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Looking for Knocks on Wood : Players Get Chance to Swing the Real Thing in Summer League


MALIBU — Pepperdine first baseman Pat O'Hara is aware of the drawbacks of playing in a wood-bat summer baseball league away from home.

O'Hara, a former Palos Verdes High player, had a bad experience competing in a league in Virginia last summer.

"I was there for a couple of weeks and it didn't really pan out," he said. "When you're far away from home, you have to do everything for yourself. You have to get a job, find a place to stay and find a place where you can work out."

Fortunately for O'Hara, he had a viable option. After two weeks in Virginia, he decided to return to Palos Verdes Estates and join the Southern California Collegiate League.

The six-team league, which is in its third year of operation, is one of a handful of summer college leagues across the nation that uses wood bats. Wood-bat leagues are attractive to college players who aspire to play professionally. Aluminum bats, which are used in college baseball, are not allowed in professional games.

In the past, Southern California college players have had to travel to places such as Alaska or Cape Cod, Mass., to play in summer wood-bat leagues.

But O'Hara, who plays for the Torrance-based California Seals, is among a growing list of players who welcome the opportunity to play close to home.

"It gives me a chance to stay at home, take care of other business that I may have neglected during the school year and still play summer baseball in a good league," he said.

The league, which consists mostly of players from Southern California, was conceived by former Dodger and Angel pitcher Bill Singer. Singer is a scout in Texas for the Florida Marlins.

Paul Ivanovsky, the 46-year-old league president and coach of the Seals, is hoping that the league will be more than an alternative to playing in Alaska or Massachusetts.

"Eventually we'd like to get to that point, but we aren't there yet," Ivanovsky said. "I think the time will come when we aren't the other league besides Alaska and Cape Cod. I can see a kid going to Cape Cod because that's really special, but in some ways I think we're already better than Alaska. We've (already) got the best players in the country out here."

Ivanovsky, who has been involved with the league since its inception, said it costs $90,000 to play a minimum schedule of 40 games from June through August. That includes costs for umpires, fields, insurance, equipment and wood bats that can run from $10,000 to $12,000.

The league, which is sanctioned by the NCAA, receives $20,000 a year from Major League Baseball through the NCAA to help defray expenses, although Ivanovsky said most of the costs are offset by outside donations.

"I think they (Major League Baseball) can't help but notice us and increase the funding," Ivanovsky said. "You can understand why Major League Baseball wants to make sure we're going to be around for a while before they give us more money. But we've come a long way and we have a good future."

That is already true on the field, where the league had 18 of its players selected in the 1992 amateur draft. Ivanovsky said that figure was second only to the Cape Cod league.

"We have as good caliber players as they have anywhere," said Art Keith, the league's vice president and pitching coach for the Seals. "It seems a bit of a shame that we haven't had a league like this until now, but I think it can only grow in stature."

O'Hara, for one, is already convinced about the league's talent pool.

"I had a couple of other choices between this and the Illinois and Arizona leagues and believe me, the quality here is pretty good," he said. "I talked to a couple players who went to those leagues and I'd say the level of play is very good by comparison."

The level of play has improved to the point that Ivanovsky is hoping to expand to at least eight teams for 1994. In addition to the Seals, the other current league members are the California Sox, Fullerton Comanches, Irvine Tigers, San Bernardino Indians and Woodland Hills Astros.

Ivanovsky has requests from four teams to join the league in 1994, along with a waiting list of 200 players and 15 to 20 college coaches who want to participate.

He is not in a hurry to expand, though.

"We don't want to grow so fast that we can't keep up with it," Ivanovsky said. "We'd like to go to at least eight teams next year and then move up from there. I could see us adding three or four if we can line up the right financial backing."

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