Chantry Hill field is in the sleepy town of Newcastle, between Roseville and Auburn on Interstate 80. The ballpark has green wooden benches behind a wood and metal backstop, and picnic benches down the left field line. A white sign with green letters greets visitors.
“Welcome to Historic Chantry Hill Baseball Park Est. 1901,” it reads.
A family of finches and the occasional train are the only traffic at noon on a weekday and the tracks are down the hill and out of sight from the outfield.It is the definition of rural idyllic.
Laura Faria is second generation Newcastle resident, and has no doubt it is as old as the sign says.
“In 1905 it was there,” she says from the front porch of a friend across the street from the park.” Because my mother was born in 1905 and the field was there.”
For 118 years, there have been thousands of gloves, bats, balls and players who have played on this field. The park has always been home to baseball; first to minor teams, then semi-pro, and now Little Leaguers.
It’s also the home to the latest in our “Great Question” series.
Manuel Jimenez is a Little League parent from Rocklin, which is one of the Sierra foothill communities that often travel here to play. He says claims by "Local Guides" on Google and from people at the ballpark have made him curious.
"There was a comment from one of the coaches that said Chantry Field in Newcastle is actually the oldest west of the Mississippi. I was baffled by that," he said.
And that begged his question, “Is it actually the oldest west of the Mississippi (River)?"
California's baseball pioneers
Joe Mock publishes the website, baseballparks.com and says you would think there would be an easy answer.
"I've read probably more about ballparks than anyone you can name and I've never seen any kind of authoritative list," Mock says. "You do see lists from time from time to time about the oldest ballparks regardless of level that are still in use."
Those lists include Fenway Park in Boston (1912) as the oldest major league park, Warren Ballpark in Bisbee Arizona (1909) as the oldest minor league park and ... nothing about our question.
Luckily, Kim Brown with the California State Library is a baseball fan. She used the library system to find an answer at the corner of North Sutter and East Fulton streets in Stockton.
Brown found a book called "History of Baseball in California and Pacific Coast Leagues, 1847-1938” by Fred W. Lange.
"We don't know what the oldest continuously operating ball field is in the west,” Brown said. “But, we do know that the one in Stockton — Hebert Field — is older than the Chantry Field."
Hebert Field was named after Billy Hebert, the first professional baseball player to die in World War II. The park was originally called Goodwater Grove. Baseball was played there before it was in Chantry and continues to be played there today as a Little League field. However, billyhebert.com does say the field was “abandoned” for a time after the Stockton Ports left in 2005 and before new owners took it over in 2011. The field now has a moveable pitchers mound and an artificial turf infield.
The book doesn't name a year, but does say "the 1880's" according to Brown. That’s a dozen years at least before Chantry opened, making it at best the second-oldest park in the state.
In the ballpark
But there's another claim about Chantry Hill field that our question-asker didn't even know about
The Mid-Placer Little League claims on its website “Chantry Field” — the league's home ballpark — is the second oldest in the United States.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, that claim is also untrue. The oldest field still in use in the U.S. is Fuller Field, established in 1878 in Clinton, Massachusetts. It was considered the oldest known park in the world, until Labatt Park in Toronto proved play began there in 1877. Though the Fuller Field folks are quick to point out that Labatt Park moved its home plate.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that there is a field in use that was in operation even before that. And somewhere in Pittsfield, Massachusetts is perhaps the earliest of all sites. A story in the New York Times says, In 1791, city leaders banned the game of baseball from being played within 80 yards of the town's new meeting house. It’s the first known reference to the game being played in the U.S… so far.
So Chantry Hill is not the second-oldest in the country, or the oldest west of the Mississippi. But, could it be ... second-oldest west of the Mississippi?
There are roughly 3,000 miles between the eastern U.S., which is where the game was invented, and San Francisco, where the first recorded game in California was played. (According to San Francisco Chronicle archives, the Eagles and Red Rovers game on Feb. 22, 1860 lasted five hours before the Red Rovers protested an umpire’s decision, lost the call and walked off the field in disgust.)
Figuring that some baseball had been played in between the two coasts before it began in Newcastle, we randomly noted Kansas as being roughly in the middle of the U.S.and called the Kansas state librarian to see if anyone had covered this topic there.
Mark Eberle is a biology professor at Fort Hays State in Kansas, who wrote the book “Kansas Baseball 1858-1941.” He says many of the early fields are no longer in use. But South Park Field in Kinsley, Kansas is.
"That field has been used for baseball and other activities since 1899," Eberle says.
And, it so happens that our guess of being roughly in the middle was way more accurate than we thought. A sign outside of Kinsley, Kansas, says it is the exact halfway point between San Francisco and New York City.
We did not call the state librarians of all 24 states this side of the “Big Muddy,” but based on our call to Kansas, there may be other fields that would push Chantry Hill further down the list.
Regardless, Chantry Hill Field is still among the oldest parks in the U.S., which isn’t bad.
It’s actually news to many residents whose sons and daughters played there, without a thought that it might be in rarefied company.
Kathleen Lovesee lives down the street from Chantry and has a Seattle Mariners license plate frame on her car, which is parked in the driveway of her home that was built circa 1910. “Is that the truth that it isn’t the oldest west of the Mississippi?” she asked. “I’m not surprised that you found otherwise.”
And for Manuel Jimenez, the idea that this park — with benches for parents not that far away from the field of play — is third-oldest-at-best takes nothing away from the feel of the place, which is where his son loves to play.
"Whenever I ask him or his friends which is the favorite field, they always mention the Chantry Field as being the favorite. The houses around the field and the trees. It gives it a very homey feeling. It's like the kids coming back to the sandlot experience of playing just for fun," he says.