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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

Hinchliffe Stadium - New Jersey Jackals


Photos by Michael Rusignuolo and Paul Baker, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.86

Hinchliffe Stadium 186 Maple St. Paterson, NJ 07522



Year Opened: 1932 (renovated 2023) Capacity: 7,500

 

A Noble Project

 

There are only four stadia still standing that once hosted Negro League baseball games. Not long ago, that number was in danger of dropping to three. Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, NJ, was built during the depression and named for then-Mayor John Hinchliffe. Hinchliffe made his fortune in brewing before closing operations during Prohibition.

 

Over the years, Hinchliffe Stadium hosted numerous events, including football, boxing and even auto racing. Local high schools used the stadium extensively. Duke Ellington and Abbott and Costello even performed here (Lou Costello was a Paterson native). However, Hinchliffe might have been more renowned as a baseball venue, as it was home to both the New York Black Yankees and New York Cubans at times during their histories.

 

Hinchliffe Stadium was overseen by the Paterson School District, who was responsible for upkeep and maintenance. Over the years, as the school system declined and suffered budgetary restrictions, funds formerly allocated to the stadium were diverted for more urgent needs. While the facility was still used heavily into the 1990s, by the end of the 1996-97 school year the stadium was closed and demolition was threatened.

 

In 2009 Paterson (NJ) City Councilor Andre Sayegh visited Rickwood Field in Birmingham, AL. The visit inspired him that the crumbling old stadium in his hometown could be similarly restored to its former glory. He vowed that if he became mayor of Paterson he would fight to make this a reality.

 

When Sayegh was elected mayor in 2018, he, along with the non-profit “Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium,” secured $95 million in funds to restore and upgrade the facility. However, there was a catch. A professional baseball team had to use Hinchliffe as their home park. Enter the New Jersey Jackals. The Jackals, who had played for 25 years at Yogi Berra Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University, announced in August 2022 that they would be moving to Paterson, five miles to the north.

 

The Jackals were founded in 1998, competing in three different leagues over its history. When the floundering Can-Am League merged into the Frontier League, the Jackals were one of five teams invited to join the new circuit. Over their history, the Jackals have won six championships.

 

The Jackals played their first game at Hinchliffe on May 21, 2023 in front of 400 fans.

 

Food & Beverage 2

 

Concessions are sold from several windows along the first base side of the stadium. A basic menu is available here, with hot dogs, burgers and empanadas anchoring the choices. The usual snack items are also available, ensuring that visiting Jackals fans won’t go hungry should they need something to eat during the game.

 

A Kona Ice truck is stationed right outside the main gate along with the team store, offering a variety of snow cones and cold treats.

 

Cans of Coca-Cola products are sold here, along with a decent selection of adult beverages. Fans looking for some local flavor here will be disappointed, as the menu exclusively features national brands.


 

Atmosphere 2

 

The Jackals put on a show that will be familiar to veteran minor league fans. Unfortunately, the  size of Hinchliffe Stadium serves to dampen the atmosphere here. When you have a crowd numbering in the hundreds in a facility that seats thousands, much of the energy produced is swallowed up by the emptiness in the ballpark.

 

The scoreboard located at the far end of the stadium in left field appears to have video capabilities but was only used to display player photos and basic game information. The Jackals mascot, Jack, roams the ballpark posing for pictures and interacting with fans. The sound system is excellent and is put to good use with music throughout the game. The on-field emcee takes advantage of this sound system to make as much noise as he can to try and pump up the fans. The PA announcer goes about his job in a more workmanlike fashion.

 

The odd layout of the baseball diamond at Hinchliffe Stadium can either add to or detract from your enjoyment, depending on your philosophical slant. The very short porch in right field with the 30-foot net atop it was cleared with ease several times during Stadium Journey’s visit. The vast empty spaces of Hinchliffe provided ample room for the youngsters in attendance to chase down balls and expend some energy.

 

Neighborhood 2

 

Paterson is the third largest city in the state of New Jersey, with a population of almost 160,000. Located about 20 miles from New York, Paterson built its reputation as an industrial center in the latter half of the 19th century. It was known as “Silk City” due to the prominence of one of its products. As was the case in many mill towns, Paterson experienced hard times as mills closed and businesses moved elsewhere. At one point Paterson graced the list of the five poorest cities in the United States.

 

Even a cursory glance online will warn visitors of the dangerousness of the city of Paterson. However, if visiting a Jackals game, these fears seem a bit overstated. True, this may not be the most well-to-do neighborhood, but a look around shows the area around Hinchliffe Stadium to be more working class than blighted. As is the case in any large city, there are good and bad areas. That being said, there is little around Hinchliffe Stadium that will beckon fans to stay beyond the last pitch.

 

There are no options as far as dining or lodging are concerned around the ballpark. A couple of restaurants located about a mile southwest of Hinchliffe, Mexico Bar & Grill and Avocado Steakhouse, featured positive reviews, but as mentioned earlier, most fans are likely to get to nearby I-80 as quickly as possible.

 

Hinchliffe Stadium is located within the Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park. The Great Falls of the Passaic River are less than 100 yards from the stadium and are worth a look if you arrive early to a Jackals game.



Fans 2

 

There was much criticism in some circles over the Jackals’ move to Paterson and the cost of the entire stadium renovation project. Overall, fans have been slow to respond to the new home of the Jackals. The official reported attendance is around 2,300 per game, but the eye test shows much smaller crowds. Stadium Journey visited Hinchliffe on a Saturday night in May, and the crowd numbered about 500.

 

Still, the team does have its share of dedicated fans. One such fan, “The Trumpet Guy,” sets up shop in section 114 high above home plate and augments the team’s musical selections throughout the game.

 

Access 3

 

As you might expect from a ballpark so close to New York City, visitors will have many options for arriving at Hinchliffe Stadium. Interstate 80 and State Highway 19 run just to the south of the ballpark. New Jersey Transit’s 703 and 748 busses stop about a half mile away on West Broadway Street, and the 712 bus runs a few blocks away on Wayne Street.

 

As part of the ballpark’s renovations, a new parking garage was built on the western (third base) side of the stadium. There are a couple of other parking lots in the area, along with some on-street parking for fans who wish to avoid the garage charge.

 

Fans will enter the stadium at the top of the facility behind home plate. Stairs and ramps lead down to the seats from here. All seating consists of aluminum bleachers without backs. Due to the odd layout of the baseball diamond, there are poles and nets throughout Hinchliffe that hamper views. Also, the seats along the first base side of the field are set back a bit from the playing field, and the view is obscured by one of the dugouts. The most desired seats are directly behind home plate, although fans will scatter throughout the stadium. A walkway runs the length of the stadium, allowing access to the concessions, restrooms and distant seating sections. Traffic on this walkway does not impede views of the game at any point.

 

Rest rooms are newly renovated and clean. They are easily large enough for a typical Jackals crowd. Oddly enough during Stadium Journey’s visit, a faucet on the concourse was left open all game, resulting in a waterfall down the stairs and a large puddle on the track behind the dugout. Was the team recreating the Great Falls experience for those fans who missed it?

 

Return on Investment 4

 

The Jackals provide an affordable, family-friendly entertainment option for local sports fans. Tickets cost $15 for all seats, with options to sit at picnic tables on the field available for those fans who want to splurge.

 

Parking in the garage adjacent to the stadium costs an additional $7. The team recommends you purchase a parking pass in advance, but there are plenty of spots available should you wait until game time. Stadium Journey pulled up to the garage about 90 minutes before game time, and there did not appear to be a charge to park in the garage. Fans wishing to avoid a potential charge will find plenty of on-street parking in the area.

 

Extras 5

 

The New York Black Yankees called Hinchliffe Stadium home from 1933-1945 with a one-year interruption in 1938. The team honors them, as well as all the other teams to call the stadium home, by flying team flags along Larry Doby Lane, renamed in honor of the baseball Hall of Famer and Paterson native.

 

History oozes from every inch of this art-deco facility. Take a walk around the outside of the ballpark and take in the tiles of ancient athletes participating in numerous track and field events. The original stadium signs have been restored and displayed outside the ballpark.



 

The Great Falls National Park directly adjacent to the stadium is certainly worth a look if you arrive early to the game.

 

The Charles J. Muth Museum is attached to the stadium. It contains artifacts and exhibits that focus not only on local and Negro League baseball history, but other aspects of Hinchliffe Stadium’s history.

 

A final extra point is awarded for the efforts of the city to preserve and restore this historic venue.

 

Final Thoughts

 

While there was a great deal of criticism surrounding the efforts to preserve and restore this historic facility and the Jackals’ subsequent move there, it’s wonderful to be able to step back in time and experience a baseball game in an original Negro League ballpark. While some of the choices made in setting up the field may be questionable, this is a place that every baseball historian should endeavor to visit.

 

Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.




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