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Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey is being reconstructed and revitalized, renewing legacies of great baseball players like Larry Doby

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Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium/Brian LoPinto
Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, NJ housed a variety of sports but was most importantly the home for many baseball greats

Hinchliffe Stadium, the famous grand concrete sports arena that was built above the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey in 1932, housed a number of sports in its heyday. However, it is best known for baseball. 20 Hall of Famers would play on the field that once was home to the Black Yankees and Black Cubans of the Negro Leagues.

One of the most famous players to excel there was MLB Hall of Famer Larry Doby. Doby broke the American League's color barrier as member of the Cleveland Indians after Jackie Robinson did so in the National League with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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Baseball Hall of Fame
Larry Doby batting.

An all-around athlete at Eastside High School, Doby led his teammates to the Paterson baseball title in '41 and '42, all at Hinchliffe Stadium. And it was there in 1942 that he and his lifelong friend Monte Irvin were scouted for the Newark Eagles in what he himself recounted at his Hall-of-Fame induction in 1998 as one of the most memorable moments of his life.

Larry Doby Jr. and Brian LoPinto, president of the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium join SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about the reconstruction and revitalization of Hinchliffe Stadium that's underway.

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Doug Doyle/Zoom
Brian LoPinto (top left) and Larry Doby Jr. (bottom center) join SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about the renovation and preservation of Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, NJ

The Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium, a non-profit organization that was founded in 2002, is made up of volunteers who love and respect the history of the stadium and want to preserve and revitalize it. Even though it's been a long journey, Brian LoPinto is thrilled to see the construction of of the new venue going so well.

"Hinchliffe Stadium is on its way back, which is amazing. As we speak right now, there are construction crews there now rehabilitating the stadium as part of a larger project and its surreal and wonderful actually."

LoPinto says plans are for high school baseball, football and soccer to be played at the new stadium. The track won't be used for high school events because it won't meet the size requirements.

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Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium
Auto racing was popular at Hinchliffe Stadium

For decades onward, the stadium’s 10,000-seat capacity proved an instant draw for football, boxing, auto-racing, major track and field meets, and star-studded musical entertainment. Hinchliffe was officially closed in 1997. The sports arena began a slow decline in the late ’50’s and was sold in 1963 for a single dollar to the Paterson Public Schools.

On March 15, 2013, Hinchliffe Stadium was officially added to the list of some 2500 iconic places nationwide considered National Historical Landmarks. Larry Doby Jr. was on hand for the celebrations. The restoration continues to be an emotional experience for the son of the three-sport athlete who dominated the action in that Paterson stadium.

"There were many efforts to try and do stuff and nothing came to fruition and then through people like Brian and countless others who have worked tirelessly, it's going to get done. It's kind of surreal that it's actually going to happen. We had the groundbreaking and a lot of good people came out there that day. The Governor was there and a lot of luminaries, it's really a wonderful thing that there's actually going to be a field there that kids are going to be able to make memories on. That kids are going to learn lessons that are hopefully going to carry with them the rest of their lives and maybe we'll get a couple of baseball players, soccer, football scholarship, whatever it may be."

Larry Jr., who never got to see his famous dad play sports, says the Hall of Famer was very grateful for the coaches, teachers and teammates at Eastside because that's where the foundation began for his father who died in 2003.

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Steve Lenox
A mural outside of Hinchliffe Stadium

"That's where people encouraged him, where people coached him, that's where people befriended him as teammates. As I've said before , you know as a little kid wanting to hear about the stories of him playing baseball and tell me about this and that, it was always about Hinchliffe Stadium on Thanksgiving day against Paterson Central when the whole city basically came out to watch him and that to him, he had reached the heights of his athletic career as far as he was concerned. The fact that those kids had such a good effect on him as far as being teammates and not treating him any differently, and that it was a whole town supported them and the fact that they beat Central a few times on Thanksgiving were memories he never lost and treasured forever."

On December 18, 2014, Hinchliffe Stadium was included in the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.

Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium
Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, NJ was constructed in 1932

Once the revitalization of the famed stadium in complete, Brian LoPinto says visitors will be able to get a history lesson on site.

"Hinchliffe Stadium is within the boundary of the (Great Falls) National Park, so part of that agreement, it wasn't there from day one, thankfully Congressman Bill Pascrell, through an Act of Congress forced that issue ,and the National Park Service will be partially responsible for interpreting that history and they do a tremendous job. In fact, the best thing that's happened to Paterson in the past 70 years, in my opinion, is the National Park coming to town. They are building a structure as part of the complex. That will be a two-story structure where the ground floor will be an interpretive space and the top floor might be a permanent restaurant, a food hall or maybe a place where you can rent out for events. So, that's first floor of that new building, which is under construction now, will have various components to articulate that history, more permanent on the Negro Leagues side, but I think rotational such as the Central-Eastside rivalry, talking about the boxing and auto racing history. It's got a great history, but make no mistake, baseball marked the time."

Jimmy Richardson
Construction is underway on the restoration of Hinchliffe Stadium

LoPinto says there's not a hard concrete date for the official opening, but he stressed it has to get done by the end of 2023 based on the tax credits stipulation, most likely the spring of 2023.

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Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium
Hinchliffe Stadium was the home for the New York Black Yankees of the Negro Leagues

Larry Jr. says he's happy that Major League's baseball lockout is over. He's also happy that the Negro Leagues stats are now a part of MLB history, with those players finally getting their deserved recognition.

"It was a huge surprise to me. I didn't think that would ever happen, that they would recognize them as the Major Leagues. And I don't think my father could have dreamed that would have happened. For me, it was awesome, unbelievable and it was a wonderful feeling because basically what it said to me was it justified the people who never got the chance. It validated their efforts, that they knew they were that good. I think my father's reaction would have been 'it's about time.' He knew he wasn't the best player. He was lucky enough to be selected by Mr. Veeck. Everyone knew Josh Gibson was the best player in the Negro Leagues, but for those men that toiled in anonymity, that people don't know their names, not Satchel Paige, not Jackie Robinson, not Roy Campanella, not all those guys, but the guys that also played in there and they didn't know. It just validates what they did. At least their families know that my uncle, my father, my brother, the guy that lived down the street, those stories that he was telling were true. They were that good. That was a wonderful gesture on Major League Baseball and I'm pretty thankful for that."

Two New York Negro League teams, the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans, made Hinchliffe “home.”

You can SEE the entire SportsJam interview with Brian LoPinto and Larry Doby Jr. here.

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Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.