"Everyone was trying to get me to do the old-time windup, throw your arms back behind your body," Ely laughed. "So I did for the first pitch, it was pretty funny, it cut the tension."
The Double-A Barons and Braves, appropriately outfitted in vintage jerseys, locked up in an old-fashioned pitchers' duel in the 14th annual Rickwood Classic.
The game featured late-inning heroics as 2004 second-round pick Eric Campbell smacked a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give Mississippi a 3-2 victory over Birmingham at America's oldest professional ballpark in Birmingham, Ala.
"From the beginning of the season, I really wanted to start this game," said Ely, who held the Braves to one run over six innings. "With all the history, we were pretty excited about it."
The teams paid homage to the 1982 season with throwback uniforms -- Braves affiliate Mississippi sported powder blue uniforms worn by Atlanta in the early '80s, and the White Sox's Barons wore white with red and black trim jerseys from the same decade.
Ely said the ancient Rickwood clubhouse was as expected, a century-old piece of history.
"They've done a good job with it," he said. "It's not the nicest clubhouse in the league, it's a little small, but it's got really cool pictures around of all the teams from the past."
Many players have passed through the dugouts and lockers of Rickwood since it began hosting games in 1910, two years before Fenway Park opened in Boston. Modeled after Philadelphia's Shibe Park and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Rickwood Field was constructed in 1910 shortly after A.H. "Rick" Woodward purchased the Barons from J. William McQueen. The field was the Minor Leagues' first concrete and steel ballpark and served as the home to the Barons from 1910-1961, '64-'65 and again from '81-'87.
"It was pretty cool, I like the jerseys. The pants are better than the ones I usually wear," said Ely, a 6-foot-1 Miami University product in his third season in the White Sox system. "It was a cool thing to be able to do."
The game drew 7,396 fans, who witnessed Campbell taking reliever Fernando Hernandez deep to right to give Mississippi the lead.
"It was surprising, there were a lot of people -- they filled the stands," said Ely. "It got loud, it was pretty exciting. Just stepping into the ballpark, it has that air about it."
Jacksonville edged Birmingham, 4-2, in last season's classic, which also drew about 7,500 fans.
"You look around, you realize it's a historic place," Ely added. "It's one of those things that gets you going."
Ely struck out six and allowed five hits, including a first-inning homer to Travis Jones. Birmingham tied it in the fourth when 2008 first-round pick Gordon Beckham raced home on a throwing error by Braves shortstop Brandon Hicks.
Ely has allowed one earned run in five of his last six starts, going 5-1 with a 3.28 ERA in those starts.
Mississippi starter Ryne Reynoso dueled with Ely for about six innings, holding the Barons to a pair of runs -- one earned -- on three hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings. The 2008 Carolina League All-Star out of Boston College struck out five.
Javier Colina's RBI double in the seventh gave the Barons a lead, but Campbell's first long ball of the season erased it two frames later.
"I made that one bad pitch, but other than that I was spotting my pitches, and that's all you can ask for," said Ely. "You just want to throw where you're trying to."
Brett Butts (3-0) tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings for the win, and Rafael Cruz tossed a scoreless ninth for his Southern League-leading 12th save.
Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.