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A Team in the Red With a Chance to Finish in the Money

July 20, 1986

Dave Desmond always knew what he wanted to do.

As a 15-year-old on the roster of the L.A. Dodger Rookies, playing with guys two to three years older than he was, Desmond would look around and dream.

About playing in the big leagues? No way. A 5-6, 155-pounder at the time, Desmond was realistic enough to know that any thoughts of playing in the big leagues wouldn't be dreaming for him, but rather fantasizing.

No when Desmond wanted to dream, he looked over to the dugout where Rod Yeaman was managing the Dodger Rookies just as he had been doing since 1977. That was the job Desmond wanted.

Midway through the Dodger Rookies' 1984 season, Desmond got the job when Yeaman quit to spend more time with his family.

But Desmond wasn't through dreaming.

Almost since they came to Los Angeles, the Dodgers had sponsored the rookie team and supplied it with uniforms. It was good for the big club's image, it was a convenient place to send the endless stream of players who want a tryout with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and if a bona fide prospect should emerge from among the rookies, all the better. Pitcher Bill Campbell started on the Dodger Rookies and wound up Fireman of the Year one season for the Minnesota Twins. He is currently pitching for the Detroit Tigers.

For the most part, however, members of the Dodger Rookies played out their dreams at that level and then went off to other fields better suited for their talents. At least they could tell their kids someday that they had spent a few summers in a Dodger uniform.

For Desmond, it wasn't enough.

"In Southern California in general," he says, "and especially in the San Fernando Valley, there may be more baseball talent than there is anywhere else in the country. It's a crime to think that players playing the best caliber of baseball anywhere have to go off to Alaska, to Kansas or to somewhere else to play baseball in the summer. It's ridiculous."

The Dodger Rookies suffered through a 13-game losing streak last season and finished the year 16-15. Even worse, few seemed to care.

To change all that, Desmond, with the help of Yeaman and Sean Toerner, a former Cal State Northridge player who got as high as Double-A ball in the San Francisco Giants organization, turned the L.A. Dodger Rookies into the Valley Dodgers this year, severing connections, by mutual agreement, with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The only remaining connection with the big-league club is those hand-me-down uniforms which, considering the Valley Dodgers' poor financial condition, figure to be handed down for generations to come.

The Valley Dodgers have joined the National Baseball Congress, the main governing body for amateur players in this country, and put out the word that they are looking for players with a future.

And already the flow of talent has been reversed. Rod Stillwell (Oral Roberts shortstop), Glenn Stevenson (Stanford shortstop), Rick Allen (Fresno State third baseman), Rocco Buffolino (Sacramento State pitcher and a two-time Southern Section Player of the Year) and Steve Dunn (Chapman College pitcher) have all elected to come here and join the Valley Dodgers.

"Players know now they don't have to go away in the summer to play," Desmond says. "They can stay home with their families and girlfriends and have a shot at national recognition."

That's certainly the case this year. With Desmond serving as general manager and Yeaman and Toerner splitting the managing duties, the Valley Dodgers won a qualifying tournament to gain one of the 32 berths in the NBC World Series in Wichita, Kan., the first time a Valley team has ever qualified for the 52-year-old event. Players compete in this World Series in front of anywhere from 80 to 200 big-league scouts.

But now, Desmond's dream is turning into a nightmare. A financial nightmare.

It has cost Desmond $4,500 out of his own pocket, plus about $2,000 more out of Yeaman's pocket, just to keep the Valley Dodgers alive this year. Now they are faced with a bill of $8,000 to $12,000. That's the cost of taking 25 players to Kansas, paying the World Series entry fee ($1,000) and then housing and feeding the team for the event, which runs Aug. 1-18.

Amount raised so far: $100. Desmond's efforts at fund-raising have been an unqualified disaster.

"The best thing that has happened to this team is being invited to Wichita," says Desmond, 22. "The worst thing that could happen would be being invited but not being able to afford to go.

"I'm getting really discouraged. I've talked to so many businesses. People say they've read about the team, but they're just not interested in getting involved. Nobody seems interested in whether we get there or not."

In order to raise some of the money, Desmond has set up a 100-inning game, to be played between the Valley Dodgers and CSUN alumni at Northridge on Saturday. Team members are going door-to-door trying to get pledges for each inning they perform.

If enough doors are slammed in their faces, it may be time to pack their bags once again. The message to baseball prospects may be the same old rule after all: get good and then get outta town.

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