L.A. Parks And Rec Lets Its Parks Get Wrecked


Two weeks ago, a small band of creaky old ballplayers dragged ourselves out of bed and through gridlocked traffic to plead our case. The event was the bimonthly Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks Commissioners meeting. The case? How is it the city of Los Angeles can’t manage four lousy softball fields?

And L.A. can’t.

For years, the 200-plus players who participate in L.A.’s Senior Softball Leagues (at $40 a player) try to snag grounders and run down fly balls without killing ourselves on diamonds that are nobody’s best friend.

Sprains, contusions, broken fingers, noses, ankles and jawbones abound, with multiple players requiring surgery to repair injuries sustained as the direct result of negligence by the Department of Rec and Parks.  Or should that be Wreck and Parks?

Problem No. 1: The Sepulveda Basin and Hjelte Sports Complexes in the San Fernando Valley were built in a flood basin. Guess what happens when it rains? Very good. This winter, the senior softball fields could double as rice paddies.

Of course, in the summer, when it’s 112 in the Valley, these same fields will become parched sandboxes, petri dishes for the spread of Valley Fever.

Problem No. 2: Winter or summer, the Sepulveda Basin Sports Complex is home to a colony of ground squirrels that have dug more tunnels than Elon Musk’s Boring Company, creating a pockmarked no man’s land of ankle-breaking holes that would have been an excellent location to shoot “All’s Quiet on the Western Front.”  Problem No. 3: And this is the biggie: nobody cares.

For years, Senior League players and managers have phoned, written, emailed and petitioned those in charge of maintenance for help. These efforts produced zero results. When poor drainage after rainstorms doesn’t turn the fields into unplayable mud baths, leaking sprinklers do.

After months of pleading for repairs, one player paid his own plumber to go to the fields and fix the leaks at his expense. The lights at the Hjelte Complex were out of service for a year before a work order finally was issued. The bathrooms at Hjelte have been locked for years, with the port-a-potties twice burned to the ground.

At the Basin you need a hazmat suit to use the bathrooms. Out of necessity, volunteers have purchased rakes, shovels, buckets, brooms, squeegees, pumps, bags of chalk and other supplies to perform the jobs of Department of Recreation and Parks employees. It shouldn’t be this hard to play softball in Los Angeles.

As a player/manager, I have written to the top executives of the Department of Recreation and Parks to detail these issues with accompanying photographs to illustrate the problems. I am not alone. City officials have been invited to meet players at the fields for a tour. Nothing has worked.

The L.A. Senior Softball program is one of the largest, if not the largest, senior league in North America. It’s a community within the larger community, encompassing the spirit of inclusion L.A. is justifiably proud of. Men from 54 to 90 — yes, 90! — and women 45 and up compete and enjoy the fellowship that comes with teamwork. Seventy-five-year-old Larry Kirby, a cancer survivor, took a crazy hop to the face off an undragged infield resulting in two hours of surgery to implant a plate in his shattered cheekbone. Players routinely armor themselves with shin guards, helmets, chest protectors and catcher’s masks to play the field. We look like Grumpy Old Ninja Turtles playing softball.

The L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks budget for 2022-2023 is north of $300 million. Wouldn’t it be better to spend a tiny portion of that on rehabilitation and maintenance rather than litigation?

As we get older, it’s easier to pull or break something. And injuries are part of sports. Still, no mandatory liability waver will protect the city when a class action suit is filed for gross negligence. Before L.A. spends millions to host the world’s Olympic athletes, we should spend a few grand on our own older athletes.

Doug McIntyre can be reached at Doug@DougMcIntyre.com. His debut novel, “Frank’s Shadow,” will be published in July.


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