Softball's Secret Sets Rules for 2.5 Million : Behind Scenes, SCMAF Guides 20,000 Teams in Organizing Programs

Times Staff Writer

The building sits amid nature's wilderness, within viewing distance of two bustling freeways. An unlikely location for an unusual organization known by an unusual acronym.

Horses graze on adjacent land, oblivious to the reconstruction behind the mirrored windows and cinder block walls. Much of the structure's white paint has long ago faded. The remainder has cracked off or is peeling.

Los Angeles County maintenance employees roll trucks out of nearby garages and drive out for a day's work. Across the street players compete on a Frisbee golf course lined with sycamores, pines and a few palm trees.

You imagine hearing the oldie sounds of the "Heart and Soul of Rock 'n' Roll" from the seven transmission towers of radio station KRLA behind the building. Inside the block house the station's powerful 50,000 watts often play havoc with the telephones.

This is home of the SCMAF, the Southern California Municipal Athletic Federation, a nonprofit service organization known to nearly all Southland recreational softball players for its attempts to standardize rules and regulations in that amateur sport.

One would expect, maybe, a massive office suite in a downtown office building for such an important organization. There are approximately 20,000 Southland sports teams under the auspices of the SCMAF. Its decisions have the potential of reaching 2.5 million players annually.

"For years our location has been the best kept secret," said Executive Director Ed Baldwin about the SCMAF. "We're behind the scenes and we want to be that way."

Tucked behind a snail-shaped park visitors center, a couple of softball throws from Legg Lake at the Whittier Narrows Recreation Center and just off the intersection of the Pomona and San Gabriel River Freeways, the offices of the SCMAF on Santa Anita Ave. in South El Monte are finally getting a face lift. Bare walls and exposed, temporary phone lines stand as testimony to progress, as Baldwin eagerly describes the plan to modernize the SCMAF's section of the blockhouse it shares on the County of Los Angeles Maintenance Service Yard-South Region site.

Modular office furniture will soon replace old wooden hand-me-downs that date back to the organization's days as a fully supported wing of the Los Angeles County Recreation Department. A new entry door (already in place), gives the small staff hope for the future, when blue, plush carpet and modern office dividers are expected to add the finishing touches.

Its image is headed for a face lift, too, under Baldwin, a 38-year old, down-to-earth Anaheim father of three who likens his position to that of a city manager. The SCMAF's executive director since 1978, Baldwin has decided it is time that "people know more about what we do.

"Most people know about us (SCMAF) in a mysterious sense,' said the Pepperdine graduate. "Our goal is to market SCMAF and let people know who we are."

Incorporated in 1959, the SCMAF is also involved in seven youth sports. But it is best known for its softball activities, including the annual publishing of an official rule book for both slow and fast pitch. It is highly acclaimed for taking the lead in the certification of recreation softball and youth baseball officials.

In addition, the SCMAF has taken strides to improve the quality of playing conditions for recreational activities. For example, Baldwin wants safer standards for all softball fields. No trees within the field of play. No light standards built on the playing area.

The SCMAF has also made available a $1-million liability policy to all its members at a cost that averages less than $25 per team.

Soon, the SCMAF plans to address the problem of how to properly rate softball teams for competition. In 1975 it formulated a regulation that requires the use of "the mat" in slow-pitch softball. Slow pitch makes up about 80% of all recreational softball played in Southern California, according to Baldwin. Before the mat, pitchers had no targets and umpires had no designated zone by which to consistently call balls and strikes. The mat extends the length of home plate to a total of 34 inches. A pitch that arcs higher than the batter's head (but not more than 12 feet high) and lands on either the plate or the mat is a strike. The mat has been credited with simplifying an umpire's job and putting an end to the number of players arguing a call.

According to its Official Guide and Membership Directory, one SCMAF goal is to provide for "planning, promoting, organizing and conducting culminating (in) recreation sports activities for individuals and teams." The SCMAF should also be concerned with, the guide says, "offering wholesome, competitive programs primarily concerned with safety, fair play and sportsmanship and recognizing various skill levels of participants."

Baldwin is quick to point out, however, that the SCMAF is not a sanctioning body but a service organization that coordinates recreational activities between eight smaller geographical recreation associations in Southern California. Each, according to organizational literature, is "governed by elected officers, functioning within the broad framework of federation bylaws."

"The keys to our success are the recreation departments," Baldwin said. "Many of these guys work 40 hours a week in their recreation job, then volunteer to run an SCMAF softball tournament on the weekend. They're the real stars. SCMAF has more of a low-key approach. There's a job to do. We work behind the scenes to get things done."

Baldwin likens the operations of the SCMAF to the CIF Southern Section, which provides leadership in athletic competition for nearly 500 high schools. But he admits that the SCMAF would not be as successful if it exerted police powers over a membership that is already autonomous.

For one thing, the SCMAF would be woefully undermanned for such an operation. Lakewood resident and sports specialist Tim Ittner, a 1983 recreation major from Cal State Long Beach, is the only other full-time employee besides Baldwin. The part-time staff includes a secretary, a bookkeeper, a data entry technician and one unspecified position. In addition, the SCMAF has a budget for legal services.

There was a time when Baldwin thought the SCMAF would have no funding at all. He had been executive director for barely two months when Proposition 13 passed in 1978.

"We were severely impacted by Proposition 13," he said with a frown. "For several years we weren't sure what would happen."

In 1981 the SCMAF hammered out an agreement with Los Angeles County. The county would pay 60% of Baldwin's $2,300 monthly salary, supply an office and pay the cost of its utilities and supplies. The SCMAF would be responsible for funding the balance, including all staff, the other part of the executive director's salary and his $400-a-month "salary supplement." The organization moved into the South El Monte site three years ago.

Baldwin has great feeling of loyalty for the county Recreation Department, perhaps because he worked his way up through the organization. Fifteen years ago he broke in as a recreation leader at Alondra Park in Lawndale. Perhaps it was the county's continued support and funding for the SCMAF, even as it outgrew its bounds and enveloped most of Southern California.

"We wouldn't be here without the support of the county," said Baldwin flatly.

The Proposition 13 crunch has subsided for both SCMAF and the recreation departments it serves. Many municipalities have restored services originally cut after Proposition 13 passed. Little things such as dragging an infield each night before games or putting two new balls in play for each game have returned to fields that three years ago had disgusted even the hardiest of players.

"Recreation people have learned how to cope," he said about the management of economic constraints. "We've adapted and found ways to do things differently."

To uphold its part of the agreement with the county, the SCMAF had to generate additional revenue. Funds for the organization come from several sources. The $15 annual dues fee per member has never increased, but Baldwin has set up several revenue builders.

As part of a team's league participation fee, each municipality collects $4, which goes directly to the SCMAF. That is expected to generate $80,000 this year. Joining the Players' Medical Benefit Fund is optional, but many municipalities routinely sign up teams by tacking on the $26 team fee. The benefit fund was established, according to a pamphlet handed out to participating players, "to give financial aid to any player under the supervision of SCMAF members who may be injured during their participation in sports at public parks or playgrounds or other SCMAF-supervised locations." The maximum reimbursement for injury in a 12-month period is $500. At least 20 agencies now routinely sign up teams for the fund, Baldwin said.

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