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SHOP TALK : In Baseball, More Things Are Costly Than Players' Salaries : Equipment is expensive. But if you're shopping for youngsters, bargains can help cut the costs.


If we could hum the theme to "The Twilight Zone" we would.

Why? Because we just went shopping for baseball and softball equipment at several Ventura County retailers, and we felt as if we had entered a universe entirely different from the one in which we shopped during our younger days.

Remember when bats were all wooden, and the most important factor in buying one was the star's signature burned into the barrel? Remember when you didn't have to choose between purchasing a bat and making a car payment?

Prices have changed considerably over the years. But so has the quantity and quality of baseball and softball goods. What hasn't changed is the desire many kids and adults have this time of year to purchase these products.

Brace yourself. Some of the prices may scare you, but now does seem to be a good time to start looking for deals. Last week, we found a considerable number of items on sale.

Let's start with T-shirts and sweat shirts, and some potentially good news.

The Rawlings sporting goods manufacturer was outbid a couple of years ago by Russell Athletics for the contract to make Major League Baseball uniforms. Now, Russell makes uniforms for all the pro teams. Russell also makes all officially licensed Little League uniforms--jerseys, shorts, socks and other items.

So what? Well, if you're lucky, you may find remaining Rawlings items out there for discount prices. Lewis Sporting Goods in Simi Valley, for one, is having a clearance on Rawlings shirts. Youth sizes are going at very low prices: cotton at $8, knit at $10.

Elsewhere, we found Nutmeg brand baseball sweat shirts on clearance at Sportmart in Oxnard. Attractive Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins hooded sweat shirts were down from $49.96 to $39.93.

As for caps, if you've ever shopped for one, you know that there is considerable variance in quality and appearance. Some are wool; some are cotton. Some look like those worn by the pros, some look cheap and many are somewhere in the middle and quite attractive.

At Sportmart, we found cotton-polyester caps by Starter (a big name in the business) for $14.96, wool caps by New Era (another biggie) for $18.96, and an adorable kid-size twill cap of the Colorado Rockies for $12.96 (perhaps a tad high for someone whose head may soon outgrow it).

Dan's Sports in Simi Valley was having a hat clearance sale last week. An adjustable wool Oakland Athletics cap was marked down from $11.96 to $6.99 and a Florida Marlins cap had gone from $12.96 to $6.99. Dan's other caps, from a variety of companies, ranged from about $9 to $16.

There were two great deals we found: At Champs sporting goods store in the Oxnard Esplanade, a $9.99 Chicago White Sox cap was going for $3. At Lewis', a $4.95 Seattle Mariners cap was marked down to $1.99--worth the price even if you hate the team.

Now, here's what we discovered about aluminum bats: Cost is determined not only by make and model but, more importantly, by the quality of the aluminum alloy. The softer the alloy, the better the ball jumps off the bat and the higher the price soars with it.

Many bats would put a serious dent in your pocketbook, but we did find some good deals. At Champs, a nice Easton aluminum softball bat was marked down from $99.99 to $41.90 last week.

At Sportmart, the full-size aluminum bats go for anywhere from $39 to $150, quite an investment for older ballplayers. But even the lighter weight youth-size bats can be pricey. We found Easton Little League bats ranging from about $20 to $85.

On the lower end of aluminum bats, the store had a Wilson Little League bat for $15.97, a Spalding Little League bat for $14.94 and a Spalding T-ball bat (yes, aluminum even for T-ball) was going for $11.94.

And, if you still think its safe to let your kids play with good, old-fashioned wood, a Louisville Slugger T-ball bat was going for $8.97.

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