By Christie Duffy
Hundreds of volunteers take paint to the graffiti covered walls of Hinchliffe Stadium, one of the last homes in the country to Negro League baseball. The 10,000-seat arena is already showing signs of progress from just months ago. It’s been empty and declining since 1997, until now.
“We’re taking it back brick by brick. And this stadium will once again glow in the dark,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell.
“I’m excited. It took us a long time to get here,” said Paterson Mayor Jeffrey Jones.
“Honor to be here today to celebrate the designation of the only national historic landmark in baseball,” said Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium founder Brian Lopinto.
Today marked the official unveiling of the stadium’s national historic landmark designation, after being inducted earlier this year.
In its glory days, nearly a dozen baseball hall of famers took to the field here, including Paterson’s own Larry Doby, who was the second player to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
“We should never obviously forget Jackie Robinson as that pioneer. But we should also never forget Larry Doby,” said Negro Baseball Leagues Museum President Bob Kendrick.
Two professional Negro League teams called Hinchliffe home — the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans. Robert Scott was a Yankee.
“It means so much that the kids will be able to come here and play and learn,” Scott said.
The stadium also boasted three professional football teams, boxing, auto racing and entertainment. And Paterson public schools played here. Jennifer Ranu was a cheerleader here in the 1960s.
“Hinchliffe Stadium was packed. I mean it was just standing room only. Especially on Thanksgiving Day when Central High School and East Side High School were rivals and they played that annual football game,” Ranu said.
The school district owns the stadium today.
Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium was founded by Paterson native Lopinto, who has been at the forefront of securing funding to revive the historic structure. Another son of the Silk City, Congressman Pascrell, who played here himself on semi-pro and high school teams, is sponsoring a bill to expand nearby Great Falls National Park to include the stadium.
“You’d never think all these activities happened here. If there ever was a place in America which had no racial barriers whatsoever, it was Hinchliffe Stadium.”
Sen. Robert Menendez is also pushing for the bill in the Senate.
“Hinchliffe Stadium is in the bottom of the ninth inning, it’s in the fourth quarter, it’s in the 12th round. The question is, will Hinchliffe Stadium have an encore? That’s up to you,” Lopinto said.
Planners estimate they can achieve full restoration with as little as $14 million.