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Newcastle’s field of dreams

Refurbished Chantry Hill Field, originally built in 1901, unveiled for Tournament of Champions
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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NEWCASTLE — Squint your eyes a little and use your imagination and it’s not hard to turn back the calendar 60 or 80 years at Chantry Hill Field. The images become even more vivid when you hear Leonard Orsolini tell stories about the picturesque baseball field that borders his property in a neighborhood nestled above downtown Newcastle. “I remember in 1945 they played hardball here,” Orsolini said. “When they first built the field, miners would get off the train and play, go into town and get something to eat and then move on.” The field originally built in 1901 is hosting the District 11 Minor League Tournament of Champions, with teams from Rocklin, Auburn, Bear River, Nevada City, Lincoln and Tri-City Little Leagues battling it out through Tuesday night. Thanks to the efforts of dozens of volunteers and thousands of dollars in donations, Chantry Hill Field has been reborn into a gem for players, coaches and fans that get a chance to visit. Orsolini is responsible for keeping the grass trimmed and he dutifully raises the American Flag along the left field foul pole on game days. Mid-Placer Little League president Steve Veninga was a major part of the effort to update the field over the past two years. A fence was put in last year and now features sponsors’ billboards across much of it. A new snack bar was opened this spring and the fence in front of the dugout was extended to protect fans in foul territory. The field’s updates do not overshadow the field’s signature features – the tall eucalyptus trees beyond the fence in right and center fields and the ample bleachers behind home plate that are dug into the hillside. “We’ve done quite a few changes over the year and added a lot of the small-town feel,” Veninga said. “It’s really worked this year. The fence has a lot of sponsors and we’ve got a very diverse, dedicated group of people that run the league as board members.” Veninga presides over one of the smaller Little League organizations around. The four-year old Mid-Placer Little League had 87 players this spring and did not have Minor League teams. But District 11 administrator Dick Gold visited Chantry Hill Field earlier this year and was quickly convinced that it would be an ideal host for the Tournament of Champions. “They said if this goes well, there’s potential for re-upping every year,” Veninga said. The current backstop sits in what is left field in the original field’s layout. The old pitching mound is next to where the first base coaches now stand. The field was moved from its old location around 1970, when Orsolini began mowing the field on a regular basis. Perhaps the most unique feature of the field is the fact that it is community-owned. It was originally deeded to the Newcastle community and has been cared for by the people in the small foothills town ever since. The Newcastle Fire Department is the official custodian. “It’s a unique situation,” Veninga said. “The expenses are paid by Little League and the sponsors and it’s a baseball field that will always be a baseball field. It’s the second-oldest community-owned baseball field in the country that is still in use. There is one in New Jersey that is a little older.” Though Chantry Hill lies just a few hundred yards from Interstate 80, it feels like it’s miles from the hustle and bustle of life in 2010. The train tunnel just over the hill beyond center field is a more appropriate backdrop for the scene. Orsolini often sits in his yard and enjoys the games that have returned in recent years to brighten his summers. He played on Chantry Hill Field as a young boy more than 60 years ago and is happy to see baseball is thriving again in Newcastle. “We’ve had good people to work with,” he said. “And that’s what makes it special.”