A large crowd gathered on the field to celebrate the ribbon cutting at Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey Friday. Hinchliffe Stadium is one of three remaining Negro League ballparks. (Photo: Matthew Tallarini/World Baseball Network)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
PATERSON, N.J. – Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey reopened its doors after 26 years for a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday, the day before the first professional baseball game on site in many years.
The New Jersey Jackals of the Frontier League will make Hinchliffe Stadium their home after playing in Yogi Berra Stadium on Montclair State University’s campus for the past 24 seasons. The Jackals will have their first game at their new home on Saturday night against the Sussex County Miners at 6:05 p.m. EDT.
Many figures gathered at the newly-renovated Hinchliffe Stadium for the ceremony, including Paterson mayor Andre Sayegh, former Major League Baseball player and current MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds, and actress Whoopi Goldberg were present alongside many others for the ceremony.
Hinchliffe Stadium was built in 1931 and opened the following year on July 8, 1932 during the middle of the Great Depression. The ballpark was named for former Paterson Mayor John Hinchliffe and was home to two Negro League baseball teams: the New York Black Yankees from 1933-37 and 1939-45, and the New York Cubans in 1935 and 1936. Legends such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Martin Dihigo and many others played at Hinchliffe.
Paterson native Larry Doby, who was the second African-American to play in Major League Baseball, played at Hinchliffe Stadium for Paterson’s Eastside High School as a multi-sport athlete, where he was scouted by the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League.
The Newark Eagles owners Abe and Effa Manley held a tryout for Doby at Hinchliffe after his senior year of high school. Doby had a successful tryout and signed with the Eagles at the age of 17 in 1942.
In addition to baseball, events ranging from New Jersey state high school championships to auto racing, boxing, and concerts have been held at Hinchliffe Stadium over the years.
Hinchliffe Stadium was nearly demolished in the late 1990s, and after 1997, the City of Paterson School District moved high school events elsewhere due to the stadium’s poor conditions, leaving one of three remaining Negro League baseball stadiums in the country left with and uncertain future.
After years of trying to figure out how to save the stadium, Mayor Sayegh proposed spending $18.7 million in April 2019 to repair and reopen Hinchliffe Stadium as a multi-sport facility.
During 2021, the city of Paterson and Hinchliffe Stadium developer Baye Adofo-Wilson of BAW Development broke ground on the $94 million project to renovate and preserve the beloved neighborhood park and redevelop the surrounding area.
“Well, for Hinchliffe, we had a two-year construction period,” said Adofo-Wilson. “We did this through Covid… so we had perservere in terms of making sure this project was in good condition.”
The renovated Hinchliffe Stadium’s first event was on Wednesday, when the three Paterson High Schools took the field christen the newly-renovated facility and being the first high school game after 26 years. Eastside High School played against top power house Don Bosco Prep.
Don Bosco Prep won the first game of the Silk City Baseball Classic 14-2. Don Bosco Prep shortstop Eric Becker recorded the first hit at Hinchliffe in over a quarter of a century during Wednesday’s win.
Kennedy High School, which is located four blocks away from Hinchliffe won the second game of the Silk City Classic beating Paterson Charter by the score of 8-0 in the first event at Hinchliffe Stadium since 1997.
“It’s a proud and emotional moment, if you think about how long it took to get us to this point,” said Paterson mayor Andre Sayegh. “It was quite the struggle, but it was worth it because it’s not about the past – it’s about the present and the future.”
Hinchliffe Stadium is one of three Negro League baseball stadiums still standing left in the United States. Hamtramck Stadium outside Detroit and Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, are the other two.
Does Major League Baseball have a step to gain to host a Field of Dreams game in the future at Hinchliffe Stadium?
Mayor Sayegh believes that can happen during the near future for Hinchliffe and the city of Paterson.
“I have been lobbying for a few years. I want to see the Major League Baseball Field of Dreams game played here at Hinchliffe Stadium, preferably the New York Mets. And if the Yankees want to play, we will take them on here in Hinchliffe,” the mayor said. “With all due respect for the cornfield in Iowa, it’s probably more suitable to play where Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, and Josh Gibson played at one point, just to make sure that people recognize that this is a victory for history.”