The high school baseball season is set to begin, but some local high schools will have to manage without a key piece of practice equipment because of a series of thefts of pitching machines.

Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Pacific Area Detective Dave Martinez said pitching machines have become “a main target” in a number of thefts from baseball team storage facilities on the Westside and Orange County.

Since the thefts began last summer, five high schools on the Westside and eight in Orange County have lost about 25 pitching machines and other equipment, police said.

“We know this (pitching machine) is a target they’re going after,” said Martinez, who is investigating the thefts. “As far as what they’re doing with them or why they’re doing it, we don’t know.”

On Monday, February 7th, Venice High School reported that all three of its pitching machines had been stolen from the baseball team storage container during the prior weekend.

University High School also reported a pitching machine stolen from its softball storage container the same weekend.

Tony Chretin, Venice High athletic director, said the pitching machines were about two years old and valued at $2,000 each.

A case of 120 baseballs was also taken from the batting cages, he said.

“At first we thought it was someone in the school, because they knew exactly what to take,” Chretin said. “But now we think there’s some sort of ring going on somewhere.”

Santa Monica High School was the fifth high school on the Westside to report a theft of pitching machines and other equipment, Thursday, February 17th.

The Westside thefts, which began in December, have also hit Beverly Hills and Culver City High Schools and seem to be a “crime trend,” Martinez said.

He said he has been checking Internet sites such as eBay and local sporting goods stores to see if the machines were offered for sale.

Potential buyers should be suspicious of machines for sale, he said.

Venice High baseball coach Tim Alcantar offered his own speculation on what the perpetrators might be doing with all the stolen machines.

“I think it might be somebody who’s trying to start a business, because there are too many (thefts) in this area,” Alcantar said.

When breaking into the baseball storage container at Venice High, it is believed that the thieves entered from the back of the school, cut the chain off an outer gate and then cut the lock off the container, Alcantar said.

It appeared that the thieves knew where to go because they took only the pitching machines and baseballs, but not other things of value, he said.

“They just took what they wanted to take,” he said.

Alcantar said he found, by talking with coaches at other high schools, that other coaches were experiencing “the same thing,” he said.

Chretin said Venice High School will try to raise funds for another machine this season.

Pitching machines are an important part of the practice routine for Venice to work on batting and infield skills, Alcantar said.

The thefts of the machines have had some effect on practice, but also on school athletes, he said.

“The kids felt that something was taken from them, but we’ll make adjustments,” he said.

Alcantar has put a heavier lock on the storage container to help prevent further thefts in the regular baseball season, which starts Tuesday, March 15th.

Martinez said the LAPD Pacific Area is trying to take preventive measures to stop the thefts from continuing to other local high schools.

“We’re trying to get all the high schools on board for extra precaution of their storage,” Martinez said. “Our main goal at this point is prevention for the rest of the high schools.”