Police, Player Team Up to Teach Kids

Oxnard native Jacob Cruz, an up-and-coming prospect with the San Francisco Giants, was interrogated about how much money he makes.

He was asked to sign T-shirts (no problem), dollar bills (well, OK, but don't tell anyone) and a forehead (are you kidding?).

A stylish-looking black baseball bat signed by such Giants greats as Barry Bonds produced the requisite "oohs" and "aahs" and then the query: "Is it corked?"

Major League baseball players just don't get much respect these days, even from the more than 80 kids attending the final day Friday of the first-ever Police Activities League baseball camp in West Ventura.

"It will be worth money," said a pragmatic "Chuy" Lopez, 15, after receiving an autographed baseball from the 24-year-old Channel Islands High School graduate.

Adoration and awe may have been in short supply, but the patient and good-natured Cruz took the sometimes-cheeky comments with little more than a roll of the eyes.

"When I was little, nobody was around to do this and I would have appreciated it," Cruz said. "That's one of the reasons I do this. . . . I'm glad I'm in a position to do this stuff where the kids will possibly listen."

Cruz was the star attraction at the two-day clinic near De Anza Middle School. The clinic wrapped up with a drawing that ensured every child went home with a cap, ball or a certificate to commemorate their participation.

But most of the truly hard work was done by the phalanx of police officers who donated their time to field fly balls, chase bunts and generally teach the kids from the hardscrabble Avenue area that there are four bases in baseball.

The camp is the latest event organized by the Police Activities League, which in its 18 months of existence has also organized trips to the Santa Barbara Zoo, Los Angeles Clippers games and the like.

"A bunch of officers saw a gap in the community, especially in the west end where these kids didn't have role models, mentors," said Officer Jon Castellanos.

And now they do, at least if the comments of any of the pint-size ballplayers Friday are any indication.

"It brings people together to play baseball," said 10-year-old Alex Barrios.

And what did the camp participants think of Cruz?

"He's a rookie," shrugged apparently hard-to-impress sixth-grader David Conger, while quickly adding, "I like him a lot, though."

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