PATTERSON, N.J. — When Bob Kendrick visited Hinchliffe Stadium in 2014, all he could do was hope.
Kendrick, director of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, was heading east for the ceremony to recognize Hinchliffe as a National Historic Landmark. This stadium is one of the last surviving Negro League stadiums, but at the time it was almost impossible to know.
At the time, Hinchliffe was abandoned like it hadn’t been since 1997, and pavement covered where the fields used to be. Overgrown vegetation, graffiti and broken glass littered the stands where fans watched the future Hall of Famer perform. Idols like Josh Gibson, Satchel Page, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston and Martin Dihigo have all played for Hinchliffe. So did homegrowns like Monte Irvin and Larry Doby, who followed Jackie Robinson in the first wave of American and National League mergers to Cooperstown on their own paths.
A standout player at Patterson’s Eastside High School, Dobby became the first black American League player after his success with the Newark Eagles of the Black National League. The Eagles spotted him at tryouts at Hinchliffe Stadium. Two other teams, the New York Blacks his Yankees and the New York his Cubans, also played at the stadium.
“Patterson and the New Jersey-New York area have a great black baseball history to tell,” said Kendrick.
The traces of its history were covered up by negligence. As such, it was difficult and perhaps unrealistic to imagine the park returning to its former glory. But Kendrick allowed himself to dream of him.
Less than a decade later, Hinchliffe Stadium is in the final stages of a major redevelopment project costing more than $100 million. Breaking ground in April 2021, the plan includes a multi-sport athletic facility, a kindergarten, restaurant and event spaces, parking, affordable senior housing, and the venue’s glory days theme from the 1930s to the ’80s. It contains a museum.
And the professional baseball game will be held again this weekend. Kendrick can’t wait.
“It’s special to be on that hallowed ground knowing that Larry Doby, Monte Irvin and many of the black league’s legendary stars have been there,” Kendrick said, adding. rice field. Last time it was just a blacktop. Now to see it come to life in its current state, I’m sure you’ll be quite impressed. “
Larry Dobby Jr., who used to tell his father Hinchliffe’s heroic tales as a child, added: Many people have worked hard to make this happen. “
let the game begin
Back in 2009, Andre Seigue visited Rickwood Field, another surviving Negro league stadium in Birmingham, Alabama. A Patterson-born Democrat with a love for baseball and political ambitions, Saygue ended his journey with the goal of one day repairing Hinchliffe if he got injured. mayor of his city.
After losing two elections and winning one, Sayeg set his plan in motion.
“I wanted to hit a home run on Hinchliffe,” Seig said. “I also wanted to hit a home run that will go down in history.”
But retrofitting Hinchliffe wasn’t enough for Seig. He wanted to see professional baseball and other sports played there again. There, he began courting Al Dorso, owner of the New Jersey Jackals of the Frontier League, Major League Baseball’s partner league.
“He said, ‘If you drop $50 million in the middle of the field, I still won’t take the Jackals to Paterson,'” Sayeg said in 2018 when Sayeg was elected mayor. He recalled a conversation he had with Mr. Dorso a year earlier. “So now we’re dropping $100 million and he’s coming.”
The Jackals have moved from Yogi Berra Stadium at Montclair State University in Little Falls, N.J., and will officially kick off their home opener against Sussex County Minors, another Dorso asset, on Saturday. Pro ball will return to Hinchliffe.
“I didn’t expect them to come up with that kind of money. This is a historic stadium and it has to be done right,” Dorso said of the initial stand. “Andre was talking about $10 million. I said, ‘Ten million dollars!?’ This is a historic place. Negro league baseball is important. You can’t just go in there and spit on something.
“They did it right. Hats off to them.”
Baseball’s return to Hinchliffe has raised some local concerns.
Some longtime Jackals fans took to social media to express their displeasure when the team announced their move, citing concerns about crime and accessibility at Patterson. But Dorso dismissed them as complaints from “people who live in Montclair and pretend to be awake.”
“In Paterson it’s a crime-free area,” he continued, referring to nearby Great Falls on the Passaic River. “It’s a lovely area. The waterfalls are very nice.”
The Patterson School Board also criticized the Jackals in February when they began touting expensive Little League and traveling team rentals at Hinchliffe Stadium on certain dates. NorthJersey.com The Jackals initially reported asking for $1,500 to use the field for two hours.their website The price is currently listed as $1,200.
When asked about pricing, Dawso, a Paterson native, defended his right to make money and said no one was forced to rent the field. He added that the Jackals will host many community events and clinics in Hinchliffe.
The Jackals are on loan from the Paterson School District, which owns Hinchliffe, and will be used for Hinchliffe’s own athletic events 180 days a year, Sayeg said. Dorso said the school was a priority when it came to scheduling and that the Jackals would play in Sussex County if they made the playoffs so as not to clash with school football, soccer and track and field events in the fall. rice field.
From people like Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium co-founder Brian Lopinto, as well as those who expressed concerns such as that the stadium’s track did not meet the requirements of the New Jersey Interdisciplinary Athletic Association. Other issues have been raised. He also said Baseball Diamond’s new configuration does not respect the stadium’s original appearance.
Still, Lopinto, who helped Hinchliffe avoid demolition in 1997, would love to see a renovated stadium.
“This is more than encountering a wrecking ball by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
past, present, future
The opening ceremony will take place at Hinchliffe Stadium on Friday, the day before the Jackals’ home opener.
Seig had a long list of celebrities and politicians he intended to invite, but whoever came that day would highlight Hinchliffe’s legendary past and The Jackals’ plans to recognize that history throughout the season. It will be. Some of that is provided through the on-site museum.
Kendrick will use his expertise to curate the museum’s exhibits, highlighting icons such as Hinchliffe’s heyday and local black league team Dobby. There was talk of dedicating the space to his father, but Dobie Jr. said it was named after Charles Moose, a Paterson native and Montclair State University graduate who runs the museum. rice field.
Kendrick, who will return to Hinchliffe for the opening ceremony, envisions a “Smithsonian-like partnership” with the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
Kendrick said of the stadium as a whole, “I’m looking forward to seeing some great work up close.” “I saw the footage and it was really great footage. It was an amazing transformation.”
Seig has a range of goals for the site’s future, but his ultimate goal is an event similar to a Field of Dreams game near the film set in Dyersville, Iowa, at Hinchliffe. It would host an MLB game. Sayeg said he could imagine a matchup between the Yankees and his beloved Mets, with both teams likely wearing uniforms from the New York Black Yankees and New York Cubans.
Seig said the idea of playing for Hinchliffe has been discussed with both teams, and another supporter, former Major League infielder Harold Reynolds, has spoken to commissioner Rob Manfred about the concept. Told.
Asked about the possibility of playing Hinchliffe, a league spokesperson said: “MLB appreciates the interest in hosting special Major League games and events in the future.” “We continue to evaluate a number of opportunities to make decisions,” he added. Here is the special event schedule for the coming season. “
As MLB weighs its options, Sayeg is stepping up his pitch.
“That’s the real Field of Dreams,” he said of the Dyersville site. “I thought it was a great movie, but this is a movie set. They had a home in Hinchliffe when they weren’t allowed to play at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.”
As much as people are excited about Hinchliffe’s return to professional baseball, Doby Jr. said the potential impact on young athletes is the most meaningful aspect of the stadium’s revival. He hopes that Hinchliffe will serve as “a stepping stone to today’s and tomorrow’s youth”, much like his father did.
“It’s been a really long time and it’s been a very difficult road. The fact that it’s happening is very, I mean, like you can almost touch it now,” said Dobby Jr. . “My father would be proud to be a part of this film and he will be even more proud that some of his children will have the same opportunities that he had as a child.”