This weekend saw history made in Paterson, N.J., as professional baseball, in terms of the Frontier League’s New Jersey Jackals, returned to Hinchliffe Stadium, the former Negro Leagues ballpark.
For us, this is one of the longest-running ballpark sagas in our 20-year history. The earliest mention of Hinchliffe Stadium in the Ballpark Digest archives came in March 2006, when we noted plans to upgrade the decrepit facility into a soccer facility, as one of many updates from Brian LoPinto, whose hard work led the way for the restoration. Since then we’ve noted every proposal and plan to renovate the historic stadium (check out the archives here), one of just five standing (give or take) ballparks hosting Negro Leagues baseball on a full-time basis. Opening in 1932 as a high-school stadium, Hinchliffe Stadium emerged as a major community resource.
There are plenty of ballparks once hosting barnstorming teams and exhibition games, but Hinchliffe Stadium’s time as home of the Negro National League’s New York Black Yankees and New York Cubans makes it a unique historic treasure. This is where Martín Dihigo and Minnie Miñoso played as New York Cubans; this is where Larry Doby played high-school ball.
With the return of pro ball to a renovated Hinchliffe Stadium, an important piece of ballpark history is revived. True, Hinchliffe Stadium is far from a typical ballpark—the horseshoe design belies its roots as a high-school mixed-use facility—much less a former MLB ballpark, which it is now thanks to MLB’s decision to recognize the Negro Leagues as major-league circuits. During its first heyday Hinchliffe Stadium was home to performing acts of all sorts—standup comedians like Abbott and Costello played there, and car racing was regularly on the bill—and the goal is to feature baseball as one of many attractions for the facility.
The modern baseball era debuted Sunday, when a crowd of 400 was on hand to see the New Jersey Jackals (Frontier League) open their Hinchliffe Stadium tenure. But the public benefit for the restoration of such a history treasure—along with plenty of other site upgrades—shoudn’t be evaluated by a single game.
In terms of regularly hosting barnstorming Negro Leagues teams or minor-league Negro Leagues teams, many ballparks still stand or partially stand, including Newport’s Cardines Field, St. Joe’s Phil Welch Stadium, Savannah’s Grayson Stadium, Havana’s Estadio Gran, Helper’s Ernie Gardner Field, Johnstown’s Point Stadium, Jamestown’s Jack Brown Stadium, Columbus’s Golden Park, Macon’s Luther Williams Field, Asheville’s McCormick Field, Bristol’s Muzzy Field, Butler’s Butler Field, Chattanooga’s Engel Stadium, Austin’s Downs Field, Durham’s Durham Athletic Park, Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl, Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Bismarck’s Bismarck Municipal Stadium, and there are undoubtedly more out there.