Photos by Michael Rusignuolo, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
Hinchliffe Stadium 2 Wayne Ave. Paterson, NJ 07522
Year Opened: 1932 Capacity: 10,000
History in the Making
Born amid The Great Depression, Hinchliffe Stadium was the passion project of a mayor, John Hinchliffe, who made his fortune before politics in the brewery business, serving the thirsty workers of the great industrial city.
The 10,000-seat amphitheater next to the Great Falls of Paterson was a product of its time, with a baseball diamond cradled inside of an oval track that circled the stadium. While it also served the local educational districts, it was most famous for being the home field of the Negro National League's New York Black Yankees and New York Cubans for nearly the entire span between 1933-1945.
It also hosted boxing, concerts, and even auto racing. After a complete takeover by the school district in the 1960s, despite periodic renovations, the stadium declined as the city around it did, ending with the crumbling edifice being closed in the mid-90s, slated for demolition.
It was saved from the wrecking ball long enough that funding to renovate one of the last standing Negro League ballparks was secured in the early 2020s. With the stadium set to re-open in 2023, the independent Frontier League's New Jersey Jackals were lured away from their longtime home at Yogi Berra Stadium to begin that year's campaign with Hinchliffe as their home.
Hinchliffe Stadium has a history oozing from every pore, but the current layout is fraught with some questionable choices and bleak surroundings, with prices that feel higher than they should be.
Food & Beverage 2
While they are still getting the kinks out of the newly renovated stadium, the current concession options are not plentiful or especially cheap. There are events with local food trucks outside the park where you can grab some food and gain re-entry to the park, and that may be your best option.
Besides any food carts, there are only general concessions on the promenade on the first base side. The current selection is not extensive, nor inexpensive as you'd expect for an indie baseball league. Hot dogs and three types of empanadas are your only mains, running $5-$6.50. Snacks such as chips, popcorn, candy, and ice cream cost between $3.75-$8.50. This is offset somewhat by concession specials during weekday games.
Coke products are on tap, with water and soda going for $5.25 and Gatorade for $5.75. A modest selection of beers and alcoholic seltzers (Bud, Bud Light, Heineken, Modello, and White Claw) go for $6.76.
If you're sticking to the park food, the good old hot dog and beverage of your choice is still a winner.
Historic ballparks are sometimes more famous for their oddities than their practicalities. Squeezing in a baseball field within the footprint of essentially a track and field stadium has always been problematic, but the new layout leaves the ballpark more as a question than a celebration of the past.
The seating area for the stadium is one long "U," with most of the seats down off the main promenade, with two raised areas of extra seats on the two back corners of the stadium. The restored running track circles the outside of the field level.
The original field was arrayed with home plate aligned with the center of the U-shaped seating bowl, with the infield completely nestled between the track. The new layout has left the running track where it was, but shifted the infield around, with home plate abutting against a turn of the track and facing towards the new building at the end of the seating area, moving the alignment of the baseball field to the right.
The entire baseball field is made of artificial turf overlays, including ones that cover the racing track in the new outfield, leaving a visible seam. The foul ball netting is held up by temporary supports, several of which are in fair territory with padded supports (presumably to not murder outfielders). This leaves a vast distance between first base and the stands, and an artificially small fair territory is established with a line of temporary fencing that runs from home plate out to right field.
The stated confines of the outfield (mostly maintained by more temporary fencing) is 320/385/327, but those numbers seem suspiciously inflated, as homers just *fly* out of the park (to the tune of nine in one game). Seats behind home plate and in right field are close to the action, but there is a mile of foul ground in left field, as well as the first base issue. A digital scoreboard in left-center keeps you apprised of the action.
Mascot Jack the Jackal is transplanted to the new stadium and leads the limited amount of between-inning entertainment, mostly in the later innings. Sing-alongs, races, and contests fill the gaps, and Jack roams the stands for most of the game, usually trailed by a contingent of younger fans.
The previous Jackals home venue at Yogi Berra Stadium had an Achilles heel of lack of cover, and it is only mildly improved at the new park. If you want to be out of the sun, your best choices are in the higher-row seats in the right field corner that get a decent amount of shade all game. All the seats are bleachers, so bring a seat pillow.
To combine these two suggestions, grab a seat in the last row of the upper extension in right field and be one of the only patrons in the shade with a wall to use as a seat back. Right field also gives surprisingly good sight lines, with no temporary netting impeding your view of the field, and a panoramic view of downtown Paterson over the left field wall.
Alternatively, unless you are sitting in the party area or the on-field tables, *do not* sit in the lower sections on the first base side. The view is nearly completely obstructed by the bouncy castle and the inflatable batting cage. Because of the arrangement of the field, it is also a good distance from the action.
Taken on its own, if you described a ballpark that was located within a National Park, you would imagine a scenic paradise. Modern Paterson is... less so. An industrial powerhouse since colonial times, the post-industrial world hit Paterson hard, and decades of neglect and decay have crept into every corner of the city. The good news is that the federal money the park renovation has brought in is seeing many other revitalization efforts begin, and hopefully, this will change the somewhat bleak landscape in the future.
Being adventurous in a run-down city like Paterson is easier said than done. If you're willing to be brave (and to be clear, crime is a severe issue in the city), Little Lima just south of the river from the park will reveal little Peruvian eateries like La Tia Delia. However, a short drive on any of the nearby highways leads to the wealth of fine local restaurants in northern New Jersey.
The aforementioned national park is the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, literally next door to the stadium (and if expansion plans are successful, it will encompass it). The thunderous "Great Falls" on the Passaic River were used for water power since the start of the country, and Alexander Hamilton proposed the first industrialization zone of the country next to the Falls' unending muscle.
The Falls and visitor center are worth a visit, and the nearby Paterson Museum down the street can give more information on the rise and fall of the city. A short distance to the south is Garret Mountain Reservation, with a scenic park and trail and (when done with renovations this year) Lambert Castle, an industrialist's fanciful mansion from the golden age of the city.
The Jackals are on their third independent baseball league, as the Frontier League consolidated many of the survivors of the decimation that COVID wrought on its competitors. But the NJ Jackals are survivors, entering their third decade of baseball in only their second stadium. While the Jackals have a loyal fanbase, they have been dredging the bottom for attendance in their new league since they joined.
The Jackals faithful make some noise for their team, even if the younger fans spent their time chasing around Jack. Time will tell if the new park helps spur more fans into the seats or if the first change of venue in their history proves ill-fated. No matter what the crowds, things will feel a little sparse in the 10,000-seat stadium where even the league's highest-drawing teams average less than 4,000 fans per game.
Paterson is located in northern New Jersey a short distance from both New York City and Newark. There are many major highways to get you there, good mass transit, and decent parking. And getting in and around the park itself is quite easy.
Lots of major local road arteries run right by Hinchliffe, with I-80 and state road 19 abruptly terminating just south of the park, and many arterial roads are a short drive from those two. Paterson Station on the NJ Transit Main Line has regional service from around NJ and into NYC and is a 15-minute walk to the park.
NJT Bus lines 171, 72, and 707 all service Paterson and have stops relatively close to the park, and Newark Liberty International Airport is less than a half hour away. Traffic into and out of the park is not a problem, and a few minutes will have you back on any of the main regional roads.
There are three official parking lots, the closest built into left field, and others a few blocks away. These are all monitored and staffed. There is limited street parking near the stadium, and more further afoot, but be aware that although there is a good police presence during the game, Paterson is still a high-crime city, and petty/grand auto theft is a risk.
The park has two main entrances, both located at the corners of the park's U-shaped grandstand. The home plate entrance is the primary entrance, with a rampway and several grand staircases leading down to the promenade. A completely handicap-accessible entrance with an elevator is off in right field.
There is a bag check and metal detector upon entering, but the line moves quickly, disgorging people onto the main promenade, which is wide enough to handle the movements of the crowd, even around the concessions stands on the first base side. The two sets of public bathrooms are newly renovated and clean.
Return on Investment 3
Great value is one of the things that minor and independent league baseball thrive on, and while none of the prices at Hinchliffe are necessarily expensive, it is more than you'd expect.
Ticket prices are generally reasonable. The most expensive $25 seats are for tables on the field just to the side of home plate. $20 gets you the area behind home plate, and $15 gets you anywhere else in the park. They aren't high, but they are higher than you'd expect for this kind of independent league baseball.
A combo of a food item and a drink will run you between $10-$15 per person, which isn't quite big-league prices but can be pricey for families. Parking is $15 for the two closest lots and $10 for the lot several blocks away. (Get into the stadium lot built into the left field wall for quickest in and out.) There are no programs or anything for that matter on sale, but that will no doubt change as the renovation finishes.
There are various discounts on tickets and food that vary throughout the season and are more plentiful for weekday games when the owners try and entice people to the game.
As the park just opened, there are precious few extras. There's not even a team store currently, but a store and museum are both planned for some of the space in the new building added to center field. Right now, there is just a historical marker on the promenade and two short informational plaques about the park in the Falls Park next door, as well as two of the stadium's original signs by the front entrance and in left field. A bouncy castle and inflatable pitch machine are on the field level (blocking the view from first base-side seats).
It gets an extra point just for the historic stadium itself, with its unique architecture and adornments that make it interesting to see and enjoy, and how many parks have a view of a national park and natural wonder from the third base side?
Hinchliffe Stadium has just been renovated and reopened, but it has a lot of tweaking and polishing to do before it can live up to the history it houses.