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SMORGASBORD : Having a Ball : At El Rio Little League games, they're pitching Mexican food.

July 18, 1991|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

T ake me out to the ballgame, take me out to the park. Buy me some . . . burritos?

Peanuts and Cracker Jack give way each July to authentic Mexican food at an impeccably manicured diamond surrounded by El Rio strawberry fields.

A close-knit group of volunteers headed by the husband-and-wife team of Cody and Georgia Guillen raise money to benefit Little League by serving up big-league-quality carne asada, chile colorado, chile verde and menudo .

"No one profits but the kids," said Cody Guillen, a union official whose all-consuming hobby is watching people consume his burritos.

In a county dotted with excellent Mexican restaurants, one of the best is this outdoor cocina open only three weeks a year.

El Rio Little League plays host to July all-star tournaments for teams of 13- to 15-year-olds that hail from Morro Bay to the San Fernando Valley.

Win or lose, nobody leaves hungry.

"The burritos are great, and the people treat you right," said Jim Carafelli, who coached an all-star team in the early 1980s and has returned every year since just to eat.

Cooking is a way of life for the Guillens.

They served 1,200 people at a recent fund-raiser for St. John's Regional Medical Center, where Georgia is employed. They served 900 two weeks ago at a barbecue for a carpenter's union.

Fund-raisers for the Rio Mesa High School basketball team and for Los Angeles Raider Family Day are on the calendar this weekend.

"I'm here for the kids," Georgia Guillen said. "If it's for the kids, I'll do it."

So will several of the Guillens' closest friends.

Since the day 10 years ago when the El Rio cocina first opened with three small crock pots full of rice and beans, Carmen Tinoco, Cathy Espinoza, Frances Martinez, Maria Acosta, Virginia Lopez and Terry Merricks have worked side by side, preparing and serving food.

The kitchen now includes a steam table and grill built by Cody Guillen, enabling Ventura County volunteerism to remain alive and well deep in a vat of chili colorado.

"We mother everybody," Cathy Espinoza said while ladling a spoonful of refried beans onto a freshly warmed tortilla.

"We've been surrogate parents. We feed kids who never have money."

Proceeds from burrito sales feed the coffers of El Rio Little League, helping to buy uniforms and equipment for kids growing up in a blue-collar area of Oxnard.

The Guillens don't measure success in dollars, though.

Calculating the number of burritos served during the tournament this year, Georgia said, "We started with 45 dozen tortillas, then bought 30 more dozen, and we'll need at least 30 more dozen."

She pondered the figure, gave a satisfied nod and said, "That's a lot of dozens."

Although a permanent restaurant combining the Guillens' hot food and warm hospitality would probably bring in customers by the droves, they scoff at the idea.

"No way," said Georgia. "That would be work ."

* WHERE AND WHEN

El Rio Little League fields, Rose Ave. and Corsicana Drive, Oxnard. Open through July 27: Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday noon to 7 p.m.; Monday through Friday, 5 to 7:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $4 to $10.

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