Winter Sports Craze : Softball Big Hit With Avalon Residents

Times Staff Writers

Lolo Saldana carried a bucket of water over to a hole being dug by a couple of kids. He placed a recently uprooted tree into the bucket to give it nourishment until the hole was completed.

"Dig another four inches," he instructed the children, "and I'll buy you a hot dog."

"Hey, Lolo. Get over here," someone yelled.

Saldana quickly got back to the business at hand: umpiring the second game of a softball triple-header.

"That tree is going to provide some shade for the fans someday," Saldana said, again sneaking away between innings to talk to fans sitting in the wooden bleachers scattered around the playing field.

Saldana was called back and everybody focused his attention on the game--even though one team was losing 14-0 after seven innings.

But that's softball in Avalon. It's not whether you win or lose that counts, it's just playing the game on Santa Catalina Island. And unlike most other softball leagues, the seven-team Avalon Men's Softball League plays its 18 games over 21 weeks in the winter.

"We have to play in the winter because in the summer everybody is too busy working to play," said Bill Bombino, 60, the league commissioner.

The players estimate that about one-third of the city's population of 2,200 follows the league action. The players' dedication to the sport is visible in Saldana's determination to plant that tree before the end of the third game.

Joe Machado Memorial Field is also a symbol of the players' devotion. Two years ago, when the games where forced from their original field because the owners wanted to develop the property, it was the players working weekends who built the hot dog stand and bathrooms. There are also plans to build dugouts and new bleachers.

For Phil Cook, a Ventura County engineer who has been making the weekly trip to Avalon for the past four winters just to play on Sunday afternoons, the games provide a sense of community.

"Everybody gets involved," said Cook, a former Avalon resident now living in Newbury Park. "After the games, everybody sits around and has a beer. Even guys from different teams get together after the games. You don't find that kind of attitude with other leagues over town.

"That makes it worth getting up sometimes at 4 in the morning to make the early boat to get over here from Newbury Park," Cook said, a smile sneaking through his bushy beard.

Jody Majewski, 71, doesn't get up as early as Cook, but she is as dedicated. In the last 10 years, she hasn't missed an inning of the Sunday triple-headers.

Majewski, sitting on her familiar bench inside the fence surrounding the ballpark ("I've only once in 10 years come close to being hit by a ball"), said she still doesn't understand all the rules.

"Run, run, run," she yelled all of a sudden after a batter in the third game hit a line drive into the gap between center and right field. The batter made it standing into third base.

"I cheer for everybody" she said. "I just want to see good plays."

Angel Lopez, a pitcher, is the oldest player at 64. Why does he continue to play? "If I quit now," he said, "I think I'd die."

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