Santa Monica College abandoned its baseball program in 1994. West Los Angeles College once had a thriving program too but gave up the sport in 1986.
In ensuing years there has been some discussion about reviving baseball at the community college level on the Westside. But any momentum seems to have disappeared, and today numerous high school players are looking elsewhere to continue their careers.
That group includes the majority of the Santa Monica High team. It’s expected most won’t immediately go into pro baseball and only a few will play at the four-year college level. Players who have talent and need another year or two of experience will be scrambling to find a community college fit out of the area.
It is known that El Camino, Pasadena, Pierce, Valley and Santa Barbara two-year schools have shown interest. But why are local players forced to leave?
The lack of money is often heard as a reason, but it might also be politics – available money going to other projects.
Another problem, especially in Santa Monica, is the absence of a field. The one used by SMC in the past no longer exists. A library was built on the site.
“I’d love to see Santa Monica have a municipal stadium,” said Samohi Coach Kevin Brockway, who was the last baseball coach at SMC. “A lot of cities have one. We recently played at Bell Gardens in a beautiful facility.”
A few years ago SMC Athletic Director Rhonda Hyatt was open to the idea of bringing back baseball and made inquiries. The idea progressed only far enough that there was talk of SMC and West LA College sharing a team. But even that idea has not been heard lately.
The West LA College coach was Art Harris, who had gained fame and respect as the baseball coach at Venice High. He brought quality teams to West LA, but when West LA gave up the sport Harris joined the scouting department of the Dodgers, where he’s been for 20 years.
“There was a labor and political dispute with the school district at the time,” recalls Harris. “Some teachers were fired and baseball was eliminated.
“Football was gone for awhile too but was brought back. I landed on my feet but some others didn’t.
“If there’s talk of bringing back baseball now it has to be done right. “The coach must be a full-time employee to prevent it from being a rag-tag program. He’ll need assistants who’d be part-time but must be paid adequately. The school will need an academic counselor dedicated to the program.
“It would be the right thing to do.”
Harris points out the benefits of the program – giving an opportunity for youngsters with promise to continue playing baseball, increasing their chances to succeed in life.
He points out that three of the six head baseball coaches in the Ocean League, Brockway, Vonzie Paysinger of Beverly Hills and Jeff Hines of Hawthorne, all played at West LA. And so did Matt Amido, the coach of Crossroads.
And that DeJon Watson, hired this season as the Dodgers’ Farm Director, played at West LA when he came out of Samohi.
And that Doug Slaton, a pitcher with the Arizona Diamondbacks, played at several community colleges, blossoming at Glendale, after pitching for Venice High.
“He’s a tall lefthander who needed refining after high school,” said Harris. “He got the opportunity to keep playing.”
The West LA College baseball field still exists and recently Harris drove there to determine its condition. He didn’t like what he saw.
“It needs a renovation,” he said. And, of course, that would require funding.