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When Wilie Mays entered professional baseball with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948, pitcher Bill Greason was one of his teammates at Rickwood Field.

A powerful, base-stealing, fly-sharpening, and strong-armed center fielder for the New York and San Francisco Giants, Mays was one of the greatest and most brilliant players in sports history.

When Mays died last week at age 93, he was the oldest living Hall of Famer (inducted in 1979).

But don’t forget Bill Greason, also known as Rev. Greason.

After a time in the Negro Leagues with Birmingham, the Nashville Black Vols and the Asheville Blues, Greason made his breakthrough into the Major Leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954 and became the organization’s first black pitcher.

Greason, now 99 years old and from Atlanta (as a neighbor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), is the oldest living graduate of the Negro League and lives in his adopted hometown of Birmingham.

The 1948 season – the first since Jackie Robinson broke segregation with Brooklyn – was the last season of the traditional American-National Negro League World Series. The Black Barons reached the 1948 World Series and lost to the Homestead Grays by a score of four to one. However, the winning pitcher in the Barons’ only victory (4-3 in Game 3) was right-handed pitcher Gleason.

Mays was only 17 years old at the time, still a schoolboy and only playing in home games for Birmingham that season. Mays joined the team for Games 2, 3 and 5 at the famous Rickwood Field.

And indeed, in the third game at Rickwood, Mays (then a twelfth-grader at Fairfield Industrial High School in Westfield) scored the winning run with a walk-off single through the middle in the ninth inning.

Rickwood, the oldest professional baseball stadium in America, was back in the news on June 20 when the San Francisco Giants (Mays’ team) played the St. Louis Cards (Greason’s major league team).

The game was held in conjunction with Juneteenth and was a tribute to the Negro Leagues of yore. Wearing a Negro Leagues uniform, Greason threw the ceremonial first pitch in front of a cheering packed house.

Mays and Greason were among the last players to move up from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues. Both were among the first black players for their Major League franchises, lived exemplary lives and became treasure troves of memories.

But remember, all coincidences began in Birmingham at Rickwood Field.