2023: HISTORIC SEASON FOR JERSEY
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2023: HISTORIC SEASON FOR JERSEY

  

  Big League pitchers and catchers report for spring training this week, and the first Yankees and Mets games on television from Florida will begin in just a few days. It’s February and baseball is in the air. You can smell it. It’s beautiful. Each morning is closer to springtime, each day is closer to Opening Day. And, this year’s will be historic for baseball fans in the Garden State.

     This year, Paterson’s Hinchliffe Stadium will come back to life, welcoming the New Jersey Jackals as the new home team after the place had been empty and abandoned for decades.

     Hinchliffe first opened in 1932 as one of the nation’s finest Negro Leagues ballparks, back in the shameful days of the great American game when only white men were allowed on major league rosters. Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and Paterson Eastside High School legend Larry Doby accomplished the same achievement three months later with the American League’s Cleveland Indians.

     But, between 1932 and 1947 – and into the 1950s to a much lesser degree – Hinchliffe Stadium packed the stands next to the Great Falls to see the New York Black Yankees, the New York Cubans and various freelance “barnstorming” teams of black and Hispanic players who traveled from town to town to challenge local teams and supplement their incomes. Future Cooperstown Hall of Famers like Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, James “Cool Papa” Bell and, of course, Larry Doby, the “Silk City Slugger,” all played at Hinchliffe.

     And the Jackals’ new home would have been a perfect spot for the fictional barnstormers in “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars,” a 1976 movie being shown in partnership with Paterson Team Hope at the Fabian 8 Cinema on Friday night, Feb. 17. Admission is $2.13, just like it was in 1976 at the old Fabian Theatre on Church Street. 

     In the Hollywood version, Billy Dee Williams plays Bingo, with obvious comparisons to Satchel Paige, while James Earl Jones plays a power-hitting catcher loosely based on Josh Gibson, and a young Richard Pryor plays a wise-cracking right fielder hoping to scam his way to the majors. Co-produced by Berry Gordy for Motown Productions, the movie was directed by John Badham, who would direct “Saturday Night Fever” the following year, and “Bingo” proved to be a big hit at the box office.

     Could a team like Bingo’s have played at Hinchliffe Stadium back in the’30s or’40s? Absolutely. They definitely did, and they will be celebrated in a Negro Leagues museum that will be part of the $102 million ballpark renovation that also includes a 12,000-square-foot restaurant, a six-story affordable senior housing complex, a preschool, and a parking garage.

     No matter how modern though, Hinchliffe will always be oozing with history. The Jackals’ home opener is Saturday night, May 20, and now it will be their turn to make some memories for little kids and great grandparents, and the sweet smell of mustard, and the sweet sound of the crack of the bat will be exactly the same as it was for Bingo … or Satchel.

JACKALS ON THE ROAD EARLY

     The team opens the 2023 season 30 miles away, on the road against the New York Boulders in Pomona, N.Y., on Thursday night, May 12, one of just three games on the Frontier League’s opening night schedule.  It’s a three-game series followed by New Jersey’s only Sunday day off of the season. That plus the league’s usual Monday shutdown allows the Jackals a little breathing room and extra time to travel north of the border to face the defending champion Quebec Capitales in three mid-week games at Stade Canac, a 1938 ballpark that, like Hinchliffe, was threatened with demolition after years of decay, only to be renovated in 1999. It is considered one of the most beautiful stadiums in the league, and Quebec City is a spectacular place to visit, just in case some Jackals fans may want their own May road trip…

     After an eight-game homestand beginning May 20, New Jersey spends Memorial Day on the bus traveling 800 miles west to the Chicago suburb of Joliet, where they’ll start a three-game series with the Slammers on Tuesday night. The finale there on Thursday will be “80’s Night” at 6,000-seat Duly Health & Care Field. The Jackals will be long gone by Saturday night, when Joliet holds its annual “Sitcom Night,” this year featuring a guest appearance by actress Kate Flannery, who played “Meredith” on “The Office” from 2005 to 2013.

     From Joliet, the team heads 320 miles southeast to Florence, Ky., 15 minutes outside of Cincinnati, for a series with the Y’alls, then a 650-mile trip home to Paterson.

SHOWTIME FOR BINGO: It’s “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars” this Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Fabian 8 Cinema. For more information, call (201) 398-6383 or send an email to: TEAMHOPEEVENT@gmail.com.

THEATRE TIDBITS: The old Fabian Theatre, on Church Street, was built by Jacob Fabian and opened for silent movies and vaudeville shows in 1925. In 1929, the Phonograph Division of Thomas A. Edison Inc. came to the Fabian to make recordings of the theatre’s organist, Warren Yates… The theatre later hosted premieres of several Abbott & Costello movies as demanded of Universal Pictures by Lou Costello, a proud native of Paterson.  

    

By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.