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Fond memories of the Hollywood Store

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

WATERTOWN, Minn. – The name may have changed to Hollywood Sports Complex, but for many old timers it will forever be known as the Hollywood “Store.” Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, some of the fiercest men’s fastpitch battles in Minnesota were fought on the two ball diamonds at the Store, located near Watertown and about 40 miles west of Minneapolis.

In 1974 the Store underwent a name change to the Hollywood Sports Complex. And in 2008 this historic fastpitch site reached a rare milestone, celebrating its 50th anniversary of hosting men’s fastpitch softball leagues and tournaments.

The fastpitch tradition began in 1959 when Melvin and Esther Littel, who owned the Hollywood Store, started a team and joined a traveling league. And for many years, the Store hosted three league games every Sunday.

“The Store was a beacon for fastpitch on Sunday afternoons,” said Bruce Johnson, 58, who grew up in the area and began playing on the Store ball diamond as a 16-year-old. Johnson retired in the mid 1990s at age 44, but fond memories of the little ball diamond play on.

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Old backyard friend gets a reprieve

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

060214-Plum_Tree.867lr The old plum tree has lost some limbs and has been decaying, but in its 62 years of living and growing in the Otto’s backyard, it continues to produce delicious Santa Rosa plums year after year. Photo By BOB OTTO

YUCAIPA, Calif. – Our backyard has long been anchored by two old fruit trees, an apple and a plum. In the 35 years we’ve lived in the home, both trees have born lush fruit. Never failing, year after.

Our deed states the home was built in 1952. So I’m guessing the trees were planted about the same time. So bushels and bushels of plums and apples have been picked or fallen from those two trees. Not only feeding my family and friends, but also the flock of wild parrots that seem to know just when the fruit is ripe and ready for gorging.

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For ‘Red’ Simmons, respect, love of the games keeps him going

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

012805-RedSimmons115web Richard ‘Red’ Simmons is an outstanding softball player, but his love for athletics throughout his life led him to become an official, a profession that has become an important part of his life. Photo By BOB OTTO

YUCAIPA, CALIF – Richard ‘Red’ Simmons is the first to admit that he can’t cover the infield like he once did in his 25-, 35-, or even 45-year-old playing days. But the sure-fielding glove, whiplash swing of the bat and love for the sport remain as strong today as in his younger days.

Simmons loves softball, and he punches the playing clock without miss every Tuesday and Thursday in the Valley-Wide senior softball program. But the 75-year-old Simmons is also well traveled outside of the San Jacinto Valley as a member of the Top Gun Gold, a senior slowpitch All-Star team from San Diego.

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Senior basketballers celebrate the big guy’s birthday

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

If you’re age 50 and above, you’re eligible for basketball at the University of Loma Linda Drayson Center.

LOMA LINDA (Calif.) DRAYSON CENTER – The big man gets the ball in the paint four feet from the basket. His eyes widen, his body tenses, and then with a whirl to his left, he drives to the basket, finishing with a hook shot that he banks off the glass and falls cleanly through the net.

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American dream found: Cambodia pair see it in their kids

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

“I’m so happy,” said Lynn. “I didn’t think we would ever have a life like this. This is like a dream.”

Lynn and Thy pose with their last trey of donuts at Uncle Ray’s Donut Shop in Yucaipa. The couple fled Cambodia 34 years a go to escape the Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot for a better life in the United States.

YUCAIPA, CA – Twenty-nine years ago, a then 21-year-old Lynn Prum embarked on a dangerous journey across her homeland of Cambodia. She carried with her a dream of freedom and a better life in the United States.

And on Sunday, Lynn realized that what she risked her life for was coming to fruition. Her oldest daughter, 22-year-old Ang Kem, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UC San Diego.

“I am so happy,” Lynn said. “I am so proud of her.”

But this is not a tale so much of a child’s accomplishments, but of parents whose perserverance made it possible for their children to tread where they could not. The American dream, it seems, came true for all of the Kem family.

None of that could have happened had Lynn not taken some life-threatening risks. In 1979, Lynn, her sister and her brother-in-law dared to cross the Cambodian border into Thailand.

At the time, Cambodia was in the clutches of the Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot, born Saloth Sar. It was a time of slave labor, malnutrition and starvation, and the deaths of an estimated 2million Cambodians.

“We hid until the soldiers were gone, then we snuck across,” Lynn said. “If they would have caught us, they would have killed us.”

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Thanking Roger Nelson for a fastpitch career

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

WANAMINGO, MN – Yesterday, I found an old friend that I lost touch with 45 years ago. Roger Nelson. Every week I visit the website of my hometown newspaper the News Record, searching for the latest news in Wanamingo, Minn. Sadly, that’s where I found Roger.

Roger was my first fastpitch softball manager. He launched me on my way to a 34–year pitching career. Roger took a chance on me when I was 15 years old. He started a team of high school kids with a few older guys mixed in. That very first year in 1965 we were awful. My pitching was awful.

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Five fastpitch pitching coaches? That’s overload

Friday, February 10th, 2012

YUCAIPA, CA – Every so often a fastpitch softball coach or parent will ask me “can you take a look at my pitcher and see what you think.”

That request always sends up red, warning flags. It has me suspecting that the coach or parent thinks there’s something wrong with their star pupil, and I can somehow work a miracle in one session.

Ty Stofflet, considered by many as greatest left-hander of all time.

Now, I’ve been around fastpitch softball since 1963; 34 years as a pitcher. My ability was mediocre at best. But I do consider myself a student of the circle. I’ve studied, photographed and written about some of the best in the men’s game: Michael White, Peter Meredith, Darren Zack, Ty Stofflet…

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Hemet Valley Chronicle, we shall miss you

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

THE FIRST VALLEY CHRONICLE STAFF, MAY 2001: Jim Fredericks, president and publisher front. Front row from left, Lisa Sotelo, Ann Knickerbocker, Phoebe Ames, Londa Baeza and Donna Harrington. Second row from left, Kim Nichols, Phyliss Harte, Brenda Maher, Lynn Webb, Konnie Sloan and Craig Shultz. Back row from left, Louis Amestoy, Daniel Contreras, Gayle Hilpert, John Fredericks and Amado Gonzalez. The first edition was published on May 16, 2001. (From the original staff, Kim Nichols, advertising and Danny Contreras, design / composing supervisor, worked all ten years for the Valley Chronicle.)

HEMET, CA – Most people have vivid recall when some catastrophic event has happened. I was in Mrs. Pretzer’s eighth grade English class when she tearfully announced that President Kennedy had been shot.

And when the twin towers of the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground in the 9 / 11 terrorist attacks, I was returning from a photo assignment and walking into the newsroom of the Hemet Valley Chronicle newspaper.

Sept. 7, 2011 also sticks in my mind.

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Coyotes Softball Tournament heats up!

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

BEAUMONT, CA – Red, white, blue and play ball! – July 2010

The whole neighborhood turned out to root for the hometown Beaumont Coyotes on Fourth of July weekend—just as always. Once again, Beaumont’s legendary fast-pitch softball team donned its familiar blue and white uniforms and took the field at Rangel Park. Mayor Brian De Forge threw out the first pitch, and the Coyotes, deeply honored to have a tournament named for them, gave it their all…Continue Reading

Triathlon inspires athletes near and far

Friday, December 17th, 2010

The 5-kilometer runners burst out of the starting line during the Hemet Tinsel Triathlon.

Official says competition raises nearly $100,000.

By BOB OTTO / For the Valley Chronicle
Published: Thursday, December 16, 2010 10:25 AM PST

HEMET, CA – A year ago, 52-year-old Bill Turner of Hemet was overweight and out of shape. Then he decided to enter the Tinsel Triathlon 5-kilometer run — hoping just to cross the finish line with a respectable performance.

Finish, Turner did, and since that inaugural race, he has never stopped running. He says he is healthier and happier — the best he has felt since playing high school football in 1966.

His times? Continue Reading