Nearly all the mailboxes along a stretch of decidedly suburban Canoga Avenue in Woodland Hills are dented and askew, bearing the unlikely scars of a farmland tradition:
The game is played by fast-driving teen-agers with a yen for destruction, according to police and postal officials. The "batter" hangs out the passenger-side window of a speeding vehicle with a baseball bat in hand and swings at roadside letter receptacles.
Such vandalism has provided hours of pleasure for generations of rural youth. But the homeowners along Canoga Avenue, who awoke Friday to a dozen freshly bashed boxes, aren't laughing.
Over the last five years, they say, their neighborhood has become a field of dreams for drive-by batters. The narrow portion of the avenue just north of Mulholland Drive has no sidewalks, and the mailboxes, according to post office regulations, must stand at road's edge so the mail carrier can reach them from a jeep.
Vandals strike there as often as two or three times a month, then lie dormant for a while, residents said. A half-dozen homeowners have spent up to $800 to fortify their mailboxes with brick or steel. Others simply buy new boxes or bend the old ones back into shape.
The vandals along Canoga Avenue have also shattered car windows, said Robert Jenkins, a 10-year resident who spent $130 for a cast-iron mailbox. The walls that surround some of these expensive homes are marked by thrown eggs.
Some residents say they are fighting mad.
"I won't rest until I catch these punks," said Joe Molina, 35, who moved in 1 1/2 years ago"I'm thinking about mounting a video camera in my tree. Even if I have to hire someone to watch this place at night, I will find out who's doing this."
The U.S. Postal Service reports that mailbox abuse is a nationwide nuisance. The destructive pursuit was also featured in the 1986 film "Stand by Me," in which a carload of villains wreaks havoc on a country lane.
Postal inspectors don't investigate such sluggings unless the vandals also tinker with letters, postal officials said. Los Angeles police usually won't bother to do anything about the misdemeanor offense unless someone witnesses the crime, said Detective Carlos Vidal, who investigates vandalism. However, he said, if a vandal destroys more than $1,000 worth of property in one spree, the offense could be classified as a felony.
Canoga Avenue residents, some of whom seem resigned to the vandalism, haven't reported every incident to police, so West Valley detectives were surprised by the frequency of attacks claimed by residents of the neighborhood.
"Usually around the Fourth of July we get some mailboxes that are blown up with large firecrackers," Sgt. Walt Kainz said. "The rest of the year it kind of trickles in."
With even the cheapest mailbox and post running $40, and fancier models costing $200, replacing them every year or so gets expensive.
"I figure these jerks go up to the hills, get drunk, then come down here," said Bill Brady, a homeowner. "They do it all the time."
In 1988, residents of the neighborhood persuaded the Los Angeles Transportation Department to lower the avenue's speed limit after a 16-year-old driver was killed in one accident and a 5-year-old boy was hit in another. On a recent morning, that 25-m.p.h. limit was consistently ignored by passing motorists.
Molina and others now want the city to erect a stop sign at a nearby intersection, which they insist will slow traffic and preclude a quick getaway for mailbox-bashers.
"I doubt it," Vidal said.
"You think these guys that are bashing mailboxes are going to stop for a stop sign?"