By Tonya Pendleton
In the 1930s, Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J., was home to Negro League teams The New York Black Yankees, The New York Cubans, and The Newark Eagles. Larry Doby, the first Black player in the American League and a Paterson native, was a Newark Eagle.
Now the community is hoping that just like in the movie Field of Dreams, if they [re]build it, they will come. The stadium closed in 1997 and set for demolition until its designation as a historical landmark and a $100M renovation has reopened.
It’s now home to the New Jersey Jackals, a minor league baseball team that moved to the new stadium from nearby Montclair. Much of the praise for that effort goes to Paterson mayor Andrè Sayegh, who prioritized having the stadium rebuilt.
“I wanted to try to hit a home run for Hinchliffe,” Sayegh told the New York Times. “I wanted to hit a home run for history, too.”
History saw Negro Leaguers Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Martin Dihigo, and Satchel Paige come through Hinchliffe, built-in 1931 during the heyday of the Negro Leagues. The stadium was also a place where annual Thanksgiving football games, boxing matches, and competitions like midget car racing took place.
“To stand on those hallowed grounds, that you know the likes of Larry Doby and Monte Irvin and so many of the legendary stars of the Negro leagues were there, that’s special,” Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., said. “When I stood on those grounds the last time, it was just blacktop. Now, to see it in its current state and alive and active, I’m sure that’s going to be pretty emotional.”
The stadium’s renaissance includes an athletic facility for multiple sports, 72 units of affordable income housing for seniors, a restaurant and event space, a 315-space parking garage, a preschool, and a museum expected to open in September.
Sayegh ultimately hopes that Major League Baseball will host a game at Hinchliffe, similar to what the league did with the “Field of Dreams” game. The movie’s pivotal scene was recreated during a baseball game played in an Iowa ballpark near where the movie was filmed.
“I thought it was an outstanding film, but it’s a movie set,” Sayegh said. “It’s not where history happened, right? It’s not where individuals, who were excluded because of the color of their skin, played. They played in Paterson. They had a home in Hinchliffe when they were not allowed to play at Yankee Stadium or in Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.”
Though the official opening ceremony is Friday, the first event at Hinchliffe in 25 years pitted the Eastside Ghosts high school baseball team against the Don Bosco Ironmen on Wednesday. (Eastside High is the Paterson high school featured in the film Lean On Me.)
“I just want to thank God for putting us here,” Andre DeLeon, a pitcher and second baseman for the Eastside Ghosts, said, as reported by the Paterson Press. His father and uncle both played at the stadium.
Larry Doby, Jr. says Hinchliffe brings back memories of the days his father starred on its field, regaling his son with the stories of his triumphs.
“It’s been such a long time coming, and it’s been such a difficult road. The fact that it’s happening is very — I mean, it’s like we can almost touch it now,” Doby Jr. told the Times. “I know my father would be proud to be associated with it, and he’d be more proud that some kids will be getting the same opportunities that he got when he was a kid.”