Historic Hinchliffe Stadium gets new tenant in NJ Jackals

September 14th, 2022

PATERSON, N.J. – The ballpark at the national park now has a team.

The New Jersey Jackals, a member of the independent Frontier League, an MLB Partner League, announced on Wednesday that beginning in 2023, they’ll play at historic Hinchliffe Stadium. Located beside Paterson’s Great Falls and within the boundary of the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, Hinchliffe Stadium is currently undergoing a $95 million renovation that is expected to be completed this year.

“The Jackal is out of the bag, because Hinchliffe Stadium now will be the new home of the New Jersey Jackals,” Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said in his opening remarks at a press conference on Maple St. outside the stadium.

One of the few remaining venues that hosted Negro League games, Hinchliffe sat unused from 1997 until the groundbreaking for the renovation took place in April 2021. It’s owned by the Paterson Board of Education, and 180 days a year will be reserved for use by the school district, with the city also allotted 180 days.

The Jackals have agreed to a six-year lease at Hinchliffe, which can seat up to 10,000, but will likely be closer to 7,000 for baseball. Their 96-game season begins in May.

“It's really invigorating. It really, really is,” said Al Dorso, a Paterson native and the owner of the Jackals and another New Jersey team in the Frontier League, the Sussex County Miners. “I loved the fact that we can try and help the community. It's going to be a great stadium. It's going to be a great field. I think it's going to be a great experience for people within Paterson and the outside community.”

Built in 1932, the art deco concrete oval – similar in shape to the former Polo Grounds in New York – hosted Negro League games in the 1930s and ’40s, both as a home stadium for the New York Black Yankees and New York Cubans, and as a stop for barnstorming teams.

Bobby M. Jones (in red jacket), Jackals owner Al Dorso (blue jacket with white shirt, near center), Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh (center) and Jack the Jackal with city officials outside Hinchliffe Stadium. (Dan Cichalski/MLB.com)

Bobby M. Jones, a former left-handed pitcher with the Rockies, Mets and Red Sox and the current manager of the Miners, remembers going to some of the heated football games between Paterson’s Kennedy and Eastside high schools.

“I used to come here when I was 8, 9 years old and watched these games and was always fascinated by the stadium,” he said. “I mean, I come from Rutherford, it's a little bit more in the suburbs and not a big stadium, a smaller school. This was a bigger school. They would sell the stadium out, and that's how I first became aware of the stadium.”

The last high school baseball and football games took place in 1997, and the structure was neglected. Trees sprouted from the bleachers and the homeless found shelter in the old snack bars, locker rooms and restrooms. But Jones took note when ground was broken on the stadium’s rehabilitation.

“Then once this project started with them redeveloping and restoring the stadium, it became a passion of mine to really get involved with trying to bring the team here,” he said.

Brian LoPinto grew up in Paterson and played baseball at Hinchliffe in the ’90s just before it closed. Not long after the final whistle blew, he began his campaign to save the stadium from demolition, officially forming the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium in 2002.

“It's surreal to think that baseball will be back in Paterson,” he said. “Paterson has always historically been a baseball town, and to think that over 20 Hall of Famers played here [on Negro League and barnstorming teams]. Now the Frontier League is here, and it's really something special.”

The Jackals’ announcement really feels like the last piece to the stadium’s second act.

“A friend once told me about a historic dance hall in Texas,” LoPinto said. “How do you save a dance hall? You dance in it. Well, how do you save a baseball stadium? You put a baseball team in it.”