Robby Veronesi, Karen Veronesi, Gina Footit and Lisa Klinkowski gather around the memorial boulder at Chico Field at Whitney Park, named for Karen’s late husband Robert.
Reminder Publishing photo by Amy Porter

WESTFIELD — Current and former softball, basketball, baseball and hockey officials and players, family and friends came together to honor Robert “Chico” Veronesi at Whitney Playground on Shepard Street on June 29, and to dedicate Field 1 as Chico Field.

Veronesi, a lifelong resident of Westfield, served as a U.S. Marine for eight years, as a letter carrier for the Westfield post office for 36 years and on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission from 1978 until his passing in 2022. He is most well-known however as one of the region’s premier softball umpires and basketball officials. His career included college, high school, adult and youth leagues.

Karen Tropp Veronesi said it was a very appropriate tribute to her late husband.

“He spent lots of time at these fields and at Dunkin’ Donuts, and occasionally at his homes on Allen Avenue and Heritage Lane,” she said, adding that he spent more time at the fields than anywhere else.

She also talked about their first date. Karen Veronesi, who was a college coach for 15 years in field hockey, basketball and softball, said she met him on the ballfield and thought he was a “terrific official and nice person.” When she needed a date for a formal 75th anniversary dinner dance at Nichols College, where she worked at the time, she sent him a note with what she called “an easy out.” She still has the note.

She said before she heard back, Robert Veronesi showed the note to his lifelong best friend Al “Gino” Hebert, who told him, “What have you got to lose.” She said the dedication of the field was a tremendous honor to all of the family, especially for her. “Thank all who initially worked on it and helped to get the field ready. Hope you will enjoy it and always remember him.”

Hebert, who officiated for 61 years in Agawam and Feeding Hills, also spoke at the dedication.

“Here we are back where I started. I met Chico in the early ’60s right here as players — a couple of years later, we played together in the A league and officiated in the B league. There wasn’t a finer man in this world; very honest, very devoted, very opinionated,” he said.

Veronesi’s daughters Gina Footit and Lisa Lenkowski said Whitney Field was their second home from summer to fall, and he umpired there until a few years ago.

“My dad spent 95% of his time on this field,” said Footit. “We are so proud of his accomplishments.”

Also speaking was Community Development Director Peter Miller, on behalf of Mayor Michael McCabe. He said three years earlier, the city honored the late Police Officer Jose Torres by dedicating the playground at Whitney Field to him.

“I am extremely honored to be here for Chico,” Miller said, adding that while he never played softball, he remembers Coach Sgroi from basketball, and Veronesi refereeing the games.

Miller was acknowledging the presence at the dedication of retired Parks and Recreation Director Thomas Sgroi, who said he had known Veronesi for over 40 years, and had officiated softball and basketball with him.

“We go back a long way. If Chico had a dispute with something, he never said a word. He just looked at you,” Sgroi said.

Miller read a proclamation from the mayor declaring June 29, 2024, as Robert Chico Veronesi day in honor of his long term dedication to softball. He recognized the family members who were present, especially “the greatest umpire I ever remember playing under on Cross Street, Karen Veronesi.”

Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Scott LaBombard said for 45 years, Chico Veronesi made an indelible mark on countless individuals, and his legacy will continue to inspire due to his remarkable service.

James Blascak, program coordinator for the Parks and Recreation Department, said he met Veronesi his first day on the job.

“He told me I was taking over the softball league. He came in three to four times a week into my office just to talk about softball,” he said.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Vincent Olinski said Veronesi was a friend and colleague for many years.

“I have nothing to do with softball — I knew Chico from basketball, where he officiated and ran the adult league in town 50 years ago,” he said, adding that Veronesi had recruited him as a basketball official.

Olinski said Veronesi served over 40 years as a Parks and Recreation commissioner, and as a former Marine, helped the veterans with many activities in the city.

“This is such a well-deserved honor for such a great man,” he said, thanking the city departments who helped to arrange for the dedication, the mayor and the City Council.

Commissioner Ken Magarian said he knew Veronesi from the mid-70s when he worked at the college as a baseball and softball coach and Veronesi was a softball umpire and basketball referee, who became an assigner of officials for both sports for years.

The regularly scheduled Friday night adult men’s softball game was moved to Saturday morning so that it could take place immediately after the dedication ceremony in Veronesi’s honor.

The family unveiled a boulder with a plaque on it reading “Chico Field, In Memory of Robert ‘Chico’ Veronesi. In honor of his 59 years of dedicated service 2023.”

Robby Veronesi then threw out the first pitch of the men’s softball game in memory of his father, with Karen Veronesi behind the plate.

Robby Veronesi, a journalist who worked for Minor League Baseball until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, said his dad is the one who sparked the interest for him.

“I fell in love with minor league baseball. We took a couple of purely baseball road trips where I collected autographs. We were always the last to leave the stadium,” he said.