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Loss of Santa Monica Program Is Blow to Baseball

July 07, 1994|SEAN WATERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In 1976, when Art Harris was offered baseball coaching positions at West Los Angeles and Santa Monica colleges, he asked a question that remains pertinent today.

Where was Santa Monica College going to play after the school built a library on its baseball field?

The answer today was the same in 1976.

"They didn't know," said Harris, who accepted the West L.A. job because the school had a baseball field. "I don't think you can build a viable, successful baseball program without an on-campus field. It would be like teaching chemistry without a laboratory."

Santa Monica recently announced the suspension of its baseball program for the 1995 season after failing to strike a deal for a proposed joint venture with West L.A. The Corsairs proposed moving the baseball team to West L.A., which has a field but no team.

"It took 20 years to prove me right," said Harris, who was reassigned to a teaching job in 1986 after West L.A. dropped its program.

Santa Monica's decision means that in 1995 there will be no baseball at the community college level on the Westside.

"I feel the kids on the Westside are getting cheated," said Kevin Brockway, Santa Monica's first-year coach. "Now they have dissolved both programs."

It was a situation that Santa Monica's Avie Bridges wanted to avoid. Caught in a maelstrom, Bridges, in her second year as the school's athletic director, has had to cut programs for financial and political reasons. She tentatively dropped men's volleyball and men's tennis and added women's volleyball in May in an attempt to meet government gender-equity requirements. Men's volleyball was reinstated when the proposed baseball deal fell through.

Bridges, along with school dean Jeff Shimizu, pushed to save the baseball program by proposing a joint program with West L.A. Santa Monica offered to pay 75% of the costs associated with running the program. Those costs, estimated at $15,000, included equipment, transportation and liability insurance. In exchange, West L.A. would have paid the stipend for a baseball coach and an assistant and provide the field.

A third party, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), offered to raise $100,000--a total of $50,000 each from the Dodgers and the Angels--to renovate the field at West L.A.

West L.A. also would have been able to add a softball program, either run separately or jointly with Santa Monica.

The idea needed approval from two different community college school districts--Los Angeles City and Santa Monica--and from the governing boards for the Western State Conference and the California Community College Commission on Athletics. All those parties endorsed the plan.

"West L.A., however, would not honor the agreement," Bridges said. "Jeff and I worked very hard to consolidate the two programs.

"We don't want West L.A. to look like the bad guys, but ultimately they said they can't do it."

West L.A. squelched the deal after its president, Evelyn Wong, requested written verification that RBI would pay to renovate the field. Wong said she was notified by RBI that the Dodgers had pulled out of the agreement and that the Angels would contribute only $46,000.

"I was unwilling to make a commitment to the conference until we receive a written commitment for the $46,000." Wong said. "We were exploring whether the money could pay for the renovation when the deadline came."

Bridges said Santa Monica still would be receptive to operating a joint program with West L.A. if the school receives funding. Two weeks after making her decision, Wong said she still has not heard from RBI.

The decision to drop baseball at Santa Monica did not surprise Brockway, who replaced 15-year Coach Marty Berson. The school had threatened to shut down the program after Berson's departure but chose to hire Brockway and continue to play its games on a makeshift Little League field at Marine Park. The Corsairs were 7-30 under Brockway.

"I gave up a lot to keep (the Santa Monica) program going," said Brockway, who is married and has a child. "I gave up a good job that paid real well and time I could have spent with my family.

"Personally, I'll find another coaching job. But I feel sorry for the 25 to 30 players who will not be playing baseball next season."

Historically, the area's top baseball players have leapfrogged Santa Monica to play for more successful programs at El Camino and L.A. Harbor, schools that have on-campus fields.

Despite the obstacles, Santa Monica won 20 or more games from 1983-92. Berson's record was 296-282.

From 1976-86, West L.A. was 279-134 under Harris, who was the school's only baseball coach.

Harris, who also works for the Dodgers as a scout, said he had about 100 players drafted. Included in the group are former major leaguers such as pitcher Jeff Demon, outfielders Rodney McCray and Jim Vatcher, and catcher Jorge Pedre.

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