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The Great Outdoors: A GUIDE TO ORANGE COUNTY RECREATION
| IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Year-Round Play

Softball Team Discovers the Benefits of Sticking Together Through the Seasons

May 23, 1997|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAKE FOREST — Cathy Wietstock--soft voice, not the prototypical jock--was living a double life because she knew the other teachers at her school wouldn't believe her if she told them.

Then she showed up to teach kindergarten one day with two black eyes and had to let them know.

She plays co-ed softball.

"You get it in your blood and you just play," said Wietstock, now a first-grade teacher at Robinson Elementary in Trabuco Canyon. "A lot of us played in high school or college, and you need a vehicle. I'm a teacher, so I have a lot of fun on my job. But a lot of these guys are in business, so it's great to go out there and act like athletes."

Wietstock is just one of thousands of men and women playing in softball leagues around Orange County. And if she's not much different than most, she is on a team that has been together since 1978.

With Betty Boop as a mascot--it can't be missed on the uniform--Balls and Dolls is an institution in the Saddleback Valley Recreation Department Co-ed C League.

They play year-round and just completed their 20th full season. Steve Hampton of Lake Forest, the coach and one of three original team members, said they average about 4 1/2 league seasons a year, and usually win at least one league championship. Team members range in age from 30-43.

On a given night, they could have a child psychologist at catcher, a full-time mom/part-time data entry person at first base, a paralegal at second, an auto mechanic at shortstop, an engineer at third, and a computer technician, university professor, a food company sales representative and crafts store clerk in the outfield.

"It's the ultimate social circle," said Wietstock, who had those two black eyes for three months after a particularly bad game day. She said it was a fluke, that she's not that bad of a player.

"Church is softball on a Sunday," said Wietstock of Mission Viejo.

Or any other night, depending on one's schedule. About eight years ago, the team added a Friday night league in Irvine to its schedule for a couple of seasons.

But Balls and Dolls is all about Sunday get-togethers at El Toro High. It's not uncommon for a 10 a.m. game to be followed by revelry that will keep them from returning home until 9 p.m. Pizza, barbecues, whatever.

They began as employees of the El Rancho Market in Laguna Hills and have grown into eight couples with 14 children (12 girls) that seemingly get together every weekend.

"It has become the Sunday family gathering," said Guy Mondt, another of the original players. "We've given up other parts of life on Sunday to play softball."

The team has grown through marriage and friends of friends and become a second family. Christmas and New Year's parties are spent together, vacations too.

Wietstock and her husband, Dirk, who played baseball at UC Irvine, were the last couple to join--four years ago.

Hampton, the pitcher, and his wife, Sue, were the only married couple in the beginning. Mondt, an insulator/rover, is married to Leanne, the child psychologist.

Guy's brother, John, the auto mechanic/shortstop, and then-girlfriend but now his wife, Bridget, joined shortly thereafter.

"The way we gained people on the team was mostly through marriage--a boyfriend and girlfriend became husband and wife, and one would sit on the sideline a couple of years before there was an opening because someone got transferred," Steve Hampton said.

Wietstock got involved while she was the kindergarten teacher for the Hampton's daughter. She brought along her husband.

They're all still competitive.

"The girls are key," Wietstock said. "If you don't have very good girls, it really hurts you."

The team has grown up and grown together in subsequent years.

"We've all gotten married and had kids, and our kids are now friends," Sue Hampton said. "A few of them are 13, and we were talking about this the other day, that before you know it, when they're 16, they could start their own team, Balls and Dolls II."

The next season begins June 8. Balls and Dolls is coming off a rare season in which they didn't make the playoffs. It wasn't the end of the world. Some of the team members went to the Colorado River on a camping excursion. That's typical.

Several of them surprised Hampton for his 40th birthday at the airport, where they caught a plane and took him to Las Vegas for a weekend.

Another team in the league, Hooarwee, has been together 14 years. They take winning even more seriously than Balls and Dolls, but as they grow older together, the two teams identify with each other more than the young teams they share the field with.

"It seems like we're comparing aches and pains together instead of going at each other's throats," Hooarwee Coach Scott Jordan said. "[But] they're always one of the better teams out there.

"Most teams have at least one person that rubs you the wrong way; with Balls and Dolls, that's just not the case."

Steve Hampton said the only thing that could force them out of the league is advancing age.

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