe Davis said.

It certainly was something to see the Cardinals turn a 6-4-3 double play in this throwback setting.

7. ‘Rise Up’ to cancer

At the end of the fifth inning, everyone within Rickwood’s walls – players, coaches and fans alike – took to their feet for the Stand Up to Cancer moment, as has become tradition during MLB’s signature events like the All-Star Game and the World Series.

With Grammy Award-winning singer Andra Day providing a moving performance of her hit song “Rise Up,” the FOX broadcast showed everyone holding placards that read, “I stand up for,” followed by personal messages. Some of those included: patients, loved ones, those we’ve lost and children everywhere.

Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) is a groundbreaking initiative created to accelerate innovative cancer research that gets new therapies to patients quicker. MLB and its 30 clubs are the founding donors of SU2C. Learn more at

8. Helsley shuts the door, fireworks galore

The Giants certainly presented a tangible threat in the final frame, putting runners on first and second base with two outs, leaving Matt Chapman with a chance to send the game into the bottom of the ninth with the go-ahead run on. But Cardinals’ closer Ryan Helsley pulled through, dropping a devastating slider past Chapman’s swing for the three-pitch punchout to seal the St. Louis victory, 6-5.

Helsley pointed to the sky as red and silver fireworks erupted from the batters’ eye in center field, punctuating an emotional and joyous day with a hard-fought victory for the Redbirds.

9. Lineup exchange

Even though Lamonte Wade Jr. wasn’t able to suit up for the Giants at Rickwood Field, he was able to play his part in the historic game.

The outfielder, the Giants’ only Black position player, went out to home plate and handled the lineup card exchange for San Francisco. Wade was working to come back from the injured list for the Giants for this game -- even if it was just for a single at-bat -- but was unable to due to roster restrictions.

“If anybody wanted to play this game desperately, it was him,” manager Bob Melvin said.

Wade’s participation in the lineup card exchange coincided with another piece of history, as the home-plate meeting also featured the first all-Black umpiring crew in MLB history.

10. The arrival

Giants players honored Mays by wearing throwback Birmingham Barons jerseys on the bus, arriving to Rickwood Field in style.

“I don’t know how the idea came about, but I thought it was really cool to wear the hat and the jersey on the bus," said Giants pitcher Jordan Hicks. "It’s really cool to honor him that way.”

11. Saying Hey

Members of the Cardinals and Giants stopped by Willie Mays' Hall of Fame plaque to pose for pictures