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Take Me Out to the Ball Game!
By Alison Pence
The weather's warm, the birds are singing, and the smell of newly mown grass fills the air. What time is it? It's time to play ball in Noe Valley!
The spring season of the San Francisco Youth Baseball League, which fields 180 teams for kids ages 5 to 14, is already loading the bases at two local parks. According to Peter Oquendo, who coordinates the program for the city's Recreation and Park Department, there will be plenty of opportunities for young sluggers to hit home runs.
Oquendo says 24 games have been scheduled through June for Upper Noe Recreation Center, and 21 for the diamond at Upper Douglass Park -- and that's just the lineup for the 7 to 8 and 9 to 10 age groups.
"We have teeball for little kids, ages 5 to 6 and 7 to 8. That's where they hit a spongy ball off of a post, or tee. There is also a coach-pitched team of 7- to 8-year-olds called the Mustangs. The 9- to 10-year-olds move up to a standard baseball," Oquendo says.
He adds that all the teams are co-ed -- boys and girls -- and have a minimum of 15 players each.
Oquendo points out that these "learning leagues" teach kids the basic skills but put the emphasis on having fun. There are no playoffs or championships until the players reach the 11 to 12 (Bronco) and 13 to 14 (Pony) divisions.
PONY, or Protect Our Nation's Youth, is a nationwide league comparable to Little League. These kids pitch their own games and hold playoffs. San Francisco's Pony season ends in June with a championship game at Jackson Park.
Oquendo says he has about 360 coaches and assistant coaches, mainly teachers from local schools, dads, retirees, PALS, or Rec and Park staff. (PALS are members of the Police Athletic League, which, along with the San Francisco Fire Department, funds and supports the city ball clubs.) Everyone who works with the teams is fingerprinted.
If you would like to spend some time developing our next Joe DiMaggio, call Oquendo at 753-7029. "We are always looking for umpires for the 11- to 12-year-olds." A new summer season starts in June.
Meanwhile, neighborhood baseball lovers are crossing their split fingers that Noe Valley fields will stay in shape to play ball. (Dog walkers can help by keeping their pets on the leash and their plastic bags handy.)
The field at Upper Noe was closed off for reseeding and repair this winter, but March and April rains delayed the work. "I had three games canceled there last week. I had to scramble to find another field," says Oquendo.
Local schools also have been signing up to use our ball parks. Kids from St. Paul's, St. Philip's, and Buena Vista School often make road trips to Upper Noe Recreation Center. "We try to accommodate everyone," says Willie Dickens, the park director.
Dickens says there will be two girls' softball teams -- 12 and under and 14 and under -- at Upper Noe this summer, and perhaps a women's softball team. (Call 695-5011 to find out the score.)
In addition, Upper Noe will host the popular Twilight League, an adult men's softball league playing Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings. "Twilight games have been played on this field for 30 years," notes Dickens.
Those interested can sign up at the Upper Noe clubhouse at Day and Sanchez. Teams will be formed in June.
Over at Upper Douglass Park (Douglass and 27th), Director Steve Bell will be coaching an 18-member "Pinto" team, for children under 8. He says half of the boys and girls are regulars in his after-school program at Douglass Playground.
Bell also will coach a Junior Giants team, for kids 10 and under. And Cheryl Woltjen, co-director at Douglass, will start a girls' 12-and-under softball practice group in May.
Actual play begins in July. If you'd like to go to bat for them, call Bell or Woltjen at the park at 695-5017.
Like Upper Noe, Douglass Park is available to other groups and teams. To reserve a playing field, call the Athletic Field Reservations line at 831-5510. A lighted baseball field costs $35 for two hours. "We are more heavily used than ever before," says Bell. "I have put in a request for more help to maintain the field through the summer."
So make your plans early, stock up on Cracker Jacks, and go out and root, root, root for the home team.