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NEIGHBORS : Pitching In : Amber Carr's underhand delivery is estimated at 55 m.p.h. Her team posted a 22-0 record and won the league title.


Ten-year-old softball pitcher Amber Carr is used to hearing opposing players muttering when she takes the field.

"When I'm warming up they go, 'Oh gosh, man, how are we going to do this?' " she said. "I like it when they say, 'Oh man, she's fast.' "

And they're not kidding. Carr's underhand pitches were estimated at 55 m.p.h. this year, in a season in which she led the Ventura Pink Poisons to a 22-0 record and the Tri-Valley Girls Softball League title.

Carr also garnered a 19-7 record for the Ventura girls' softball all-star team that finished fourth in the Amateur Softball Assn. state championships in Clovis, Calif., last weekend. The team has been invited to compete in a national tournament in August.

As good as she is in softball, Carr isn't limiting herself to that sport. Next month she'll be back on the soccer field and later in the year she'll move inside to play some basketball.

Things are happening pretty fast these days for Ventura artist (and field hockey fanatic) Laura Porakova, who moved here from Colorado earlier this year.

Her work is being exhibited at the Palm Street Gallery in Ventura and in a couple of weeks her woodcuts, paintings, sculptures and prints will go on display at SEE'S Coffee Co. in Santa Barbara. In September she will begin an artist-in-residence program creating and displaying her art in a vacant building at 712 State St. in Santa Barbara.

Porakova's subjects range from "The Departure Series"--five sets of two clay figurines depicting "the agony of breaking away from one another"--to a nude woman series, featuring "Nude Woman in the Tub," "Nude Woman on a Bike" and "Nude Woman in the Grocery Store."

And then there are the life-size female chess pieces that she hopes one day to carve from stone. "It's kind of a dream more than anything right now," she said. "What I need to do is go down to L.A. and find someone to purchase this thing before I go forward on it. . . . Who in their right mind would buy life-size chess pieces?"

Porakova said her work has been selling pretty well, but she does do a certain amount of bartering. "I've traded podiatry service for art," she said, "and I've traded coffee for artwork." Her next big deal? "Trading (dental) crowns for artwork."

Back to sports: Good luck to Ron Wood of Santa Paula. The 23-year-old, 165-pound power lifter leaves today for the Special Olympics International Games in Minneapolis that run from July 19 to 27.

And his mother is going to be plenty jittery.

"It's very nerve-wracking," Carol Wood said. "It's a lot harder on Mom and Dad than it is on him."

Ron Wood, who has Down's syndrome, got into weightlifting five years ago and has been working out four to five days a week for the past four years. His personal best lifts include a dead-lift of 270 pounds and a bench-press of 250 pounds.

So how important is this international event? So important that Ron Wood was planning to get a special haircut before competing.

"He has a short haircut with lines and he wears an earring, so he fits right into the gym," his mother said last week. "He's going to have a haircut right before he leaves. We hope to put a dumbbell on the side, maybe with an arrow through it."

Parents who have spent hours and hours trying to convince their children that video games are bad for their young eyes may want to hide this item from them.

A new family optometry office in Simi Valley has in its waiting room not only movies and cartoons to entertain the kiddies while they wait, but also Nintendo games. Go figure.

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