“I look at this and I still can’t believe it,” Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh remarked as he gave this NJBIZ reporter a recent tour of Hinchliffe Stadium, which is set to reopen its doors to the public May 17 after 26 years of being shuttered. “I’m pinching myself.”
Hinchliffe is one of just two stadiums still standing that baseball’s Negro Leagues played in. The venue, which opened in 1932, also served as a primary space for Paterson high school sports, community events, graduations and more. Unfortunately, it closed in 1997, falling into disrepair and disintegration.
But, as reported by NJBIZ, a community effort to resurrect and revitalize the hallowed grounds gained momentum, leading to a major redevelopment project breaking ground in 2021.
As that project took shape, Hinchliffe attracted the New Jersey Jackals, a minor league baseball team that plays in the independent Frontier League. In September, the organization, which is owned by Paterson native Al Dorso, announced it would move from Yogi Berra Stadium on the Montclair State University campus to Hinchliffe for this season. The Jackals agreed to a six-year lease.
Since then, there has been a scramble to complete construction on a tight timeline as the Jackals season gets underway later this week.
While the mayor noted the excitement the community has to welcome the Jackals to the Silk City, he stressed the importance of having the first games played on the field feature Paterson high schoolers.
On Wednesday, the official is hosting the first “Mayor Andre Sayegh’s Silk City Baseball Classic,” featuring Paterson’s Eastside High School against Don Bosco Prep at 4:15 p.m., followed by two more Paterson schools – Kennedy High School and the Paterson Charter School for Science & Technology – squaring off at 7 p.m.
“There was a clamoring from members of our community that said, ‘Please, if anyone’s going to play first on the field, it’s got to be Eastside or Kennedy,’” said Sayegh. “We’re playing both.”
“This week’s baseball games will certainly be significant,” Brian LoPinto, co-founder of Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium, a group that fought for its resurrection, told NJBIZ. “Larry Doby’s alma mater will play the first game against Don Bosco Prep, followed by Kennedy and Paterson Charter School.”
“There’s so much nostalgia because people have memories of when they played here,” Sayegh added. “So, I felt it was only appropriate.”
Hinchliffe was originally set to reopen earlier this month with the first Johnny Briggs Classic, named for the legendary Paterson baseball player, and featuring a number of the nation’s top baseball programs, including Eastside. Unfortunately, the event had to be moved to William Paterson University because of last-minute delays at Hinchliffe, mostly centered on the track installation, which got pushed back because of weather.
That led to the quick audible by Sayegh and his team to organize the Silk City Baseball Classic in its place.
The gleaming orange track had been recently installed when NJBIZ visited Hinchliffe, as other last-minute work and final details continued.
The day of that visit also coincided with a press conference hours earlier during which New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced that former New York City Police Department (NYPD) Chief of Strategic Initiatives Isa Abbassi had assumed command of the Paterson Police Department. That announcement came on the heels of the state takeover of the PPD in March.
“Due to a number of events and concerns relating to the Paterson Police Department, there is a crisis of confidence in law enforcement in the City of Paterson,” said Platkin in March, who announced then that Abbassi would take over command sometime in May, following an interim command of the department assumed by members of the attorney general’s staff and leaders from within the New Jersey State Police (NJSP).
“There is a need to reimagine public safety in the City of Paterson,” said Abbassi last week. “We must accomplish this together, in partnership with those we serve. Every resident and visitor to this historic and diverse city must know that their police department is trained, equipped, and supervised in a way that provides the professional, constitutionally focused police services the City of Paterson demands. This department will be committed to rebuilding public trust and restoring order in the community while maintaining a focus on customer service and achieving excellence through innovation. This will not happen overnight, but I am confident that as we embark on this journey toward the next generation of public safety in the City of Paterson the women and men of the PPD will rise to the challenge.”
Sayegh did not attend that press conference but echoed the notion that public safety is a partnership.
“And the new Officer in Charge, Mr. Abbassi, and I have met, and he’s pledged to be a partner,” Sayegh explained. “But they’ve also promised resources. So, in order for this to work, if we want to really continue to improve the way that we protect and serve the population in Paterson, we need the resources. We need the state to fulfill their promise.”
“It’s a team effort,” Sayegh added.
In addition to keeping the city as a whole safe, the mayor said that all stakeholders are on the same page with their commitment to keeping the area around Hinchliffe safe and secure, especially as events get underway.
Over the weekend, there was one unfortunate incident when hateful graffiti was found painted outside Hinchliffe. Sayegh said it has been painted over and that the incident is under investigation.
Otherwise, after a very long road for the stadium, the city, and those who wanted to see it brought back to life, the awaited reintroduction of Hinchliffe to the world is on track for Wednesday, Sayegh confirmed.
“I consider this is a victory for history, for the people who played here in the past,” said Sayegh. “And then obviously with an eye on the children at that school (No. 5) right there. There’s so much nostalgia. People have such a sentimental attachment here. In addition, if you graduated from Kennedy, Eastside, any of the high schools, you got your diploma on this field.”
“I’ve been working on Hinchliffe Stadium for several years now. It is kind of surreal that we are opening tomorrow,” BAW Development founder and Paterson native Baye Adofo-Wilson told NJBIZ Tuesday. “I’m really excited that Eastside and Kennedy’s baseball teams reopen Hinchliffe Stadium after 26 years and that we are engaging this generation and future generations in actively participating in the rich history that is Hinchliffe.”
The $103 million restoration project of the 7,800-seat stadium property is being led by BAW and joint-venture partners RPM Development. The project, which encompasses the property and surrounding area, includes:
The May 17 event kicks off a busy week ahead, which includes a ribbon-cutting celebration Friday featuring a number of stakeholders, celebrities and officials slated to be on hand, followed by the Jackals first game at Hinchliffe on Saturday against the Sussex County Miners. That game will also feature fireworks and other ceremonies and begins an eight game homestand for the Jackals.
The use of Hinchliffe will be split between the Paterson Board of Education, which owns the stadium, and the city—each getting 180 days a year allotted for events and programs.
“Saturday’s Jackals game will also be special as this will be the first professional baseball sporting event staged in a National Park,” said LoPinto. “We did a lot of work; we now pass the baton to the public to support Jackals baseball and all of the ticketed events at Hinchliffe Stadium.”
As Sayegh continued the tour, he recounted his own journey and long fight to help restore Hinchliffe, commenting that at one point it was in such disrepair, that he and his wife had to climb through a hole in the fence to even get into the facility.
“It’s definitely something that we can all be proud of,” said Sayegh of the reconstruction.
As for what he hopes to see and hear around Paterson during Jackals game days and other events at Hinchliffe?
“Lots of Paterson families here having food, having fun, waiting for the fireworks,” he said. “It’s going to give Patersonians something to root for. And we’ve needed something to root for for a long time. We’ve needed something to celebrate. Paterson needed a win. And this is a win.”