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The Best Places to Play : If You're Involved With a Spring Sport, These Facilities Are Where You Want to Be

June 03, 1997|MIKE TERRY

These are the venues that are often taken for granted.

They may not be perfect, but they are certainly rich in character, style or story. If they're not the best facilities available for Orange County high school athletic programs, they're certainly not the worst.

Baseball, Santa Margarita

When Tip Lefebvre began his tenure as Santa Margarita's baseball coach in 1990, his first look at the school's baseball diamond left him unimpressed.

"It was in terrible shape," Lefebvre said. "The infield grass was fescue and patchy. No fencing, since we shared the field with the soccer team. The backstop was ragged."

And those were the highlights.

A lot has changed in seven years. Thanks to an active booster club willing to raise the money to make Lefebvre's vision a reality, Santa Margarita has one of the county's finest baseball fields.

"I've had more than one coach tell me when we exchange lineup cards before a game, 'Tip, if you ever want to leave this place, let me know,' " Lefebvre said.

To begin with, the Eagles have a beautiful setting for their ballpark, which is spectacularly framed by Saddleback Mountain. Trabuco Canyon stretches beyond the left-field fence, and Dove Canyon is a long toss over the right-field fence.

The changes Lefebvre and the Santa Margarita boosters have made to the field also are impressive.

"Our first year we got a new scoreboard," Lefebvre said. "Next came an area landscaper to completely make over the playing field--new grass, infield dirt, sprinkler system, the works."

In 1991 Lefebvre had the field moved back two feet so the ballpark would be more symmetrical. Its current dimensions are 330 feet down each line and 370 feet to straightaway center.

Other improvements followed. A permanent fence was put out in left field. (Right field has temporary fencing, since part of the field is still shared with the soccer team.) Foul poles were added to the left- and right-field lines. Separate fields were built for the junior varsity and freshman-sophomore teams.

Randy Redwitz, the school's business manager and a baseball booster since Lefebvre arrived, said some fund-raising revenues outside the $425 fee each of the school's 60 players pay to play come from an annual golf tournament and a parent's lettermen's jacket club.

At a cost between $500 and $1,500, the parent gets a leather-sleeved jacket with their son's name and list of accomplishments. "We've gotten as much as $10,000 a year from the jacket sales, depending on how involved the parents are," Redwitz said.

But even fund-raising has its limits. Lefebvre said Santa Margarita also has benefited from donated materials and labor.

Two of the most recent additions received that kind of help.

A couple of years ago, a six-pitcher bullpen was laid out alongside the left-field line. Four batting cages were added. It gives Lefebvre the flexibility to direct two workouts simultaneously; he can conduct infield and outfield drills on the field, and send pitchers and batters into the bullpen to work.

Last fall, concrete dugouts were built. Both have bat racks and shelves for helmets. The home dugout, naturally, is a little bigger. There is storage space for the batting practice balls, bases and other paraphernalia; and dressing rooms for the players and coaches.

Lefebvre estimates $250,000 has gone into making over the Eagles' baseball field. And it is still a work in progress. New bleachers are coming next season. Lefebvre also dreams of a clubhouse and weight room.

At present, playing in a well-maintained facility in a pristine location is enough.

"We are so fortunate," Lefebvre said.

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