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Softball's Secret Sets Rules for 2.5 Million : Behind Scenes, SCMAF Guides 20,000 Teams in Organizing Programs

July 11, 1985|PAUL McLEOD | Times Staff Writer

The building sits amid nature's wilderness, within viewing distance of two bustling freeways. An unlikely location for an unusual organization known by an unusual acronym.

Horses graze on adjacent land, oblivious to the reconstruction behind the mirrored windows and cinder block walls. Much of the structure's white paint has long ago faded. The remainder has cracked off or is peeling.

Los Angeles County maintenance employees roll trucks out of nearby garages and drive out for a day's work. Across the street players compete on a Frisbee golf course lined with sycamores, pines and a few palm trees.

You imagine hearing the oldie sounds of the "Heart and Soul of Rock 'n' Roll" from the seven transmission towers of radio station KRLA behind the building. Inside the block house the station's powerful 50,000 watts often play havoc with the telephones.

This is home of the SCMAF, the Southern California Municipal Athletic Federation, a nonprofit service organization known to nearly all Southland recreational softball players for its attempts to standardize rules and regulations in that amateur sport.

One would expect, maybe, a massive office suite in a downtown office building for such an important organization. There are approximately 20,000 Southland sports teams under the auspices of the SCMAF. Its decisions have the potential of reaching 2.5 million players annually.

"For years our location has been the best kept secret," said Executive Director Ed Baldwin about the SCMAF. "We're behind the scenes and we want to be that way."

Tucked behind a snail-shaped park visitors center, a couple of softball throws from Legg Lake at the Whittier Narrows Recreation Center and just off the intersection of the Pomona and San Gabriel River Freeways, the offices of the SCMAF on Santa Anita Ave. in South El Monte are finally getting a face lift. Bare walls and exposed, temporary phone lines stand as testimony to progress, as Baldwin eagerly describes the plan to modernize the SCMAF's section of the blockhouse it shares on the County of Los Angeles Maintenance Service Yard-South Region site.

Modular office furniture will soon replace old wooden hand-me-downs that date back to the organization's days as a fully supported wing of the Los Angeles County Recreation Department. A new entry door (already in place), gives the small staff hope for the future, when blue, plush carpet and modern office dividers are expected to add the finishing touches.

Its image is headed for a face lift, too, under Baldwin, a 38-year old, down-to-earth Anaheim father of three who likens his position to that of a city manager. The SCMAF's executive director since 1978, Baldwin has decided it is time that "people know more about what we do.

"Most people know about us (SCMAF) in a mysterious sense,' said the Pepperdine graduate. "Our goal is to market SCMAF and let people know who we are."

Incorporated in 1959, the SCMAF is also involved in seven youth sports. But it is best known for its softball activities, including the annual publishing of an official rule book for both slow and fast pitch. It is highly acclaimed for taking the lead in the certification of recreation softball and youth baseball officials.

In addition, the SCMAF has taken strides to improve the quality of playing conditions for recreational activities. For example, Baldwin wants safer standards for all softball fields. No trees within the field of play. No light standards built on the playing area.

The SCMAF has also made available a $1-million liability policy to all its members at a cost that averages less than $25 per team.

Soon, the SCMAF plans to address the problem of how to properly rate softball teams for competition. In 1975 it formulated a regulation that requires the use of "the mat" in slow-pitch softball. Slow pitch makes up about 80% of all recreational softball played in Southern California, according to Baldwin. Before the mat, pitchers had no targets and umpires had no designated zone by which to consistently call balls and strikes. The mat extends the length of home plate to a total of 34 inches. A pitch that arcs higher than the batter's head (but not more than 12 feet high) and lands on either the plate or the mat is a strike. The mat has been credited with simplifying an umpire's job and putting an end to the number of players arguing a call.

According to its Official Guide and Membership Directory, one SCMAF goal is to provide for "planning, promoting, organizing and conducting culminating (in) recreation sports activities for individuals and teams." The SCMAF should also be concerned with, the guide says, "offering wholesome, competitive programs primarily concerned with safety, fair play and sportsmanship and recognizing various skill levels of participants."

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