Could MLB play at 'hallowed' Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson? Weighing the pros and cons

·6 min read

Harold Reynolds – the former All-Star second baseman and current MLB Network broadcaster – looked at Iowa last summer and thought of Paterson.

After the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees played a regular season game in August amid an Iowa cornfield at the “Field of Dreams” movie site, Reynolds talked about possibilities for similar events.

“The one I’m pushing for is Paterson, New Jersey,” Reynolds said during a television broadcast shortly after the “Field of Dreams” game. “It’s one of the last standing Negro League ballparks. …I would love to have a Major League game put on there.”

Reynolds was talking about Hinchliffe Stadium, a national historic landmark that was so neglected while closed for more than two decades that trees grew out of its grandstands.

But the trees have been gone from Hinchliffe since last spring when construction started on a $94 million stadium repair project that also includes a parking garage, apartment building and restaurant with space set aside for exhibits about the ballpark’s historic legacy.

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During a groundbreaking ceremony this week for the housing, Mayor Andre Sayegh filmed a social media video in which he said Reynolds is talking with officials at Major League Baseball in effort to bring a game to Hinchliffe after the ballpark is rebuilt.

Reynolds could not be reached for comment for this story.

Sayegh says he’s not hearing voices in a cornfield. That’s what prompted Ray Kinsella, the character played by Kevin Costner in the movie, to convert part of his farm to a baseball field that attracted ballplayer ghosts.

Instead, Sayegh said he is dreaming of a game that would be a tribute to the Negro League players who competed at Hinchliffe Stadium at a time when the all-white American and National leagues wouldn’t let them in. The mayor said a game at Hinchliffe would promote social awareness as America continues to struggle with racial issues.

“There’s so much historic value to the stadium,” the mayor said. “This is something that has to happen for our country. Hinchliffe helped integrate baseball.”

Embracing baseball's history in Paterson

Representatives from MLB did not weigh in on the possibility of playing a game at rebuilt Hinchliffe. But baseball executives clearly know about the historic ballpark, with help from Reynolds whom Sayegh last year named as Hinchliffe’s ambassador.

When the stadium’s reconstruction started last April, MLB’s official website published its own news story about the ceremony – one attended by retired players Willie Randolph and CC Sabathia. When baseball celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues in August 2020, Reynolds filmed footage for the tribute inside Hinchliffe.

"For a Black ballplayer like myself, this is hallowed ground," Reynolds said at the time. "I look through my mind's eye and wonder what it was like for those men to play here."

MLB has been making an effort to embrace and promote Negro League history. Last December, the league announced it will integrate statistics and records from seven professional Negro Leagues that operated from 1920-1948.

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Will that effort also result in an MLB game at Hinchliffe?

“If anyone can pull it off, Harold Reynolds can,” said Brian LoPinto, one of the founders of the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium group that fought against talk of demolishing Hinchliffe years ago.

A view from. The concession stand section of Hinchliffe Stadium will not only treat you to a view of PatersonÕs skyline, but also a view of the New York City skyline while the trees are leafless.  Thursday, December 23, 2021
A view from. The concession stand section of Hinchliffe Stadium will not only treat you to a view of PatersonÕs skyline, but also a view of the New York City skyline while the trees are leafless. Thursday, December 23, 2021

Of course, there would be challenges if Major League Baseball held a game in Paterson, with issues like traffic, parking, fear of crime and the field’s dimensions.

Built in the early 1930s, Hinchliffe mainly was designed as a football stadium. When they squeezed in a baseball diamond, the field ended up with fences along the right- and left-field lines that were only about 280 feet from home plate – a short poke even for a high school player. In the early 1960s, the ballpark’s alignment changed, shortening the right field fence to Little League distance and putting the left field more than 400 feet away.

The rebuilt Hinchliffe – which is getting artificial turf – would come with dual diamond alignments – one replicating the configuration used in the Negro Leagues and the other copying he pattern that existed after the 1960s.

At the rebuilt stadium, the right field foul pole would be 270 feet from home plate and left field would be 300 feet, said Baye Adolfo-Wilson, one of the developers working on the Hinchliffe project.

Construction on Hinchliffe Stadium is expected to be completed in the fall of 2022.  However, with the state of COVID that could impact how long it will take to obtain certain supplies to complete the project as well as the health of workers. Thursday, December 23, 2021
Construction on Hinchliffe Stadium is expected to be completed in the fall of 2022. However, with the state of COVID that could impact how long it will take to obtain certain supplies to complete the project as well as the health of workers. Thursday, December 23, 2021

“It would be a hitters’ ballpark,” LoPinto said of the dimensions. “Managers would probably want to use a ground-ball pitcher there.”

Still, differences in field dimensions have always been a part of baseball, LoPinto noted. He cited Fenway Park, with its “Pesky’s Pole” in right field just 302 feet from home plate.

LoPinto said Hinchliffe’s configuration would be similar to the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, where the New York Giants played until the 1950s.

“If the Polo Grounds were good enough for Willie Mays, that should be good enough for anybody,” LoPinto said.

Challenges of hosting a game in Paterson

Besides the size of the field, additional questions loom about parking. The garage that’s part of the reconstruction project would have 314 spaces, Adolfo-Wilson said. Officials acknowledge that wouldn’t be enough to handle a crowd of 7,000 people if all the seats are filled.

Adolfo-Wilson pointed out that there are plans to build a new 270-spot garage along with a visitor center a short walk from Hinchliffe on the other side of the Great Falls in the “Overlook” area and preliminary work has started on a 750-space garage in Paterson’s downtown near the train station. Officials said shuttle buses could be used to transport fans from the train station lot to Hinchliffe.

Harold Reynolds, former MLB player and television analyst for MLB Network and Fox Sports, is named the Ambassador of Hinchliffe Stadium by Paterson Mayor André Sayegh at the stadium in Paterson  on Thursday August 13, 2020. Sayegh and Reynolds in the stands.
Harold Reynolds, former MLB player and television analyst for MLB Network and Fox Sports, is named the Ambassador of Hinchliffe Stadium by Paterson Mayor André Sayegh at the stadium in Paterson on Thursday August 13, 2020. Sayegh and Reynolds in the stands.

Paterson’s economic development director, Michael Powell, said people coming to Paterson for an MLB game celebrating the Negro League’s history likely would not be deterred by having to take a shuttle from a parking lot, something that happens at sporting events all across the country.

“The people coming to this game would be diehards who really want to celebrate something like that,” Powell said.

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But the stadium reconstruction is on a different time schedule from the two off-site parking garage projects. The developer said Hinchliffe and its adjacent garage will be finished by November 2022 and Sayegh is hoping to host an MLB game at the stadium in 2023. The parking garages at Overlook and the train station likely won’t be ready for use until the fall of 2023, officials said.

Hinchliffe Stadium is shown from Maple St. in Paterson. Thursday, December 23, 2021
Hinchliffe Stadium is shown from Maple St. in Paterson. Thursday, December 23, 2021

MLB already plans to return to the "Field of Dreams" site in Iowa in 2022 with a game between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs. Attendance for last year’s game was 7,832, with ticket prices on the secondary market exceeding $1,000 for a pair. It was the most-watched regular-season baseball game on TV since 2005.

Sayegh is suggesting the MLB game in Paterson pit the Yankees against the Mets and pay homage to two of the Negro League teams that used Hinchliffe as their home field.

“The Yankees would wear the uniforms of the New York Black Yankees,” the mayor said, “and the Mets would wear the New York Cubans’ uniforms.”

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson NJ promoted as MLB host site