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This Thursday, MLB will play its first ever regular season game in Alabama when the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants meet at historic Rickwood Field. Rickwood Field is the oldest ballpark in the country and is most famous to being home to the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues from 1920-60. It has been preserved and restored over the years.

Among the players who called Rickwood Field home were Hall of Famers Satchel Paige, Mule Stuttles, and Willie Mays. Mays grew up not far from Birmingham and played for both the Black Barons (1948) and Giants (1951-72). Despite his connection to the Giants and Rickwood Field, and his status as one of the game's all-time greats, Mays will not be able to attend Thursday's game.

Mays, who turned 93 last month, released a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle saying he will not attend this week's game at Rickwood Field.

"Rickwood Field? I knew about it as a kid," Mays said in a statement. "It was always there. As common as a church or a school or a movie theater. I grew up with Rickwood 'around the corner there,' meaning nearby and within reach. The majors? I didn't dream about the impossible. I was taught to see your goal in your mind and work toward it. I could work toward getting to Rickwood Field and the Birmingham Black Barons. I didn't need to dream for that. For that, I needed to work hard. So, I did. Rickwood became my training ground. My start. My first job. When things changed in '47 with Jackie (Robinson) coming in? Well, then I started to dream big. You never forget your firsts. Rickwood Field is where I played my first home game. Rickwood Field is still here. So am I. How about that?

"I'm not able to get to Birmingham this year but will follow the game back here in the Bay Area. My heart will be with all of you who are honoring the Negro League ballplayers, who should always be remembered, including all my teammates on the Black Barons. I wanted to thank Major League Baseball, the Giants, the Cardinals and all the fans who'll be at Rickwood or watching the game. It'll be a special day, and I hope the kids will enjoy it and be inspired by it."

Mays played 13 games with the Black Barons has a high schooler in 1948, going 10 for 43 (.233) at the plate. He signed with the Giants in 1950 and finished that season in the minors. In 1951, Mays won National League Rookie of the Year and began a Hall of Fame career that saw him record 3,293 hits and 660 home runs. He is simply one of the greatest ballplayers ever.

Thursday's Cardinals vs. Giants game at Rickwood Field is part of MLB's salute to the Negro Leagues in observance of Juneteenth. In preparation for the game the field, outfield walls, dugouts, and lights were upgraded to meet MLB's standards.