August 4, 2013

Area baseball beat: Decline continues for historic Renfree Field

Harry Renfree Field in Del Paso Regional Park, one of the area's most historic baseball fields, continues to deteriorate.

Harry Renfree Field in Del Paso Regional Park, one of the area's most historic baseball fields, continues to deteriorate.

Renfree has not hosted games in more than three years. The once-green grass has been overtaken by weeds, some two feet high. A fire in 2012 destroyed the press box and concession stand, and thieves have taken everything of any value.

At one time, Renfree Field was a measuring stick, a ballplayer's worth determined by whether he had played between its white lines.

Among the future major leaguers who honed their skills there: Dusty Baker (Del Campo), Larry Bowa (McClatchy), Dion James (McClatchy), Jerry Manuel (Cordova), Buck Martinez (Elk Grove), Jerry Royster (Sacramento), Butch Metzger (Kennedy), and brothers Bob and Ken Forsch (Johnson) and Steve and Dave Sax (James Marshall).

"If you never played at Renfree Field, you just weren't good enough," Leon Lee of Grant said.

The idea of the first lighted ballpark in Sacramento was hatched in 1965 when community members approached recreation department head Harry Renfree, who was a true baseball man. But Renfree didn't want to get too emotionally involved because the startup cost would begin at more than $20,000.

Instead, Renfree contacted Doc Oliver, president of the Sacramento Bushers Baseball Players Association, and asked him to form a committee to address the City Council. That committee convinced council members of a premier lighted baseball field's value.

Once the final approval was made by Renfree, who would later have the field named after him, the idea of night baseball became a reality.

Thrilled by the news, La Fiesta manager Sal Gomez, one of the spokesmen for the Bushers committee, pushed his group to raise $15,000 for bleachers and restrooms.

Harry Renfree Field was completed by the end of 1967, and on May 12, 1968, the first night game was played when a team of former major and minor leaguers played a team of former Sacramento Solons in a three-inning Mother's Day exhibition.

More than 2,000 watched as the major/minor leaguers beat the Solons 8-2.

The winners also included major-league catcher Bruce Edwards (Sacramento), outfielder Wally Westlake (Christian Brothers) and pitchers Charley Schanz (Christian Brothers, Sacramento City College) and Gordon Jones (Sacramento). Among the Solons stars were pitchers Tony Freitas, Guy Fletcher and Nick Pesut, third baseman Hank Ness (Sacramento) and former major-league shortstop Richie Myers (Elk Grove).

In later years, Renfree Field was the home of the Night League (1968-95), Sacramento Smokeys (1974-2010), NorCal Semipro League (1996-2006) and Men's Senior League (2000-2010).

In July 1969, 2,100 fans packed the place to watch the Bakersfield Dodgers hit three home runs and beat the Lodi Crushers in a free California League game. A month later, the American Legion Area 1 Tournament featuring a final between Haggin-Grant and Fort Sutter drew a standing-room-only crowd. American River had its tournament there in 1970, and Sacramento State played Washington State and Gonzaga under the lights in 1973.

Last November, the City Council voted to negotiate a lease with Hobo Sports Inc. president Howard Bowens (Burbank, Sac City) to renovate the facility at a cost of nearly $300,000.

However, Bowens, 49, a 1984 eighth-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers, underwent a double-kidney transplant and has had to put the project on hold.

All-Star honors

J.D. Davis (Elk Grove) of the Chatham Anglers was named the East's MVP of the Cape Cod League All-Star Game after going 2 for 2 with a three-run homer and a double.

Rhys Hoskins (Jesuit, Sac State) of the Falmouth Commodores and Tino Lipson (UC Davis) of the Wareham Gatemen also played in the game.

Others playing in collegiate all-star games were David Del Grande (Sac State) of the Bethesda Big Train in the Cal Ripken League, Jimmy Jack (Granite Bay, Sierra) of the Shelter Island Bucks in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, Kyle Porter (Oak Ridge) of the Anchorage Glacier Pilots in the Alaska Baseball League and Kyle Moses (Sac State) and Cameron Olson (UC Davis) of the Humboldt Crabs in the Far West League.

Around the bases

Chris Elder (Sac City) was released by the Kansas City Royals, and Scott Lyman (UC Davis) and Daniel Child (Jesuit) were promoted to Advanced-A by the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively.

Rick Schu (Del Campo, Sac City) has been named the Washington Nationals hitting coach. Schu had been the team's minor-league hitting coordinator.

Mark McDermott is a freelance writer specializing in Sacramento-area baseball. Contact him at egmacker@yahoo.com.

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