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Dodgers Drop the Ball at Kids' Event

Baseball: Three players disappoint Little Leaguers when other commitments keep them from attending training session. The major leaguers promise to make amends at a later date.

June 11, 1996|GEORGE RAMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Say it ain't so, Raul! Que paso, Carlos? What happened, Roger?

Those were the questions on the minds of the 20 or so 10- and 11-year-old Little Leaguers who had been promised a baseball training session Monday with three of their heroes--Dodger outfielders Raul Mondesi and Roger Cedeno and reserve catcher Carlos Hernandez.

But for various reasons, the three didn't show, causing disappointment for the youngsters, dressed in their Dodger uniforms and armed with baseballs and cards for autographs.

"I know you are disappointed," businessman Al Rosario, who had helped arrange the players' appearance, told the kids.

He explained that Hernandez was with the Dodgers' minor league team in Albuquerque for rehabilitation work on his bad back. Cedeno, he said, was unavoidably detained at a baseball card show in Orange County. Mondesi was absent because he had attended a preschool graduation ceremony for his 4-year-old son, Raul Jr.

Dodger spokesman Jay Lucas said Mondesi and Cedeno were aware of the event but received no confirmation from Carlos Hernandez, who had been a driving force in setting up the Lincoln Heights appearance.

Lucas quoted Mondesi, before the start of Monday night's game with St. Louis, as saying the three players would make amends with the Little Leaguers at a later date.

The event at the Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club in Lincoln Heights drew boys from the nearby neighborhoods of Lincoln Heights, Cypress Park, Highland Park and other communities in the first year of the Northeast Little League program. Even before Monday's disappointment, the event had been proposed but canceled twice because of scheduling problems.

City Councilman Mike Hernandez, who represents the area, apologized to the youngsters Monday, telling them, "Sometimes things happen. . . ."

Baseball enthusiast Al Molina, who helped bring Little League to the Latino barrios near Dodger Stadium this year, said he was disappointed and upset that the players didn't appear. "But we gotta keep going," he said.

The kids sat silently through the explanations and didn't say much when the councilman promised to take the kids to a game at Dodger Stadium at his own expense. When they go, perhaps they can meet their favorite Dodger, he said.

"You deserve it," Hernandez told the little Dodgers.

Ten-year-old Jorge Garcia, a pitcher and catcher, summed up the feelings of his disappointed teammates when he told a reporter, "I'm a little upset they didn't show up, but I still like the Dodgers."

Alex Prieto, a 10-year-old catcher, had been looking forward to meeting Carlos Hernandez so the Mexican-born catcher could show him how to catch a wild pitch thrown in the dirt.

The session with the three players was to kick off a community youth partnership program in L.A.'s inner-city neighborhoods. It was supposed to be the kind of community participation Councilman Hernandez has been looking for. Hernandez has been pressing for more recreational activities for his district, which has been plagued with gang violence.

And for the three ballplayers, all Latinos, the event was to set in motion a campaign to seek a higher profile for Latinos playing in the major leagues, Rosario said. On some rosters, Latinos make up nearly a third of the teams.

The idea, dubbed "Los Amigos de Beisbol," was created with Rosario's help so that Latino ballplayers could interact with inner-city kids.

But with Mondesi, Cedeno and Carlos Hernandez absent, the Little Leaguers went after otherautographs. Instead of the souvenirs from their heroes, they ended up with the signature of their area councilman, whose baseball playing days are long gone.

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