Yanks bring HOPE Week to historic Hinchliffe Stadium

July 5th, 2023

NEW YORK -- From his vantage point in shallow left field, Nestor Cortes’ eyes darted around the beautifully refurbished Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J., on Wednesday afternoon. The Yankees pitcher is an ardent student of baseball history, and he could see the game coming alive.

Cortes was on Hinchliffe’s artificial turf to participate in a baseball clinic for two local youth teams as part of the Yankees’ continuing celebration of HOPE Week. He was also curious to see a place where professional ballplayers like Larry Doby, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Babe Ruth once thrilled crowds.

“Once I read the sign-up sheet, I was the first one on that list,” Cortes said. “I didn’t know the whole history behind it, but I did want to visit a Negro League stadium. To know all those great baseball players played on this field, I feel like I can share that connection with them.”

Cortes’ imagination transported him to the stadium’s heyday, featuring appearances by legendary boxers Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis, and entertainers Duke Ellington, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

“The New York Cubans played right here, and I’m Cuban,” Cortes said. “When I learned that, it brought me even more excitement to be here.”

Standing across the diamond, Omar Minaya’s thoughts landed in a more contemporary setting.

A senior advisor in the Yankees’ front office, Minaya recalled attending games in Paterson as an area scout in the 1980s and ‘90s. He’d also visited two years ago, when the utter state of disrepair and neglect had shocked him. Shuttered in 1996, Hinchliffe’s field was unplayable, replaced by shoddy blacktop, broken glass, graffiti and overgrown weeds.

“It wasn’t only a baseball project; it was a redevelopment project,” Minaya said.

With Cortes, Gleyber Torres, Jose Trevino and bullpen coach Mike Harkey on hand to guide the Paterson Divas and Silk City Bombers through a series of fielding and hitting drills, Wednesday’s visit marked a celebration for the involved groups who resuscitated Hinchliffe Stadium as a serviceable venue.

“This is what HOPE Week is supposed to do,” Minaya said. “This is a new beginning. Not only is it a sports facility, it’s a community facility, with a museum. It brings unity to a very diverse community.”

The clinic coincided with the 76th anniversary of Doby breaking the American League’s color barrier on July 5, 1947, following Jackie Robinson as the second Black Major Leaguer.

“This is a wonderful thing,” said Scott Hutchins, Doby’s grandson. “I know my grandfather is looking down and he’s happy. He told us a lot of stories about when he played in the Major Leagues and when he played here; what he had to endure. This does a lot for his legacy and I believe it’s going to help the kids out. They’re never going to forget this.”

Andre Sayegh, Paterson’s mayor, envisions even brighter days ahead for Hinchliffe Stadium.

The New Jersey Jackals of the independent Frontier League now occupy the facility as their home ballpark, and Sayegh is campaigning for Major League Baseball to consider Hinchliffe Stadium as a future site for its “Field of Dreams” game.

Hinchliffe Stadium is one of two remaining stadiums that hosted Negro League games; the other, Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., has been selected to host the Cardinals and Giants in 2024.

“This stadium had been closed for 26 years, and we fought really hard to get it back,” Sayegh said. “Bringing it back was a point of pride. We are standing on sacred ground, and we are here as a part of history.”

Cortes said that the clubhouses (refurbished, but still with 1932-era dimensions) would be an issue, as would the hitter-friendly field dimensions.

“But I think we can make it happen,” Cortes said. “The game is growing; we’re trying to expand to different countries, so I think it’s only right that we attempt to do something here. The job they’ve done here, it’s amazing.”