Money shuts out youth baseball team from using public field

Young L.A. Bulldogs must practice just outside the baseball field after city sells use permits to another team

The L.A. Bulldogs youth baseball program has always struggled financially in its hard-pressed corner of east Hollywood.

Parents and community supporters raise enough money for uniforms and equipment by selling caramel apples, jalapeno cheese popcorn and bottled water so their kids can play at Lemon Grove Recreation Center — on a ball field created as part of the Dodgers Dreamfields program.

But this year the team is being locked out of the Dreamfield by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The city said it sold the rights to use the field during the premium weekday hours of 6 to 9 p.m. to a girls softball league founded by parents in the upscale Hancock Park area of Los Angeles.

"Money talks," Bulldogs coach Miguel Jimenez said Thursday night of the permits snatched up by the Wilshire Girls Softball Assn. Behind him, his team assembled for practice on a 20-foot-wide strip of grass between the ballpark perimeter fence and a parking lot.

The Bulldogs had always played on the field for free, while the girls league paid hundreds of dollars a year for permits to use the park at certain times. This year, the league bought up all available time slots — and the city advised Bulldog supporters not to try for a permit because all the slots were taken.

On Thursday, as their parents watched from an adjacent curb, the Bulldogs — ages 8 to 12 — tossed balls back and forth beside parked cars and swatted balls against the Dreamfield's chain-link fence from three feet away.

Inside the park, parents of the Wilshire Girls Softball team gathered on the grandstands to watch their daughters perfect their pitching, batting and base-running skills under the Dreamfield's towering floodlights.

"It's tough to keep kids interested in baseball under these conditions," said Chris Barksdale, pastor at Hope Hollywood Church and father of an 11-year-old Bulldog. "It was bad enough that we don't compete for big trophies because we can't afford to play in those tournaments."

Rose Watson, a spokeswoman for the parks department, declined to comment except to say, "Everyone has the opportunity to permit our facilities when they are available."

After inquiries by The Times, however, city officials on Thursday notified the Bulldogs that the field was available from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays and from 8 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays — provided the team pays $436 for a permit.

"We can't afford both of those days," said Johanna Samiento, who is in charge of the Bulldogs' finances. "We've already spent most of our budget on baseball bats, balls and uniforms."

"The bottom line is this," she said. "They're killing baseball. Only those who can afford it will be able to play in a Dreamfield."

In an interview Friday, Adam Glickman, president of the Wilshire team, said he plans to seek approval from his board of directors to donate a portion of his team's Friday night slot to the Bulldogs.

"I sympathize with the Bulldogs," Glickman said. "There are some unfortunate realities in running a sports league in the middle of the city."

Glickman added that he doesn't believe "there was malice or monkey business by the city. It was just a misunderstanding that should be easily rectified."

He said the recreation center asked him a few days ago "if I had a problem with local kids playing on the field out behind an inside fence where there's a batting cage and some green space. I said, by all means, I have no problem with that."

None of that conversation, however, had reached Bulldog players or their parents. They said that a week ago city workers turned on sprinklers to force the team off the grass.

"The last time they locked us out I asked park administrators for an explanation," Barksdale said. "They said it was a liability issue. I pointed out that we are fully insured. But they wouldn't budge."

Among those locked out was Juliana Jimenez, 12, who lives a few blocks away.

"I don't get it," Jimenez said. "We grew up here. We're the neighborhood baseball team."

The Dodgers Dreamfields program is operated by the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation with a goal of providing baseball fields where youngsters can learn the game in a program administered by the city or county in a safe environment.

The Bulldogs have learned to take advantage of opportunities to use the field, such as one that arose at 7:30 Thursday night: The Wilshire team left the field after 11/2 hours of practice and Lemon Grove administrators were nowhere in sight.

The Bulldogs trotted onto the field and played ball for an hour.

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