League starts to rebuild

Theft and vandalism has recently rocked Costa Mesa American Little League. CMALL is rebuilding with help from the community to improve from the damage that was done.

One or more people stole $293 worth of snack-bar items sometime between the night of Feb. 3 and the afternoon of Feb. 11 at the Costa Mesa American Little League fields on the Costa Mesa High School campus.

Sgt. Bryan Wadkins of the Costa Mesa Police Department said an unknown number of people pried into the snack-bar shed, removed the latch and stole items. There was minor damage like scratching the paint and doors. There are no suspects, leads or witnesses.

Costa Mesa American Little League President Todd Cowley said Sunday that some time on the night of Feb. 10, the person or people appeared to have grabbed a tree branch in order to pry the snack-bar door open.

Although the doors were locked from the inside, the locks were somehow broken open and the person or people somehow got access to the entire snack bar.

"We are hoping to install a security light with a motion sensor this week," Cowley said. "If they got into it once, they might get into it again. We'll just have to keep an eye out for each other."

Police told league representatives that based on tree branches used to pry doors open being left at the scene, it could appeared to have been sometime between Feb. 10 and Feb. 11.

On the police report, the crime was listed as being sometime between 10 p.m. on Feb. 3 and 2 p.m. on Feb. 11.

Costa Mesa American Little League, which consists of baseball players ages 4 through 12, has taken progressive steps to try and prevent any future crimes. They are working on installing more secure locks and security bars on the inside windows. The fields are located behind the Costa Mesa High School tennis courts and nearby local homes.

Cowley said he suspects there were at least two thieves, due to the amount of items that were stolen.

"All you're doing is hurting the kids," Cowley said. "You're not hurting someone [older]. It doesn't hurt us, it doesn't hurt the school. You're not getting back at someone."

The crime most likely occurred six days after a "Back to Baseball Day" held by the all-volunteer league, which, as a non-profit, is not insured against these types of losses.

Two large Tupperware containers containing candy, chips, cups of ramen noodles, sunflower seeds, bubble gum and other snacks and several cases of sodas were taken.

Snack-bar volunteer Grant Junker and Cowley both said the league suspects the thief or thieves may be teenage boys or possibly younger.

"We're pretty certain it was inexperienced criminals," Junker said. "They didn't really take anything they can sell."

Cowley added that items like coffee and diet sodas were not touched as well.

One of the kids affected is Junker's son, 11-year-old Blake Junker, who plays for the White Sox in the Majors division. Junker plays catcher, shortstop and center field.

"It makes me kind of upset," Blake Junker said. "Because I go with my dad to get the stuff at the snack bar. Now, he has to go back and get everything again. There's graffiti on the trash cans and the fences are pulled forward a little."

Opening Day for the league is March 3 and the league plans on having a full snack bar by then. The serious heavy metal damage will likely take at least one or two months longer.

The snack-bar theft wasn't the only major incident for CMALL. There were several serious incidents between August and September. During those months, the dugouts had sunscreens ripped down and the chain-link fences were knocked down, as if people were climbing on the roof.

The turf on the backstops was also ripped down, plus the bullpen's backstop was left leaning, appearing as if someone may have attempted to push it over.

Electrical wiring for the pitching machines has been cut and removed, plus scoreboards were broken and knocked down. And, on Saturday, there were saw marks on the locks of the mower shed and new snack bar, as if someone was trying to break into the snack bars once again.

"We have seen nothing like this," Cowley said of the snack-bar theft and serious damage. "It's going to the next level. We'll have to pay about $10,000 to fix the dugouts [and other damaged items]. Half of that is vandalism, the other half is we want to refurbish them. That money could've been spent buying new gear, like helmets and bats and balls, things like that."

The local community has greatly helped out the Little League. Costa Mesa United, a group that has donated money toward athletic fields, donated $500 toward the motion sensor. City Councilman Steve Mensinger has also helped the league.

During the winter, someone or a group of people stole a cash register — Cowley said there wasn't that much money in it — and someone or a group has been spraying graffiti on the dugouts and sheds. There have also been condoms and alcohol bottles placed inside the dugouts during each of the past two years.

The league is also attempting to build a new field that will cost roughly $25,000. Cowley said that field began construction on Monday.

Additionally, the league is looking into installing an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) that could save lives.

He also said the registration fee of $105 for 20 baseball games is among the lowest in Orange County.

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