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Opening Day: Reflections of a Santa Barbara Baseball Mom

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150They say that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. For me, the diamonds I like most have nothing to do with jewelry and everything to do with beautiful green fields, a scoreboard, base-paths and home plate.

Opening Day 2015 has special meaning for me, as the mother of a high school senior who has played baseball most of his life, now midway through his last season in Santa Barbara. I’m imagining that most of those MLB players we cheer for started out playing in the same ways my son did, and watching them play is a celebration of a special way of life.

Looking back, I wish I’d saved that first pair of cleats, the ones I had to lace up and tie for my little boy so many years ago. I never imagined that signing him up for a youth baseball team would affect our lives so much, for so long.

His first experience was on a City Rec T-ball team with several of his friends from his first-grade class—and they were all thrilled when their enthusiastic teacher came to watch them play at the old field at Franklin School. Other than the camaraderie of playing on the team, the game of T-ball had no appeal for my active little guy who could already hit a ball when pitched, who thought it boring and silly to hit a stationary one.

T-ball soon gave way to real baseball in PONY League play. PONY stands for “Protect Our Nation’s Youth,” the program at MacKenzie Park. There on those Mustang and Bronco fields of dreams, generations of young Santa Barbarans have learned to play America’s Game. And their parents have learned to become sports parents while spending countless hours in the bleachers at those fields—inning after inning of watching, waiting, hoping, praying, cheering, some yelling, arguing, stressing about every play, every call, every game.

In those years we chauffeured and car-pooled kids from school to practice fields; became acquainted with a wide new circle of families and spent days, weeks, months, seasons as volunteers working together to benefit the program that meant so much to our children—and ourselves.

While mostly dads coached, maneuvered to draft winning teams, and taught valuable skills and drills, moms flipped burgers, grilled hot dogs, sold snacks and learned how to get grass stains out of baseball uniforms. (Hint to the uninitiated: scrub and soak with bars of Zote Soap!) We took care of the homeless population at the park and gave them plenty to eat whenever we barbecued. We became a team of supporters—of our sons and each other.

Those early days of coach-pitch and wobbly plays gave way to the development of skilled players who learned the game, stole bases, and hit, pitched and caught the ball, playing with a competitive spirit. The regular season rolled into All-Stars, where little boys proudly represented their hometown, wearing jerseys with “Santa Barbara” emblazoned across their chests.

Back in those days, equipment was everything, and my husband and his dad would often sneak off together to buy the newest bat for their favorite little player, three generations of males enjoying the sport for all ages. Once I found one of those pricey new bats tucked under the covers next to my sleeping son, dreams of home runs surely floating though his head.

Those young players got a taste of winning, and they liked it—moving up from Mustang to the big Bronco field to playing even more competitive club baseball. They traveled together to “Big League Dreams” fields around Southern California—commercial establishments built to resemble classic stadiums—and they played in tournaments in Arizona, Colorado, and best of all, in Cooperstown, N.Y. –the home of the baseball Hall of Fame. My own son even had the opportunity to travel with a local team to play in Nicaragua, a life-changing experience. He caught a huge fish that fed his whole team for the evening, gave away a prize bat, and worked with local kids during that eye-opening adventure that helped him appreciate his luck at growing up with comparative privilege.

Along the way, some players came and went, but a solid core of Santa Barbara players continued to play together year after year, one level to the next. Today, that group of little boys who first played All-Stars together on the Mustang and Bronco fields—whose names and accomplishments are on display on boards at the MacKenzie fields—now comprise seven of the starters on the Santa Barbara High School Dons Varsity baseball team. They are young men now, highly skilled and playing at a level that have people other than their parents taking notice of their abilities in the high-stakes world of competitive baseball. This impressive group of boys who have grown up together still have many more games to play together, and their bond of shared experiences will remain with them as they move on to pursue their winning ways on and off the field.

Now they’re planning their lives after graduation. Some players have been scouted regularly; at least one is a top pro prospect, and several others expect to play college ball in prestigious programs. Others are still are weighing their intriguing academic offers and opportunities near and far. Whether they play into the big leagues or never step foot on the field again, their parents couldn’t be prouder of them and their accomplishments that go far beyond all the trophies and medals they’ve collected.

Our boys’ lives have played out on the baseball diamond. It seems to have passed in a flash, all those balls and strikes and drama-filled moments all run together in one big wonderful All-American game. They started out chewing bubble gum, in the back seats of mom’s car, and now they’re expertly spitting seeds before they climb in their own drivers’ seats, ready to take on the world.

This timeless game has been a backdrop for a great group of kids as they’ve grow up, one that has taught them the value of competition and cooperation, of individual achievement and working together as a team, and most of all, the character-building benefits that come with forging strong relationships over time.

All those teams, all those games, tournaments and travels gave a rhythm to our lives, a sense of belonging. Baseball players have been called the boys of summer, but ours have been players for all seasons. There were times it may have seemed like too much, but right now it seems like hardly enough.

As these baseball days grow shorter, the memories seem to stretch back forever. And one thing for sure, baseball has been so much more than a game for our boys, it’s been a solid foundation for their lives. And right about now, I’d be happy if it went into extra innings.

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Growing up Together. Before they were 2015 Varsity Dons starters: Kevin Gowdy (pitcher) on the ground Right to left: Daniel McKinney (RF), Bryce Morison (SS), Trevor Moropoulos (1sr Base), Cristian Loza (Catcher), Dalton Schroeder (CF), John Jensen (3rd Base)


California Poppy Day

poppiesDid you know… April 6th has officially been designated California Poppy Day?

On December 12, 1890, the members of the California State Floral Society voted for a flower that they thought would best serve the State of California as an official emblem. The California Poppy won the esteemed title of ‘Official California State Flower’ by an overwhelming landslide. It took almost 13 years for the California Legislature to get around to adopting the winning golden poppy as the State flower. The golden poppy, Eschscholzia, was selected as the official State flower of California by an act of the Legislature on March 2, 1903. In 1973, the law was amended to designate April 6th as California Poppy Day.


Saturdays with Seibert: Time Warp

Local views of Santa Barbara by Dan Seibert

My sister visited me last week and top on her to do list was Cold Spring Tavern, on Sunday to see Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan. She saw them in 1995 and again in 2002, and her boyfriend Mitch Miller (Not sing along with) worked with them 20 years ago. We got up there early and grabbed a picnic table in front for our friends that showed up later.

The weather was perfect and the place was packed by 12:30. Best of all was seeing some of the same people we saw ten or even twenty years ago. Throw in a delicious tri-tip sandwich cooked by the big fellow in the red shirt.

It’s good to know some things in Santa Barbara remain the same, decades later. I’m putting this on my calendar to do again this year.
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Fluctuations in Eastside Business Area A Function Of Market Forces. Really!

Milpas on the Move, By Sharon Byrne

BID-Poster-GraphicThere is an effort underway in the Milpas / Eastside business area to create a Business Improvement District (BID). Numerous BIDs have been formed in California and other states, as they provide a mechanism for businesses to pay for services that the city can’t and won’t provide them, like picking up litter off sidewalks, graffiti removal, and promotion and special events to draw new patrons to the area. Jeff Harding wrote a really good piece on the Eastside BID in March.

It is typical for a minimum 20% of businesses to oppose forming a BID. For a variety of reasons, some business owners will just never sign up. It’s also typical for BID formation to bring out the best and the worst in people, rather like ballot initiatives. As you can tell from my column on the destructive power of gossip and the PODER protest of El Bajio, the worst can be pretty darned ugly.

Jeff dealt with the red herring of gentrification quite well in his column. I’ll only add that the example thrown around of Fresh Market is a poor one. There is no BID, and they moved in. They provided Christmas lights for us in 2013 (a $9,000 expense). They put on fun events for kids, like cookie-decorating contests. They handed out goodies at the Milpas Holiday Parade. Their intent was to draw Whole Foods and Lazy Acres customers, and it worked. They went profitable 6 months ago at the Milpas location. Some whined it wasn’t a neighborhood store, but Fresh Market employed many former Scolari’s employees. Eastside neighbors shopped there. They had a brisk lunch trade from employees at nearby businesses. Interestingly, Scolari’s also exited the state of California for the same reason Fresh Market did: expensive distribution issues. California is a very tough state to do business in.

I’ve had phone calls asking what’s going in the Fresh Market space that go like this: THEY should put in a market that’s for the neighborhood this time, like there’s some central government planning committee somewhere that decides which market goes in each neighborhood. But that’s not how it works. That space rents for $55,000 per month. A business that can meet those terms leases it, transforms it to suit their needs, and attempts to prosper there. Some things make it in this town. Some don’t. It’s the landlord’s prerogative as to which business moves in, and they aren’t required to check in with any Central Neighborhood Approvals Committee before leasing their property. We’re not a centrally planned economy like China. Free market still reigns in America.

I am happy to report that some of the Fresh Market employees were picked up by Tri County Produce, and Wells Fargo is recruiting some as well. This is what you do in a community. You take care of each other.

Another myth perpetuating about the business improvement district is that this is some sort of takeover of the area. A takeover of a business area…by the businesses within it? Aren’t takeovers usually external? The businesses in this district will govern the BID. They’ll decide which services to provide themselves with BID assessments. That’s not a takeover. It’s the spread of democracy within the business community.

Fresh Market’s departure creates another heartburn: empty storefronts are blight magnets. A business improvement district could seek out tenants for vacant storefronts. Some do. A BID could get also creative about attracting the type of business the community wants. A small town with empty storefronts painted the windows to make it appear that an ice cream store had opened, and a cheese shop, among other things. Sure enough, someone started similar businesses in those empty storefronts.

Fresh & Easy is also going through tumultuous times as a corporation. Ours on Milpas is staying open, thankfully.

The old Milpas Post Office has been leased to Lumber Liquidators. East Beach Tacos has opened at the Batting Cages. The ambience is great, and the Asian-fusion tacos are excellent.

Change is happening all around this district, and it will keep happening. The BID didn’t cause those things, as it doesn’t exist yet. But by providing a more welcoming area and drawing more patrons to businesses here, existing businesses will find it easier to prosper. There are lots of mom-and-pop businesses in this neighborhood that make it special. Why wouldn’t we want them to succeed?


When Santa Barbara Trembled

“Two main faults delineate the onshore portion of the southern foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains near Santa Barbara,” writes historian Walker Tompkins. “The western or Mesa Fault is an offshoot, or splay, that can be traced as a nearly straight line southeast from Tucker’s Grove County Park, along the north side of the uplifted mesa, and continuing on out to near the harbor breakwater. The Mission Ridge Fault continues east of the city through Sycamore Canyon and runs in a southernly direction to eventually link up with the Arroyo Parida Fault north of Ortega Hill, passing directly to represent the near surface expressions of a much deeper fault system that extends beneath the mountain range, the Santa Barbara Channel, and crops south of the northern Channel Islands.”

Here’s a new look at what was left of Santa Barbara after the June 29, 1925 earthquake.


Two Years of the Hot Rod Limo

Santa-Barbara-Hot-Rod-Limo11On the topic of tourist vehicles buzzing around Santa Barbara’s waterfront and downtown region, how about a birthday shout out to the Hot Rod Limo. The custom-built, colorful vehicle which seats 8 people and the driver debuted two years ago this week. The Hot Rod Limo offers 40-minute coastal tours of Santa Barbara for $20. The “hottest ride in town” departs from corner of Cabrillo and Garden every hour between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.


Santa Barbara’s New Party Bike!

photoOn Saturday, Dan captured one of the many tourists toys buzzing around the waterfront and downtown region. Today, a new pedal-powered party bike debuts in Santa Barbara‘s Funk Zone… “Pedal On is a 16-person mega bike to pedal and party around the City—It’s a BYOB hangout from bar to bar.” The rolling party bike comes equipped with flashing neon lights and bumping sound. It can hold 16 riders while up to 10 can pedal.

“I’ve been on a Pub Crawler before, said one reviewer. “I have to note that Pedal-On’s bike is a lot newer with a good sound system (speakers were distributed throughout the bike) and the seats were better (they had back rests). Also, we just had one driver then so we had to take care of beer distribution and whatnot ourselves.”

Santa Barbara is the fourth City to sanction Pedal On; in addition to Austin, San Diego and Fort Lauderdale. You can even bring your own food on Pedal On. They have two storage space and two built in coolers that have plenty of room for your food and beverages. So, if you are looking for a new and exciting way to have fun, hop on Santa Barbara’s new party bike!
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Stearn’s Wharf Gets Its Apostrophe!

After decades of confusion by City sign makers, tourists and wharf businesses, Stearn’s Wharf (formerly Stearns Wharf) finally gets its apostrophe. Yesterday, at their weekly meeting, the Santa Barbara City Council issued a formal declaration making Stearns Wharf, Stearn’s Wharf. Although grammatically incorrect, the proclamation should decrease confusion. Completed In 1872, the wharf became the longest deep-water wharf between San Pedro and San Francisco. Named for its builder, local lumberman John Peck Stearns, the wharf is Santa Barbara’s top tourist destination.

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Mandatory Helmets for Adult Bike Riders?

A law, Senate Bill 192, would make California the first state in the country to require that adult bike riders wear helmets. The newly-proposed law would impose a $25 base fine on adults who bike without headgear. Bicycling safety has been a long-simmering debate here in Santa Barbara, so let’s make it the question of the week and see what Viewers have to say: