Review by Gary
Baseball returned to venerable Hinchliffe Stadium in the spring of 2023. After sitting derelict for years, lost to the ages to all but the most ardent local supporters, Negro League aficionados and ballpark fans, the City of Paterson approved a deal in 2019 for Hinchliffe Stadium to be redeveloped. The plan called for reconstruction of the stadium, originally built in 1932, with about 7,800 seats, a 314-space parking garage, restaurant, Negro League museum, and senior citizen apartments. By May 2023, all but the museum and restaurant had been completed. The New Jersey Jackals of the Frontier League signed a 6-year lease to play their home games here and their owner, a Paterson native, relocated his team from nearby Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, NJ, in hopes of capitalizing on the rebirth of this legendary Negro League Ballpark.
On Opening Day, the Jackals hosted the Sussex Miners, also owned by the same Jersey native, and battled in the first pro baseball game played at Hinchliffe since 1950. It was also the first professional ball game played within the confines of a U.S. National Park (Paterson’s Great Falls). This open-air horseshoe-shaped stadium of reinforced concrete with an Art Deco design on its exterior now has a fresh coat of bright-colored paint on its walls and single-priced aluminum bleachers that wrap all the way around the seating bowl. A new press box sits above the stands on the left field side, right where the 50-yard line will be for football. The museum building is beyond the right field stands and lies close to the Great Falls on Maple Street.
The gift shop is on the concourse level above the third base side of the bowl, while all the concession stands are on the same level down the first base side. Fans can climb downstairs to the field level to get close to the action behind and beyond the portable covered first base dugout. Sadly, there are no places where fans can escape the sun on day games. While all of the fixed seating is five feet above the playing surface, the seats are quite a ways from the action. Still, the sight lines are above average.
Hinchliffe Stadium was the primary home of the Negro League’s NY Black Yankees starting in 1934 and every season but one until 1945. Paterson native, Larry Doby, would play his high school sports career at Hinchliffe and would become the first player to go directly from the Negro Leagues to the majors (the next day!), skipping the Minors, literally from Hinchliffe Stadium.
As a ballfield, Hinchliffe’s infield initially was centered at one end of the track field, creating outfield dimensions resembling those of the New York Giants’ Polo Grounds, with each foul pole 280 feet away and a deep center field wall 480 feet away at the open end of the horseshoe. In the 1960’s, the infield was turned 90 degrees, resulting in a normal left field, deep center field, but a very short right field.
The redevelopers of the ballpark chose to play baseball with the 1960s look, but also painted on the Field Turf the layout of the original Negro League presentation, with foul lines running outward from the center of the bowl. The baseball field’s dimensions today are 320’ to left, 461’ to center and a posted 327’ to right, but the latter probably more like 270 feet with a 30’ tall screen to keep at least some of the home runs from bouncing off the cars and houses on Maple Street.
It literally took an act of Congress to get Hinchliffe resurrected. In 2009, Congressman Bill Pascrell introduced the Great Falls National Historical Park Act, which was signed into law by the president later that year. This bill came with a provision requiring a study for Hinchliffe Stadium’s preservation and interpretation options. It also added a recommendation by the National Park Service to include the stadium on its list of National Historical Landmarks. In 2013, Hinchliffe Stadium was officially designated as a National Historic Monument.
As it did until it closed in 1996, Hinchliffe again will host school and amateur events, including ball games, graduations, and concerts. High school ballplayers as well as members of the Frontier League now play on the same hallowed grounds and within the same walls as the Negro League legends who preceded them. Hinchliffe Stadium is again a marvelous ballpark to catch baseball. With stunning views of Paterson’s spires, Garrett Mountain in the foreground and New York City further in distance, fans can imagine seeing the likes of twenty Hall of Famers, many of whom played in the Negro Leagues, patrolling the field below.