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Homeless Get to Be the Home Team : Sportsmanship: They lose a ballgame to a squad of police officers, but goodwill on the field makes everybody feel like winners.

September 02, 1993|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Monica police officers beat the homeless Tuesday night.

But wait! Don't call the ACLU. This beating came about after seven hard-fought innings on a softball diamond.

The occasion was a homeless-vs.-police softball game at Clover Park. The final score was 19-14.

But though the police technically came out on top, a larger victory was claimed by all because of what the game signified--a chance for two groups, which usually are at loggerheads and regard each other with suspicion, to see each other as human beings.

"I don't want to say we lost," said Ron Taylor, the pitcher for the homeless team, called We The People. "I hope it's the start of a whole new relationship between the homeless and the police."

Homeless team manager Len Doucette said the game was a boon to the dignity and self-esteem of his players, who have precious little of either in their daily lives.

In the first inning, it looked grim for the homeless team. The first three police batters quickly scored, and the homeless players were immediately facing an uphill battle.

"Just like in real life," said Santa Monica Mayor Judy Abdo.

But the homeless team--which in a bit of irony was designated the home team for the game--settled down and dug in. With a bit of help in the first inning from a rule that no team could score more than five runs in one inning, the game turned into a close contest.

The players on the We the People team rose to the occasion, whacking the ball all over the place and sliding headfirst into home when it really mattered.

Beyond its import as a way of breaking down barriers in a town beset with acrimony over its homeless problems, the game had all the familiar trappings of America's pastime.

A homeless tenor warbled the National Anthem and led the crowd in singing, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Mayor Abdo threw out the first ball.

The umpiring squad included Santa Monica School Supt. Neil Schmidt, City Councilman Kelly Olsen and Santa Monica Kiwanis Club representative Erick Markey.

Police Chief James T. Butts made an unassisted double play at first base.

Dodger dogs were missing, but there was an eclectic menu of juice, popcorn, pizza, sunflower seeds and lady fingers.

The game was organized by activist Jerry Rubin of We the People and Santa Monica Police Sgt. Gary Gallinot.

In the crowd were homeless activists, the families of police officers and many non-playing homeless fans, who cheered on their team as if this were the final stretch of a pennant race.

One of the most enthusiastic fans was Michael Flenoy, 51, a lifelong Santa Monica resident, currently homeless, who stopped his cheering to reflect on the game.

"It's nice to meet some of these officers under different circumstances, like this gentleman over here," he said, waving to one of the cops. "Hey, how you doing?"

At the end of the game, the two teams joined each other on the infield for handshakes and good wishes all around.

"This is what makes Santa Monica special," said City Councilman Paul Rosenstein. "What city going through what we're going through would have something like this?"

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