PATERSON, N.J. - The light touch of a paint roller is enough to dislodge a chunk of plaster from the crumbling walls of Hinchliffe Stadium.

Silent for decades, the former home of several Negro Leagues teams is getting another chance at bat as baseball's first National Historic Landmark.

Historians, volunteers, activists, and a former Negro Leagues player who has pushed for decades to save the stadium say the place is more than worthy of the designation, formally recognized with a plaque and dedication ceremony Wednesday.

"These athletes were so passionate about the game of baseball that they were willing to endure whatever social adversity confronted them as they traveled the highways and byways of this country - just to play baseball," said Bob Kendrick, president of the Kansas City, Mo.-based Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, who attended the dedication. "That passion would not only change our sport, but it would change our country for the better."

Other sporting cathedrals such as Fenway Park and Wrigley Field have national profiles, but haven't advanced to landmark status, said D. Brent Leggs of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Boston's Fenway is on the National Register of Historic Places, as was Hinchliffe until last year, when it was designated a landmark. Chicago's Wrigley Field is eligible for landmark status but has yet to go through the process.

Hinchliffe opened in 1932. And besides being home to the New York Black Yankees, the New York Cubans and other teams, it was a Depression-era haven for working-class youths.

Eleven members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame played at Hinchliffe, including Larry Doby, who went to high school in Paterson and whose son attended Wednesday's ceremony.

Doby integrated the American League in July 1947, just months after Jackie Robinson broke the National League's color barrier - actions being celebrated this week by Major League Baseball.

Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium hopes to restore the stadium for use by new generations in the neighborhood where it stands. So far, the group has raised $1.2 million to stabilize the structure, but it knows millions more will be needed to fully restore it.

School groups and other volunteers Wednesday helped paint the walls of the stadium and remove thickets of weeds, taking less than an hour to transform decades of multilayered graffiti into a freshly painted surface.

"I hope I'll be able to see it finished and be built so young kids can come here and enjoy themselves, and grow up to be great people," said Bob Scott, 82, a pitcher for the New York Black Yankees from 1946 to 1950.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Paterson native who pushed for landmark status for the stadium and for the nearby national park at the Great Falls of the Passaic River, has introduced legislation to incorporate the stadium into the footprint of the park, which would make the stadium eligible for more funding.