Kids just want a place to play ball


The Eastview Little League doesn’t want people to forget. That’s why there’s a sign and a monument commemorating the 1989 local team that reached the Little League World Series.

There’s a sign dedicating the baseball fields at the corner of Gaffey and Capitol in San Pedro to Joe Gregorio, a longtime employee of the adjacent bakery that used to send the scent of fresh bread wafting all the way to the dugouts.

And high on a fence above it all is an ominous reminder of what’s at stake: a sign counting down the days until 47 seasons of home runs, strikeouts and double plays come to an end on June 30 unless a dramatic intervention occurs.


How the league came to this place is a complex tale involving big business, politics and even the Atkins diet. But the predicament is simple enough that even a 10-year-old knows it.

“I understand that they could be tearing this down,” said David Olivieri, who is in his fourth Little League season. “I think it would be really lame for me and all of the other players here.”

It’s the solution that has the adults struggling to provide an answer.

“If you were going to ask us where we’re going to play July 1, we don’t know,” said David Stanovich, the Eastview Little League president.

Since 1961, the league had it good, leasing the site of the fields from the DiCarlo Bakery for $1 a year. But then the bakery was bought by Interstate Bakeries Corp. (the parent company of Hostess, Wonder Bread and Dolly Madison). Three years ago, with sales hurting from the anti-carbs craze, Interstate Bakeries filed for bankruptcy. In 2005, Target bought the 10-acre property, which includes the baseball fields and the now-closed bakery, for $18.7 million at a bankruptcy auction and planned to build a store there.

Amy von Walter, a Target spokeswoman, said the original plans called for the Little League to vacate the property by the end of December, but it was granted an extension through the end of June. She also said Target has placed $250,000 in escrow to help with the relocation and has helped find three potential alternative sites.

“Target is very sensitive to the community’s needs,” Von Walter said. “We support education and arts with more than $3 million a week.

“Since [purchasing the property], we’ve been working closely with the city to find an alternative. We believe a new ball field will be better and safer for kids.”

But none of the three proposed sites is suitable, Stanovich said. One is part of a property that would bring 2,300 new housing units and is being bitterly fought by neighborhood residents who fear overdevelopment. Another has access roads that the fire department has deemed insufficient and would require $4 million to rectify. In addition, it would reduce the size of a dog park. Another option is atop a hill across the street from the current location -- but would take space away from the soccer fields currently occupying the land.

“Our goal is not to fight with other youth organizations, it’s to try to expand youth facilities,” Stanovich said.

Somehow, the youth activities have become the most expendable, said Little League board member Ron Galosic.

“The town is growing, with housing and big business coming in,” Galosic said. “But they’re forgetting about the kids and the facilities.”

“Our facilities are decreasing for our kids, and crime is on the rise,” said Anthony Pirozzi, who coaches in the league. “It’s no coincidence.”

Currently the league serves almost 600 kids. But with an operating budget of $50,000, it isn’t in position to negotiate the multimillion-dollar transactions a new field would entail. The league has worked with Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn but remains stuck. The latest gambit was to draft a petition addressed to politicians from the governor on down. So far it has 7,000 signatures.

“We’ve tried to find solutions,” Stanovich said. “After three years, the only real solution is to leave this where it is.”

This weekend, Nick Uruburu sat in the seats behind center field and watched his son Nicky’s Nationals team play the Marlins.

His frustration went beyond the usual, “Come on, blue!” shouts at the umpires.

“It feels like there’s nothing we can do,” Uruburu said. “All the support we’ve given through the community, though petitions or whatever, it seems to be falling on deaf ears.”

His suggestion that he thinks would be a good PR move for Target: “Donate this land to the Little League. What do you need this land for? You have another Target going right down the freeway.”

The adults are blowing it. They’re letting down kids such as Sean Zurich, 12, who plays for Eastview’s Marlins.

“This is like my second home,” Zurich said. “Every day after school, I come here on my bike. I can’t believe it’s going to be gone.

“Why can’t they just let us stay here? There’s plenty of other potential places for a Target. Why take ours?

“If I could go to a meeting, I would say, ‘How can you take something that’s so dear to most of our hearts?’ ”

Is there any way we can get him in front of the shareholders?


J.A. Adande can be reached at To read previous columns by Adande, go to