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Little Leaguer Balks at New Team

May 26, 1994|ANN GRIFFITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Christian Tavarez and his mother thought Little League was about friendship and fun as well as hitting and running.

Then came the draft.

A coach on one of the organization's major league teams chose the 11-year-old Pomona boy shortly after the playing season began in April. But Christian said that he craved the security of staying with his "cool" teammates on the minor league Dodgers through the season's end on June 13.

The personal contact was especially important to Christian because of his father's death.

His mother, Maria, and older sister Yvonne say the boy became anxious and had trouble sleeping after he was drafted. He told them that losing his team, with which he had been practicing and playing for three months, reminded him of losing his father, who was slain a year ago.

But according to Little League rules, once a minor leaguer is chosen by the majors, the player has to go or be transferred to another minor team, and Christian's appeal failed to sway the board of the Ted Greene League.

Staying on a minor team stunts a player's progress, said league President Dennis O'Neill.

"Why would you want a kid to repeat the 5th grade just because he's having fun?" O'Neill said.

During his three years in the post, O'Neill said, he has heard every excuse from parents and players who want to stay on their old team. Often, it turns out that they are on a first-place minor team and do not want to give up their trophy.

But Christian decided he would quit softball rather than face a transfer.

"It wasn't fair," he said before a recent game. "A kid has to be happy."

But a week later, a family friend appealed above the league board to district administrator Steve Felman. A letter from a psychologist--saying the move would harm Christian's recovery from the trauma of his father's death--helped persuade Felman to bring Christian back in his No. 11 Dodgers jersey.

He is a strong hitter, first baseman and shortstop, according to his coach, Dennis Beltran, and next year Christian hopes to join a major league team.

Being on a major team is the goal of Little League programs, according to the Minor League rule book and Felman.

"Major league is what you live and die for," Felman said.

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