If the intention of having a baseball team at West Los Angeles College is to give Westside youngsters a chance to play close to home, the program is off to a good start.
On Monday, when the sport was officially brought back following a 21-year absence, two of the three players in uniform introduced by Coach Bob Grant as “the foundation of our team” were local.
Infielder Johnny Huerta was a key player on the Santa Monica High team that won 24 games this past season. Third baseman Dylan Cohen is a 2005 graduate of Palisades High who batted .400 for Mesa Community College in San Diego in the recently concluded season.
Cohen’s father is a former Venice High player. His coach there was Art Harris, who later became West LA’s coach and has worked for the Dodgers the last 21 years. Harris was influential in talking to his former player about Dylan transferring to West LA.
The third player introduced Monday was outfielder Akili Thompson from El Segundo High.
“When I was at Palisades we played Brentwood and Bob Grant was the coach there,” said Dylan Cohen. “He remembered me.”
Cohen has played for the Dodger Elite Team, which plays at Dodger Stadium in the summer. Grant has been a Dodger batting practice pitcher, so their paths crossed again.
Grant said he expects to have a 30-man roster when West LA begins play January 25, 2008 in a home game against Los Angeles City College. He said he currently has 20 verbal commitments.
The plan is to have seating for 900 spectators, but a stadium seating at least 3,000 is in the works, with construction to begin in a few years on the same site.
Bob Miller of Turner Construction, which built the Cleveland Cavaliers’ arena among many other projects, said the West LA stadium might seat as many as 8,000.
A rendering was available at Monday’s press conference. A Jackie Robinson Stadium with a Civil Rights Pavilion is planned.
Among many dignitaries who spoke at the press conference was Rocky Young, Chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, making his final appearance before retiring this week.
Young, formerly of Santa Monica College, recalled discussions held in the recent past for SMC and West LA to field a team together. But it never materialized.
West LA President Mark Rocha thanked County Supervisor Yvonne Burke, RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner City) President John Young and former West LA Coach Art Harris among others.
“I had the idea but Yvonne Burke made it happen,” said Rocha. “When I suggested bringing baseball back, her first words were, ‘How can I help?”’
Burke said she values having athletics in a college program.
“Athletics is a stepping stone for so many students,” she said.
In the spirit of a baseball event, hot dogs and popcorn were served at the conclusion of the presentation.