Spring and summer is the time when Cleve Borman Field, an historic ball park on the grounds of the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, comes to life with baseball.
It’s a time when the Napa Valley Baseball Club, Joe DiMaggio Baseball League and so many other teams from around the Bay Area and Northern California take the field, offering fans a close-up view of the action at a place that is a throwback to an earlier time in the game. There are no lights, so everything is day-time baseball. The front-gate entrance takes you right behind the backstop and home-plate area. There is a stunning backdrop of oak trees and vineyards on a hillside setting that overlook the left-field scoreboard. The outfield fence is covered with Brugmansia flowers, a purple color. There is a scenic mountain range far to the east. Fans are protected from the sun, as there are covered grandstands. Teams from outside the area that are entered in tournaments stay in the barracks, located in close proximity to the ball park. The concession area, located near the entrance, is one of the best for youth sports in the Napa Valley.
“That’s where you wanted to play, because that made you feel like a big leaguer while you were up there,” said Paul Freitas, who works for the Napa Valley Baseball Club as the ballpark’s groundskeeper. “I’ve been able to make some progress in bringing it back to its former glory, but still have a long way to go. There is so much work to keeping something like that pristine. I always took it for granted when I was playing.”
In a report by MaxPreps.com in 2013, Borman Field made the list of “10 of the coolest high school baseball venues in America.” In its description, the website’s report said: “Cleve Borman Field gives veterans the best seats in the house for all types of games held at the stadium. That famous Napa Valley weather and its world-famous scenery are part of the draw at Cleve Borman Field. What makes it even cooler is that it has a historic feel, and holds a special place in the hearts of many veterans.”
A list of the “25 Best High School Baseball Stadiums/Fields in California,” compiled by www.aceable.com, has Borman Field at No. 10.
“Cleve Borman Field is a historic field and extremely important for veterans,” www.aceable.com reported.
In the last few months, however, the ballpark has gone silent, as veterans and fans have not been able to see any baseball.
Because of restrictions imposed by the state due to the coronavirus pandemic, there have not been any games at Borman Field – the home of the annual state American Legion “A” and “B” tournaments – since February. There may not be any practices or games at the ballpark the rest of the year, as Chris Padowan, the NVBC’s president, has informed coaches for each of the club’s five teams that there is no baseball at all for any immediate future.
The Veterans Home is currently closed to all visitors, except for residents on hospice, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Joshua Kiser, Public Information Officer, California Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Home of California-Yountville.
“Currently, baseball is not being played at Borman Field, as is the case for all baseball fields in Napa County,” Kiser said in an email. “We are following all state and county health guidelines for our facility. As health guidelines evolve there may be an opportunity to revisit use of Borman Field with modifications and precautions in place, as recommended by public health experts.”
The NVBC’s teams all use Borman Field, which in past years has also hosted high school games involving Napa Valley teams. So far, both American Legion state tournaments have been canceled for this year. The “Around The Horn Memorial Tournament,” an event organized by the Horn Heart Foundation and scheduled for the last weekend of June, has been canceled. The Joe DiMaggio Baseball League announced that its season and state tournaments are canceled.
“From a baseball perspective, it’s very discouraging, the fact that we’re unable to play,” said Padowan. “We want kids to be on that field and supporting the veterans and playing baseball. And with us unable to do so, it’s just a sad state of affairs. The Veterans Home, obviously very concerned with the health and welfare of the veterans, advised me that they don’t foresee any baseball being played for any immediate future and probably throughout the year, potentially.”
The NVBC, which is affiliated with American Legion Baseball, leases Borman Field from the Veterans Home. The club has two teams that consist of players ages 13 and 14, who have aged out of Little League. There is a team for 15-year olds. The 17-and-under team plays junior American Legion and the 19-and-under team plays senior Legion. The club’s younger-age players start their season in February each year. Teams are formed through a tryout process.
Bob Freschi , Gary Newman and Joe Madigan are the coaches for the 13-14’s team.
Freschi is the coach for the 15’s team. Billy Smith, Jacob Ray and Robbie Saitz lead the 17U Junior Legion team coaches. The 19U Senior Legion team is led by Jason Schnaible.
The NVBC’s board consists of Padowan, president; Jacob Ray, vice president/treasurer; Lloyd Llewlyn, secretary; Jason Hall, Bob Freschi, Billy Smith, members at large.
“That field is the backbone of the club itself,” said Padowan. “You’ve got to have a place to play. If we don’t have a place to play, we’ve got nothing. A lot of people really look forward to having us there. We love being there and we’re missing it dearly. The baseball club, in partnership with the Veterans Home and the Tug McGraw Foundation, is an integral part of the lives of all the veterans on that campus. It’s a lot more than just balls and strikes. They are really bummed out about that there is no baseball.
“We want to be out there sooner rather than later. It’s just kind of a wait and see kind of approach where everything is going to land. We want to get back to playing some baseball.”
Freitas works at Borman Field two days a week, mowing the infield and outfield, making sure the system for watering the park is functioning correctly, weeding and trimming, taking care of the mound and home plate area, doing everything he can to keep it game-ready.
“I’m working toward that day when they say, ‘Look, we’re going to open up and we’re coming back in there,’ ” Freitas said. “Everybody’s getting a taste of, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
“I try to keep it as nice as I can, in hopes that there will be a break. I’m trying to stick with it the best I can. I miss having the kids around. I haven’t seen a ball player in months – and I feel for them, because they must be going nuts.”
There is a lot of history to baseball at the Veterans Home, as it dates back to the early 1930s, according to a report by goodoldsandlotdays.com.
“Veterans Home in Yountville, under the California Veterans administration, sponsored and financed Sunday baseball to entertain the veterans residing there as well as general public, starting in early 1930s. According to Veterans Observation Post, the team carried the nickname Buccaneers, but it was not widely used. In 1955, the team took on a new name – Cal-Vets. Players were not residents at the home, many living in the east bay, and were paid for each game. A large number of them played before and after a professional baseball career. American Legion Junior Baseball has replaced the semi-pro team since the 1970s,” according to goodoldsandlotdays.com.
The NVBC has made major improvements to the ballpark in recent years, including the installation of new netting and padding behind the home-plate area, a new pitcher’s mound and new mounds in both bullpens.
Brady Mitchell led an extensive renovation project in 2008, with Borman Field getting new dugouts, foul poles, bullpens and scoreboard.
“Our residents have enjoyed watching baseball played at Borman Field over the years. It’s a great opportunity for our residents to enjoy America’s pastime with today’s youth,” Kiser wrote in an email.
Freitas said the ballpark, which he played at in 1970 when he was at Napa High School, provides him with a lot of fond memories. He takes great pride in the work he does maintaining the field. He does all of the work himself.
The field, he said, is in playable condition.
“Nothing better than a ballpark,” said Freitas, 67, who also works in landscape maintenance and spent 14 years working as a nuclear machinist at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo. “I like it when I hear the parents say, ‘The field looks good.’ You get that positive feedback – that’s what you kind of go on. Once in a while, one of the vets will come by and will say, ‘Oh, the field looks good.’ Those guys – they’re the real heroes.”
Freitas is looking forward to the day when baseball returns, when the lines are put down on the field and the flag is raised behind the center-field fence, when fans return and teams are once again on the field.
“There’s going to be a game some day. If it doesn’t happen this year, it just gives me time to get it a little bit better before they do,” said Freitas, who spent four years on Freschi’s staff with the Napa Valley College program.
Padowan said the NVBC has a commitment to keeping Borman Field maintained.
“Everything looks really nice,” said Padowan. “I think Paul does a fantastic job with the maintenance of the field. He’s doing A to Z. Overall, it’s in fantastic shape.
“Our No. 1 objective right now is to keep the maintenance of the field up and just get ready to play. Once we do open, I hope the community will be out to support the veterans and the teams that are playing there and come up and support the program.”
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