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July 4 homers mean big bucks

For every home run hit on the Fourth of July, from Rancho Cucamonga to Frederick Keys, from Lethbridge to Peoria, from Oakland to New York and Seattle to Atlanta, $5,000 will be donated toward the construction and renovation of youth-league ballparks, with emphasis on inner-city programs.

This is the second year of "Homers for America," a program sponsored by Coca-Cola. It incorporates every home run hit in every major- and minor- league game on Independence Day _ 95 games in all.

Last year, 100 homers were hit on July 4, producing a $500,000 windfall, and when the program was expanded to include homers hit during the World Series, an additional $60,000 was raised.

Of that total, $100,000 went to five South Florida facilities _ three in Miami and one apiece in Homestead and Coral Gables _ ravaged by Hurricane Andrew. Ballparks in Los Angeles destroyed during the rioting in the wake of the Rodney King verdict also received $100,000.

"Frankly, when you've got half a million dollars or so to work with, you run out of money pretty quickly," said Mark Preisinger, spokesman for Coca-Cola USA. "We receive many more applications (for funds) than we can provide for.

"We look first at need _ and 90 percent of them are in severe need _ and then we look to fields that have community support or will provide it. We don't want to go in, build a field, then walk away and not know if there will be programs for that field. In a lot of cases, we've found programs that exist but where kids are playing in terrible conditions."