Connect with us

Explore New Jersey

Paterson Pitches MLB Game in Jersey’s Iconic Negro Leagues Stadium

Published

on


The children at Paterson Public School Number Five could see no trace of the stars that used to shine on the other side of Liberty Street.

For more than two decades, the students only witnessed negligence when they looked at Hinchliffe Stadium through their classroom windows. Shattered glass littered the National Historic Landmark. Trees grew over not only the bleachers, but also a rich tapestry of Black baseball history and other vibrant parts of Paterson’s past. Graffiti obscured the walls, as well as a shameful chapter of America’s story.

Larry Doby, Newark Eagles

Paterson’s Larry Doby, seen here with the Newark Eagles, played high school football and Negro Leagues baseball at Hinchliffe. Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Take one glance at Hinchliffe Stadium since it was abandoned in 1997, and it’s hard to imagine that Negro Leagues icons graced the grass that gave way to cracked pavement. The likes of Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Martin Dihigo and Oscar Charleston—barred from Major League Baseball due to their skin color—all journeyed to Hinchliffe. Orange High School graduate Monte Irvin and Paterson’s own Larry Doby played there before becoming MLB legends. Doby, who died in Montclair in 2003, became the first Black player in MLB’s American League in 1947, just months after Jackie Robinson broke MLB’s color line in the National League.

“It’s been fallow for 25 years. You’ve got generations of Patersonians that don’t know anything about it,” Paterson Mayor André Sayegh says of Hinchliffe. “All they know is it’s a decrepit stadium. It’s in disrepair. They’re like, ‘What is that? It’s an eyesore.’ And it’s more than an eyesore. It’s where history happened.”

All that history lay in ruins until April 14, 2021, when a $94 million repair project broke ground at Hinchliffe. The long-awaited redevelopment plan includes a multisport youth athletic facility, a restaurant and event space, affordable senior housing, a preschool, parking, and exhibitions dedicated to Hinchliffe’s hallowed heyday, which spanned from the 1930s to the 1980s.

And maybe, just maybe, it will bring an MLB game to a site that once provided Black ballplayers with a home when the segregated league wouldn’t—if Sayegh and local baseball stars get their wish.

***

Perhaps that thought sounds preposterous at first. After years of decay, Hinchliffe’s makeover isn’t expected to be finished until late 2022. Once complete, its field dimensions and seating capacity, roughly 7,500 people, will be small by MLB ballpark norms. Accessibility to the stadium and parking are also potential problems for a large game.

But MLB’s special Field of Dreams Game between the Yankees and the White Sox, which was played next to the Iowa cornfield where the iconic baseball movie of the same name took place, quelled similar concerns in August 2021. That game’s ballpark held about 8,000 people and featured short corner-outfield fences. The nostalgic contest was a cash cow for MLB; its tickets were the most expensive ever for a regular-season game, and it was the most watched regular-season game since 1998.

That undisputed success gave an ex-MLB player and current broadcaster an idea. “The one I’m pushing for is Paterson, New Jersey. It’s one of the last standing Negro Leagues ballparks,” Harold Reynolds said on MLB Network the day after the Field of Dreams Game, referring to Hinchliffe Stadium. “I would love to have a Major League game put on there.” Reynolds, a Montclair resident, declined to be interviewed for this piece.

Sayegh, who wants Hinchliffe to host an MLB game as soon as 2023, says that Reynolds plans on broaching the subject with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. Sayegh tells us that he has also discussed the idea of the game with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is on the Mets’ Board of Directors. Sayegh says Christie told him that he would talk it over with Mets owner Steve Cohen. Christie declined to comment to New Jersey Monthly.

Sayegh wants a potential MLB game at Hinchliffe to be a matchup between the Yankees and the Mets. He envisions them wearing the uniforms of the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans, two Negro Leagues teams that called Hinchliffe home.

“This will also tell the American story and major league story of integration. It’s a story that probably wasn’t told and some people didn’t want to tell. But now we have a unique opportunity,” Sayegh says, reciting his sales pitch to MLB. “This is a real field of dreams, with all due respect… They never really played on that field. This is where history happened.”

But Brian LoPinto, president of Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium, a group that advocates for the site, says that 2023 may be “unrealistic” for an MLB game. After attending the Field of Dreams Game, he estimates that an event at Hinchliffe would require a year of planning. It would also need features not typically seen at a youth facility, which Hinchliffe is becoming, such as larger locker rooms and infrastructure for broadcasting and instant replay. However, LoPinto is confident that Hinchliffe can host a “world-class event” if MLB, the city, and the Paterson school board, which owns the stadium, align.

MLB has not dismissed the possibility of playing at Hinchliffe. The league plans on returning to Iowa this year for a second Field of Dreams Game, and it has recently held games at other unique locations such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, and the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in addition to international series.

“We were delighted by the overwhelming fan response to our 2021 event in Iowa,” MLB wrote in a statement to New Jersey Monthly, “and we hope to highlight other special locations with rich baseball traditions in the future, as we have since 2016.”

Hinchliffe Stadium Graffiti

Abandoned in 1997, Hinchliffe Stadium fell into a ruinous state. Photo courtesy of Brian LoPinto/Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium

An artist’s rendering of a renovated Hinchliffe, which will include a turf field and exhibits dedicated to its past. Rendering courtesy of André Sayegh

***

In 1981, 34 years after Robinson and Doby integrated MLB, 18.7 percent of the league’s players were Black. However, that number dwindled to 7 percent in 2021.

“You’ve got kids right here at home who want to play baseball,” says Trenton native Al Downing, the first Black pitcher in Yankees history. “But the facilities aren’t there, the equipment is not there, the wherewithal is not there, the coaches are not there. The Little Leagues are not there. So kids gravitate toward other sports.”

While many would argue the league is playing catch-up, MLB has recently taken steps to highlight and promote baseball in the Black community. MLB designated the Negro Leagues as major league in December 2020 and committed up to $150 million to the Players Alliance, a group of players seeking to create opportunities for the Black community in baseball and society, in July 2021. Minor League Baseball, meanwhile, announced a new national community outreach platform this past February 1, the first day of Black History Month.

A game at Hinchliffe Stadium would further MLB’s goal by sharing baseball’s Black history with a wide audience while appealing to future generations. While MLB is not making any commitments yet, Reynolds and Sayegh’s concept sounds like a home run to some members of the league’s fraternity.

“It could inspire some young African-American kids to aspire to play in the big leagues. That would be wonderful,” says Larry Doby Jr., whose Hall of Fame father played high school football and baseball at Hinchliffe before being discovered by the Negro Leagues’ Newark Eagles. “It’s been a long-standing thing that there has been a disconnect, and MLB is certainly trying its best. This would just be another example, maybe, of something that could connect that community with Major League Baseball.”

“That would go down as one of the greatest accomplishments that MLB has ever done,” adds former Mets and Yankees pitcher Dwight Gooden. A former Jersey resident, Gooden joined Sayegh, Doby Jr. and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy at Hinchliffe for an event about Paterson’s redevelopment in December 2020.

Ex-Mets general manager and current team ambassador Omar Minaya attended the groundbreaking last April. “I’m hopeful that, someday, this will come to fruition,” the Bergen County denizen says of an MLB game at Hinchliffe.

Sayegh thinks such an event would be Paterson’s equivalent of the Olympics. Whether his city gets such a spectacle remains to be seen, but Hinchliffe’s story will be told either way.

***

Josh Gibson, Monte Irvin

Josh Gibson (left), one of the greatest Negro Leagues players of all time, played at Hinchliffe. He died of a stroke at age 35 in 1947, months before Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby integrated the majors. Monte Irvin (right), meanwhile, went to Orange High School and played for the Newark Eagles before catching on with MLB’s New York Giants in 1949. Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

In addition to courting MLB, the mayor wants the renovated stadium’s exhibits to serve as an annex to the famed Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Sayegh has been in contact with the museum’s president, Bob Kendrick, who is “overjoyed” that Paterson is protecting what he calls “a substantial Negro Leagues artifact.”

“We couldn’t be more excited about this effort to save that historic stadium and keep alive the ghosts of Monte Irvin and Larry Doby and all the others who played in that venue,” Kendrick says. “We should never forget those, as my friend Buck O’Neil would say, who built the bridge across the chasm of prejudice.”

Robinson and Doby deservedly receive credit for the construction of that bridge in baseball. However, many laid the foundation before they crossed it. The likes of Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr. became MLB greats after the sport was integrated, but countless Black players never got that chance.

“My father always said he wasn’t the best [player]; Josh Gibson was by far,” Doby Jr. says of the Negro Leagues. “But he and Mr. Robinson were lucky enough to get the opportunity, and they made the best of it and opened the doors for people to come behind them. Showing the spotlight on those guys who didn’t make it to the big leagues, giving them just due, and making sure that their history is preserved legitimizes what they did.”

The exhibits at Hinchliffe will do just that, with or without an MLB game. But Sayegh knows an assist from the league would certainly help tell this story.

“It’s very realistic. I think it’s got legs,” he insists. “The racial consciousness has been aroused, right? We’re talking more about race relations. We’re having more candid conversations about what has happened in the past, what’s going on in the present, and what we’d like to see happen in the future.

“Restoring Hinchliffe Stadium, that’ll play a role in continuing the dialogue around race relations, how far we’ve come, and how we’ve got some more to go.”

Click here to leave a comment





Source link

Explore New Jersey

Why this key Jets player is glad a rival cut him

Published

on



Jets receiver/returner Braxton Berrios didn’t have to wait long to learn how hard it is to keep a roster spot in the NFL.

Berrios, a 2018 Patriots sixth-round pick, spent his rookie season on injured reserve and New England cut him in 2019 before he ever played a snap.

But the Berrios isn’t bitter about his brief time with a team that is now his biggest rival.

“Really, I feel like I got a PhD in football (in New England),” Berrios said on the “Adam Schefter Podcast. “It didn’t work out for whatever reasons. And looking back it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

The Jets claimed Berrios soon after he was cut and he has found a way to contribute ever since: Berrios has been the backup slot receiver since 2020 and set a career high in catches (46) and receiving yards (431) last year. But his big breakout came on special teams, where he became one of the league’s best returners on the way to a first-team, All-Pro selection.

“I kept going, obviously, and found ways to be productive,” Berrios said. “Obviously, in the return game was the first way. And then I really, really wanted to make sure I was seen as a receiver as well, and really over the last two years I’ve gotten a lot more of those opportunities. Then you marry those opportunities with now being named the first-team All-Pro last year as a kick returner: it’s finally full circle, it’s maybe starting to work out a little bit.”

Berrios admitted that he felt he had his “back up against the wall” on the Patriots’ talented roster. He certainly doesn’t have to worry about the Jets cutting him as he enters his fourth season with the team: Berrios signed a two-year, $12 million earlier this year.

But even if Berrios isn’t mad at the Patriots, there is one thing that should have the Jets extremely motivated when they play their rival this fall: the Jets haven’t won a game against New England since 2015.

Thank you for relying on us to provide the journalism you can trust. Please consider supporting us with a subscription.

Andy Vasquez may be reached at avasquez@njadvancemedia.com.



Source link

Continue Reading

Explore New Jersey

Wildwoods Are Next in Line for Beach Replenishment

Published

on


Most New Jersey beach towns should be jealous of Wildwood. The city has the widest beach on the Jersey Shore, stretching 1,500 feet from boardwalk to surf in some places.

But Wildwood has its headaches, too. Some beachgoers complain the sandy expanse requires too long a schlep to the water’s edge. The beach also collects pools of water, which can breed insects and become health hazards, and the sand drifting down from the north tends to clog storm drainage pipes. Plus, there’s all that beach to clean.

Since 2014, Wildwood has gladly allowed the neighboring borough of North Wildwood to borrow truckloads of its sand every winter—including some that clogs those drainage pipes.

[RELATED10 Years After Hurricane Sandy: What’s Next for the Jersey Shore?]

Now the city of Wildwood is poised to sign the state-aid agreement required for a 50-year partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection for beach replenishment and maintenance. North Wildwood has already signed. Once the deal is in place, the Army Corps can proceed with its Wildwoods project, probably starting in fall 2023, pending easements from private property owners at various locations along the beach.

The centerpiece of the project will be a series of dunes totaling 25,000 linear feet (about 4.7 miles) from North Wildwood to Wildwood City and south to Wildwood Crest and Diamond Beach. (Wildwood Crest and Lower Township, which includes Diamond Beach, also have to sign their own state-aid agreements.) To build the dunes, sand will be taken from a substantial swath of Wildwood’s beach all the way south to Wildwood Crest.

North Wildwood has reason to seek the Army Corps’ help; its sand perpetually drifts south each winter, leaving beachfront properties vulnerable. For Wildwood, the Army Corps should be able to solve several problems, explains Carl Groon, a projects coordinator for the city.

For one thing, the width of the beach will be reduced by several hundred feet at some points, meaning shorter walks from boardwalk to water and less beach to clean. Second, grading the beach with a greater slope from the new dunes to the surf, should help eliminate the pooling problem. Finally, in the event of extreme storms, the dunes should mitigate flooding.

Groon says Wildwood’s new dunes will range in height from 14 to 16 feet. They will be built between the city’s five piers, each at a different distance from the boardwalk, depending on existing structures and other factors.

The dunes will create some obstacles for Wildwood spectator activities. “If they shrink our beach, we will have less beach to use for events,” acknowledges Groon. However, he adds, “I think it’s well within our ability to make it all work.”

Click here to leave a comment





Source link

Continue Reading

Explore New Jersey

Sleepy Hallow Involved In Chair-Throwing Brawl In NJ Restaurant

Published

on

By





Sleepy Hallow Involved In Chair-Throwing Brawl In NJ Restaurant | HipHopDX


























Subscribe





Source link

Continue Reading

Trending