Earlier this Spring, a team of New Jersey officials collaborated with the National Preservation Committee to restore Hinchliffe Stadium, located in Paterson, NJ. The historic field is one of the few remaining locations that have served as home-base for the Negro League baseball teams.
Thousands gathered alongside these organizations for this historical day in New Jersey, as what was described as “new life” was brought into Paterson. While all hands were on deck to revitalize this historic site, there is still much work to be done. In a statement to EBONY from the Mayor Jeffrey Jones, the importance of the struggle endured by the players who actively participated on the field is not to be forgotten:
“Despite the challenges faced by these particular African-Americans, they gave their all. Yes, excuses were most certainly available, but I’ve not heard of any they have offered. Their life conditions were under greater restrictions, with fewer options and perhaps a different support system. They found a purpose; they took a stand; they played a game, Black in America.”
Mayor Jones’ powerful words perhaps even more timely than he realized; shortly after this statement came the Donald Sterling fiasco. The racist statements spewed by the current Los Angeles Clippers owner have caused quite a stir in professional sports. Comments such as, “I support them. I give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses,” sound eerily similar to the thought process of many people in power which the players of the Negro Leagues had to deal with on a daily basis. “Hinchliffe field represents the significance of Negro League Baseball with regards to civil rights and the struggle for equality,” said Gianfranco Archimede of the Paterson Preservation Committee. While the struggle today isn’t nearly as substantial as it was in the years past, it is an uphill fight that continues on.
Black in Baseball
Over the years, major league baseball has seen a steady decline in the participation of African-Americans in the sport of baseball. In a sport that fielded such greats as Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson, to Andre Dawson and Ken Griffey Jr., maintaining a presence in baseball is something of serious importance. “I’m hoping we can create a very sustainable and lasting partnership with Major League Baseball that also wants to engage more urban youth in the actual sport of baseball, said Brent Leggs of National Trust for Historic Preservation. “ If you look at the statistics, the numbers have dwindled since the integration of baseball and the close of the Negro Leagues – we’re almost back at that level. I would love for Hinchliffe Stadium to be an active and viable baseball venue through a partnership with MLB, where young African-American and Latinos can play and be a part of history.”
Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium’s Brian LoPinto also acknowledged the declining number of African-American professional baseball players, and sees restoration projects such as these as a huge opportunity for Major League Baseball. “I think MLB has that interest in getting back their African-American fan-base and really having an impact in the communities. Imagine if a place like Hinchliffe is rehabilitated…you now have a direct connection with the African-American community because it’s an African-American historic site. There are over 20 hall-of-famers that have played at Hinchliffe Stadium and many of which were from the Negro Leagues.” Brian actually shares a personal connection to one of the aforementioned hall of famers of the Negro Leagues. “I recall asking my Dad about any of the players that were from Paterson, and he told me about Larry Doby. While I was too young to see him play, I knew he came from the same town as I did and walked some of the same streets. Having that personal connection with Larry Doby, for me, is one of the many reasons our mission is to restore Hinchliffe Stadium – it’s to honor Larry Doby.
The goal of this very passionate collective is to preserve history while inspiring a future, and in order to do so, outreach will need to begin with our youth, says Paterson Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Donnie Evans. “As an educational institution, we always like to make sure our children know their history, especially as it pertains to them. Hinchliffe Stadium is symbolic of a significant accomplishment by African-Americans as it relates to baseball. It also represents a place for our children to compete in baseball and ultimately participate in physical education.” He later added, ”I also think the opportunity to play on such a historic field and share the same space with individuals, who were icons within the game of baseball, will generate a deeper appreciation for the sport as well.”
With projects like these and the National Trusts Rosenwald Schools initiative led by Brent Leggs, it’s clear that the African-American voice and presence in today’s society is still a very persevering positive work in progress, despite any setbacks that occur along the way. “Whether it’s rehabilitating Hinchliffe Stadium or honoring Jackie Robinson every year on April 15th, these types of initiatives will certainly help to get African-Americans back into baseball,” stated Brian LoPinto. And although sports are but a small portion of the African-American contribution in today’s society, they prove that when we stand together as one to achieve a common goal, nothing is unattainable.
“They found a purpose; they took a stand; they played a game, Black in America.”