Softball team

The Napa Native Sons girls softball team, circa 1955-56, is shown in front of the former Napa High School, now headquarters of the Napa Valley Unified School District. The team rose from the league cellar one year to league champions the next. The photo and partial identification of the team members was provided by Beverly Hurlburt Lastra, the team’s catcher. Standing, from left: Manager Cramer, Pat Olmstead, unidentified, Manager Cramer’s daughter and pitcher, unidentified guardian, Peggy Fieffer and manager Francis “Jeep” Sanza. Kneeling, from left: Unidentified, Liz Lowe, Pat Rhodes, Sylvia Silva, Beverly Hurlburt, unidentified, Beverly Chapman, unidentified.

On May 24, 2010, the Napa Valley Register published one of my articles about the popularity of the game of softball in Napa. It was titled “Napa, capital of softball, part 2.”

That column and the one prior to it gave a brief history of softball in Napa from the 1930s through the 1950s.

Napa was truly a softball town in those days. In a city with a 1950 population of just over 13,000 people, there were organized softball leagues for men, older men, women and girls during the 1950s.

I played on one of the teams from 1948 to 1952, during my post-Napa High School and pre-U.S. Army days.

There was a men’s all-star team that went to the world championships in 1950, 1952 and 1954, and to the state championships in 1956. Plus, there was a girls team that attained national recognition because of a homegrown world-class pitcher.

Napa’s Kiwanis Park on the corner of Coombs and Elm streets was lighted and the home to all of the leagues. It was a very busy softball diamond.

A few months ago, Beverly Hurlburt Lastra, a resident of Napa until 2005 but now of Sacramento, came across my softball article on the Internet. The article caused her to reflect on her youth and her involvement in the game of softball. She was a catcher on the Native Sons girls softball teams of 1955 and 1956.

Lastra sent a note and a photo of her softball team to Register Editor Sean Scully, who forwarded it to me. I decided that it was a good subject for today’s column.

In her note, Lastra paid great respect to Napa’s Jeep Sanza, the team coach. She wrote, “The most important thing about this picture is our coach Francis (Jeep) Sanza. He was a great person and a great coach.”

Sanza is well known within the local community for his volunteer work. Beyond that, he is probably better known for his service to our country as Gen. George Patton’s Jeep driver during World War II as the Third Army sped across Western Europe in pursuit of a retreating Nazi Germany army. His wartime involvement was recently the subject of an article in the Napa Valley Register.

I have personally known Sanza for many years, and he is a true hero not only for what he did during the war but also for what he has done for Napa, especially for the young in our community, as in this case.

Beverly Hurlburt Lastra was born in 1939. She grew up in Napa and graduated from Napa High School in 1958.

Her father worked at the Basalt Rock Co.’s steel fabricating plant during and after World War II and then for Kaiser Steel, Basalt’s successor.

During World War II and for a few years after, the Hurlburt family lived in Shipyard Acres, a large government wartime housing development on the corner of what is now Kaiser Road and Highway 29. The development was razed during the 1950s.

In her note, Lastra said, “I saw this (my softball article) on the Internet and it reminded me of my girls softball years. I am sending a picture. I was 16 years old (then). I am now 75 years old.

“Our team came in dead last that first year I played but the second year we won the championship by beating the Gasser Motors team in the championship game.”

I had a recent phone conversation with Lastra, and she apologized for not being able to better identify her teammates, female guardian and the other coach in the photo. I told her that the photo was taken about 60 years ago and, after that length of time, she had done remarkably well.

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Jim Ford can be contacted at jwford571@gmail.com.