PLAY BALL: Ventura County has no major...

PLAY BALL: Ventura County has no major league team of its own and is years away from building a minor league stadium. But the area still produces numerous professional players, two of whom broke into the majors his season. . . . Brent Cookson, a Santa Paula High grad, is now an outfielder with the Kansas City Royals; Matt Franco, formerly of Westlake High, is a Chicago Cubs infielder. . . . Franco, 25, toiled nine seasons in the minors: "I waited a long time for this and am enjoying every minute."

THREE OF A KIND: Andy, Mark and Dave Skeels of Thousand Oaks all played in the independent Class-A Texas-Louisiana League, the only trio of brothers active in the minor leagues. All three are catchers. . . . Andy, 30, has played professionally for a decade; Mark, 25, is a Stanford graduate; and Dave, 22, graduated from the University of Arkansas last spring.

MAKING PROGRESS: Other local minor leaguers inching closer to the majors include San Francisco Giants farm team outfielder Jacob Cruz (Channel Islands High), second baseman Derek Swafford (Ventura High) with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and potential Baltimore Orioles shortstop David Lamb (Newbury Park High). . . . Lamb, above, someday might replace Cal Ripken Jr. when the legend finally decides to take a day off. Lamb, 20, should be ready for Baltimore by 1998.

BREEDING GROUND: Fifteen current minor league players are alumni of the Conejo Valley-Thousand Oaks Little League 15-year-old division, from Cincinnati Reds triple-A infielder Kurt Stillwell, 30, to pitcher Scott Singleton, 20, of Class-A Long Beach. . . . The talent pipeline should continue: Conejo Valley All-Stars won the Southern California 15-year-old championship this summer and the T.O. All-Stars won the 13-year-old World Series in 1994.

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