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Steve Springer

Streeter's Field Fits Him to a 'T'

June 14, 1987|STEVE SPRINGER

The players leaped into the air and high-fived one another until their palms were sore.

The coach just folded his arms, breathed a sigh of satisfaction and smiled. Another year, another title. He'd been there before and hoped to be there again, for years to come.

Pat Riley celebrating another NBA championship? K.C. Jones pulling out another miracle? Bobby Knight relishing another NCAA Tournament title?

Nope, just Ed Streeter finishing on top again.

Ed Streeter?

That's right, Ed Streeter. If you don't live in the west end of the Valley and have a pre-teen child, you've probably never heard of him. You've certainly never seen Streeter on television nor read his name in headlines nor found him anywhere near a spotlight. Yet, year in and year out, he remains an incredibly successful coach, the Don Shula or John Wooden of his field.

The problem is, his field is T-Ball, not exactly a high-profile sport. No problem for Ed. That's just the way he likes it.

T-Ball, for the benefit of those without children, is the training ground for Little League. Youngsters ages 5 to 8 play a brand of baseball that prohibits pitching. To save those tender arms and teach batters how to hit, the ball is placed on an elevated tee, waist-high, where the batter swings away at it.

Streeter is T-Ball league coordinator for 7- and 8-year-olds at the Woodland Hills Recreation Center. He's also head coach of the Reds, one of eight teams in the league, which includes about 110 youngsters.

What makes Streeter so unique is that none of the children are his. If you've ever been involved with youth leagues, you know they are volunteer organizations. It is the parents who do all the work, including the coaching. Who else would want to?

Streeter does. His own sons, Ed, 32, and Bill, 24, left the program years ago. Streeter never did.

He came back to T-Ball a decade ago and has stayed with it, taking a new team of 7- and 8-year-olds every season.

"The proposition is tremendous," Streeter said. "For these kids, this is their introduction to the game of baseball. I really find that coaching 7- and 8-year-olds in T-Ball is more fun than any sport at any age. It's more pure fun. I tell parents that and I also tell them I know they won't believe it now, but they will when they look back 10 to 15 years from now."

Streeter, 57, loves to play golf. Having retired from his engineering career two years ago, he could spend all his time on a course. Instead, he'd rather spend a lot of it on a baseball diamond.

"Much of the fun of it," he said, "is in watching the dramatic changes in ability, in the basic skill level as a season goes on. It's nice to see these kids come along so far in a few months time.

"I reach an agreement with the parents of my kids before the season starts. I tell them to be supportive and have good things to say to the kids. Let me get on their case."

Streeter teams are known for their preparedness. They practice hard before the season begins and usually show up a half-hour before their opponents once the season is under way.

Streeter never played organized ball, but to coach T-Ball, an understanding of youngsters ranks above an understanding of the game.

When the Reds beat the Mets earlier this week to win the league championship, finishing unbeaten at 16-0, one of the Mets missed second base in the final inning. A Reds player spotted it, an appeal was made and the Mets player was called out. Although his run wasn't the key in an 11-5 loss, the youngster was understandably heartbroken.

When the game had ended and the Reds were busy romping around the field in glee, Streeter was not among them. He was off to the side, his arms around the sobbing Met, assuring him there'd be a tomorrow.

It's not that winning isn't important to him. Far from it. His Reds are almost always in contention and have won plenty of titles, but Streeter wouldn't reveal just how many.

"Oh, I don't want to get into that," he said with an easy grin. "These young coaches come up and it takes two years for them to figure out what has to be done. During that time, we're just able to kind of sneak up on them."

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