BIRMINGHAM — How can you not be romantic about baseball?

That's how the sold-out crowd felt Thursday night as Birmingham's historic Rickwood Field hosted Major League Baseball for the first time.

The St. Louis Cardinals picked up a 6-5 win over the San Francisco Giants. The Cardinals were at the plate by left fielder Brendan Donovan who went 3-4 with three RBI.

While the game was historic on its own, it was part of a much more significant moment.

Less than 48 hours before first pitch, the news broke that baseball legend and Birmingham native Willie Mays had died.

Mays, both an MLB Hall of Famer and Negro League legend, was to be honored at the game despite his inability to attend. Instead, the game was played in his memory.

The game was advertised as a tribute to the Negro Leagues as a whole, and it delivered. Many veterans of the league were in attendance, and the 99-year-old William "Bill" Greason, the oldest living Negro Leaguer, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

The opportunity to be part of such a historic moment was not lost on members of the Cardinals or Giants.

"Super pumped about it," Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. "Just driving on the back side to get here and noticing how deep that wall is. It's crazy to see 478 (feet)."

Marmol spoke about the opportunity to get out and make an impact in the Birmingham area.

"This game is gonna be awesome, but getting involved with the community is equally as important I think," Marmol said. "Going to the (Negro Southern League) museum and luncheon was cool. The Boys and Girls Club and just seeing the farming that they're doing with the hydroponics and just being able to be a part of that and unveil that for the community and what they're looking to do there long-term is just really cool."

Marmol talked about balancing making an impact in the community with the grind of the season and how much of a priority it is.

"I don't think too much about it," Marmol said. "We have a responsibility to do more than just play the game. That's what we're called to do. I see this as a great opportunity, it breaks up the monotony of what we normally do."

Cardinals shortstop Masyn Winn talked about what it was like to walk around Rickwood Field as a black baseball player.

"I love it," Winn said. "I don't think I've walked around any field since I've been up in the big leagues and I went out to enjoy it and take it all in. Just super special to be here and cool to walk around and see what they've done with the place."

Donovan, a native of Enterprise, talked about playing on the field where legends such as Mays, Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron started their professional careers.

"I just can't imagine the amount of courage that these guys had," Donovan said. "History is something that we should celebrate and for us to be a part of it and for us to go out and enjoy it and play a game here, I think it's very special for Major League Baseball. I think it's very special for this state as well."

With the news of Mays' passing still fresh on the minds of everyone on both teams and each fan in attendance, the impact of the moment seemed even more special.

Giants manager Bob Melvin talked about taking the opportunity to share some stories about Mays before the game.

"Just how special he was, not only in baseball but life in general," Melvin said on what he took away from the time with the team. "What he meant to me, what he meant to the team, what he meant to the Bay Area, what he meant to baseball. He's a true icon in the world, and I just wanted to share a couple stories and open the floor if anyone else had anything."

Melvin elaborated more on what Mays meant to him growing up as a Giants fan and how it changed when he played for and eventually managed the team.

"He (Mays) is probably the reason I loved baseball as much as I did," Melvin said. "I was a young age when I first started watching baseball, it was Willie (Mays). On the radio, on TV, anytime he came to the plate you stopped what you were doing.

"When I got to the Giants I was able to talk to him. I locked right next to him, he was there quite a bit, he's meant a lot to me over the course of my career and my life."

Giants right fielder Mike Yastrzemski talked about the timeliness of Mays' passing and the effect it had on the game.

"I believe that it was for a reason, that he could be here spiritually, that he could be here with us," Yastrzemski said. "He (Mays) wasn't going to be able to make it otherwise. As much as it hurts to lose a legend like that, we gained an angel and a saint above us to be here for this series.

"It is very, very special and I think everybody here feels that."

When the baseball world was mourning the loss of a legend, it was the game itself that provided players and fans alike with the closure they needed and allowed them to celebrate Mays as well as the legacy of the Negro Leagues.

How can you not be romantic about baseball?

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