MISSION VIEJO : Field Called a Mess on Account of Rain

Normally, hundreds of people visit the sprawling sports complex at the Youth Athletic Park to watch Mission Viejo children play Little League and American Youth Soccer ball.

But during last week's drenching rains, flood-watching also became a spectator sport as dozens of people drove down to stare as the bowl-like facility filled with up to six feet of water, covering outfield fences and backstops.

The floodwaters have since receded, leaving the 800-player North Mission Viejo Little League with a huge mess and $25,000 in needed repairs--money that the youth organization doesn't have. The weekend before the rain, 75 volunteers had worked to get the fields in shape, setting up fences, backstops and thousands of dollars in brick dust that was washed away.

"This is devastating," said Shirley Crisp, past president of the league auxiliary. "All these people worked so hard and it's all down the drain. You just want to cry."

League volunteers have vowed to have the fields ready by opening day on March 21. But until then, the league's 67 teams have nowhere to practice, and officials are scrambling to replace equipment that was lost to the flood.

"Our losses were heavy," said league president Gary Brewsaugh. "We will have to replace everything in our snack shack, everything from our nacho machine to refrigerators and freezers. But if nothing else happens, we will have those fields ready for the kids to play ball, I promise you that."

In addition, the group lost pitching machines, lawn mowers and other baseball equipment to water damage. The flooding also covered the fields with a thick layer of silt and seriously damaged hundreds of feet of outfield fence that must be replaced.

Owned by the Mission Viejo Co., the fields are atop a flood basin that serves to handle overflow from Oso Creek. Company officials said that as the need grew for additional sports facilities, they agreed to develop the 10-acre location as a youth sports complex.

"About 95% of the time it's dry and the kids can use it," said company spokeswoman Wendy Wetzel, "But it was designed to handle flooding. Major storms are going to flood these fields."

The drought created so much loose, dead vegetation that in a matter of minutes, a 96-inch pipe was completely clogged with debris during the recent rains.

The power of the water set adrift anything not firmly attached to the ground. Two wooden bleachers wound up several hundred yards from their original locations, a heavily laden storage shed was deposited on the other side of the complex and several park tables were temporarily set afloat.

League officials are seeking volunteers to assist in a major cleanup on Feb. 29. The Mission Viejo Co. will help by sending heavy equipment to scrape off the mud once it dries. One tee ball field must be completely graded again, Crisp said.

The league's biggest need is for donations of money or equipment to replace what was lost in the flood. The league operates on a $125,000 annual budget that has no surplus, so the next few years may be hard on the league, Brewsaugh said.

"The first things to go will be our yearbook, all-star uniforms and, eventually, basic uniforms," he said. "We'll have to make do with old equipment for a few years.

Those wishing to give money or equipment can send donations to the league at 2556 Olympiad Blvd., Mission Viejo, Calif. 92692, or call (714) 951-5119.

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