Live From MLB at Rickwood Field: FOX Sports Celebrates Black Baseball With Special Broadcast in Birmingham

Camera platforms built on stadium roof plus pair of drones capture the history

Opened in 1910, Rickwood Field in Birmingham, AL, is the oldest standing ballpark in the U.S. It was built before Wrigley Field, before Fenway Park.

In today’s age of manufactured fan experiences, this 8,300-seat piece of American history is the real deal for anyone who cares about the sport of baseball and the history of this country.

To produce tonight’s one-off broadcast of the MLB at Rickwood Field game between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, FOX Sports has brought in a thorough effort to pay tribute to the Negro Leagues, baseball’s history of black players, and late, great Birmingham native Willie Mays.

FOX Sports will broadcast the MLB at Rickwood Field game live from Birmingham, AL, tonight.

“Anytime you’re able to be part of history and see it as it existed for thousands upon thousands of players before you, it’s just absolutely unbelievable,” says Brad Cheney, VP, operations and engineering, FOX Sports. “We’re excited that we’ve been able to work with Major League Baseball to bring fans to a place that, quite honestly, they might not have known existed or still exists. To be able to show that off while nodding our caps to the Negro Leagues and what all those players really meant to baseball, it’s truly spectacular.”

Strategic Camera Plan Adapts to Environment

This isn’t your typical FOX Sports production story, breaking down the 100+ cameras, a bevy of specialties, and a wealth of high-tech production toys. This is a much more understated effort befitting the historical nature of the ballpark and the event itself. Sure, two drones from Beverly Hills Aerials flying overhead will certainly help set the scene, and a pair of Megalodons will be shooting for a close-up cinematic feel, but,  all-in-all, only 26 cameras are spread around the ballpark for game coverage.

Posing with a vintage team bus is the FOX Sports operations team working the MLB at Rickwood Field game. In bus windows (from left): Anil Letherwala, Dylan Burns, Sid Drexler, Lou D’Ermilio, Pan Chvotkin, Taihe Miller, Nick Utley, and Johanna Johnson. Standing (from left): Brian Obert, Tom Lynch, Judy Acone, Francisco Contreras, Spencer Wilkins, Mike Crum, Sam D’Amico, Tanner Acone, Patricia Fischer, Rod Conti, Jennifer Freund, Brady Polansky, and Brad Cheney. (Photo: FOX Sports)

Perhaps the most notable fact of the camera plan for Rickwood is that five of the primary game-coverage cameras are on custom platforms built on Rickwood Stadium’s roof. Given the absence of camera wells in the historic ballpark, the traditional camera positions deployed on a Major League Baseball game are up on that roof, just over the outfield walls, or on the ends of the newly renovated and expanded dugouts.

The announce booth – where play-by-play Joe Davis and analyst John Smoltz will call the game – is also built on the stadium’s roof. This setup has required a great deal of attention to structural integrity and was subject to numerous safety clearances with the stadium staff and MLB. It’s a challenge for FOX, which typically broadcasts from an established MLB stadium. Even at events like Field of Dreams, the crew works in a space designed and built for broadcast. That is not the case at a building like Rickwood, where the history and the charm of the building is rooted in an era even before radio broadcasts were possible.

Given a lack of camera wells in Rickwood Field, FOX Sports has built five camera platforms of the stadium’s roof.

“There was a lot of work that went in here,” says Cheney, referencing numerous site visits to the ballpark. “It’s a lot of conversations. It’s measured twice, cut once. If you put something even slightly in the wrong spot, it won’t work because it has been engineered for that spot. We spent a lot of time and a lot of work making sure the venue was safe. It’s a lot of things that we hope viewers will never even see.”


The FOX Sports operations team here on the ground in Birmingham includes Lead Operations Manager Judy Acone; Operations Managers Jennifer Fruend, Nick Utley, and Pam Chvotkin; and Tech Managers Sid Drexler, Brian Obert, and Taihe Miller.

The Willie Mays Factor

It’s more than longevity that makes Rickwood Field special. It’s a genuine historical site, the kind of place where you feel the ghosts.

Although the ballpark has never served as an MLB venue before now, 181 of the 351 players enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame are believed to have played in it, whether as Negro Leaguers or doing barnstorming Spring Training games in the middle of the 20th century. Those names include iconic Negro League players Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell; MLB legends Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio; and MLB stars with Negro League roots like Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and, of course, Willie Mays, who played for the Birmingham Black Barons at Rickwood Field in 1948, when he was just 17 years old.

Additional camera positions have been cleared at the ends of each dugout. The dugouts at Rickwood Field were remodeled and expanded to account for the needs of the two Major League Baseball teams.

This event, of course, has taken on a whole new meaning following the announcement on Tuesday of the passing of the Say Hey Kid. Although Mays had been expected to be a main character in the celebrations, the sad news has led to plenty of last-minute changes to the storytelling plan for the game’s front bench of producer Pete Macheska and director Matt Gangl.

“We’re here to make sure production has the tools necessary for their jobs,” says Cheney. “You never want to think about these things happening, but you have to plan for it. It’s unfortunate that Willie wouldn’t have seen this game, but we’re glad that he knew it was happening.”

Weather Wreaks Havoc on Compound Buildout

The location of Rickwood Field is not without challenges. The old stadium lacked any modern broadcast infrastructure. It’s essentially in the middle of a neighborhood, leaving no room for parking and any logical place to erect a production compound. FOX Sports, in fact, had to bring in quite a bit of sand and gravel to make the muddy space that ended up as the compound inhabitable by the fleet of Game Creek Video Encore trucks.

Opened in 1910, Rickwood Field is the oldest standing ballpark in the U.S.

“There was nothing here,” says Francisco Contreras, director, field operations, FOX Sports. “We didn’t know where the compound was going to be for a while. So it has been a unique experience and a challenge. The neighborhood is another challenge. There’s nowhere to park. Logistics has been planning it out with MLB, and it has been amazing to have that partnership.”

Adds Tom Lynch, coordinating tech manager, FOX Sports, “This has come a long way. The grounds crew has been amazing. It has rained a lot down here; we’ve had a lot of humidity. The heat has been a huge challenge. We’ve had temperatures near 100 degrees down here with the humidity. But it all looks great, and everybody has worked really hard together to make this special.”

Pre/postgame coverage will come from an onsite studio set positioned over the rightfield wall. The set is overseen by VP, Operations, Rod Conti; Coordinating Producer Bardia Shah-Rais; Director, Operations Gregory, Pfeifer; Senior Operations Managers Anil Letherwala and Patricia Fischer; Tech Managers Brady Polansky and Lou D’Ermilio; Operations Coordinator Tanner Acone; and Operations Manager, Art, Johnny Chou.

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