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Beltre Not Bitter Despite Dodger 'Lie'

Baseball: Third baseman says he could return to L.A. even though he says team knew he was under age.

December 03, 1999|ROSS NEWHAN and PAUL GUTIERREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — After spending more than three exhausting hours with investigators from the commissioner's office Thursday, Adrian Beltre sat amid the cool breezes of an open air hotel lobby and played it cool, indeed.

Is he bitter at the Dodgers for allegedly signing him before the legal age of 16 and failing to inform him of the rule?

Is he angry that they may have altered documents in the process?

Make no mistake: Beltre has asked to be declared a free agent because of the alleged signing violation, but he insisted in his first in-depth interview since filing his complaint that he would be happy to return to the Dodgers.

"My first point is not to be a free agent," Beltre said. "My first point is to get my age right. They lied about this, I didn't know the rules and I'm just trying to get my age right.

"In the process, if I become a free agent, it would be great, but this is not about money. I would be happy to stay in L.A. They treat me well, I like to play with them. I like the city, I love the fans, I like everything about L.A. except the taxes."

The situation, in reality, may have left Beltre with several things he dislikes.

A source familiar with his feelings said he is, indeed, bitter and angry at the Dodgers for allegedly violating a rule he was unaware of and apparently altering official documents in the process, but it was clear Thursday that he is determined not to say anything that will alienate the Dodgers before the commissioner's office makes a ruling--particularly with members of agent Scott Boras' staff monitoring the questions and answers.

Attorney George Vujovich and Boras aides Mike Fiore and Fernando Arguelles were present when three members of the commissioner's staff--including lawyers Ed Burns and Lou Melendez--interviewed Beltre and his parents at their home in this Dominican Republic capital and later sat with Beltre and his father, Bienvenido, during an interview with two Times reporters at a beachfront hotel. Beltre was not permitted to talk about any of his comments to the commissioner's staff nor to speculate on where the future might take him if he is declared a free agent and the Dodgers are precluded from re-signing him.

Beltre earned $220,000 in his first full season but could jump to more than $6 million on the open market--particularly if the New York Yankees, as expected, were involved in the bidding.

Asked if the money isn't intriguing, Beltre reiterated that he simply wants to get his age right and get on with his promising career.

He said he doesn't want fans to turn on him as some turned on Raul Mondesi during the 1999 season.

"That's why I don't like that," Beltre said. "I don't know what kind of feeling that would be when anything you do they just boo. It was too hard for him. I don't know how he dealt with that. I don't want to deal with that and I wouldn't know how to deal with it. I just don't want fans to think I'm doing this for the money. I mean, I don't want that to happen. I don't know how to explain it, but if I could do something for the fans [in the way of explaining it], I would."

Said a Boras staff member, demanding anonymity: "This is not about greed or avarice. It's about fairness. Fairness is not knowingly signing a player at 15. Fairness is for all teams to have had a chance to sign you [at 16]. Fairness would be for the Dodgers to stand up and say they made a mistake and falsified documents in the process rather than now trying to say it was Adrian who did it. It is absolutely clear that Adrian had nothing to do with the alterations and was under age when he signed."

Dodger media guides have always listed Beltre's birthday as April 7, 1978, which would have made him 16 at the time of his signing in 1994. Beltre insists he was born on that date in 1979, and documents obtained or viewed by The Times seem to support that, listing April 7, 1979, as his birth date.

Those documents--presented to the commissioner's staff Thursday--include his original birth certificate and an Extracto De Acta form certified by the Dominican government. They also include his passport and the work visas that major league clubs are required to provide to non-immigrant players and which are issued by the immigration department based on information provided by the respective club.

Boras and staff insist the Dodgers altered the birth date and made other changes on the Extracto De Acta form and the original signing contract they filed with the commissioner's office. A member of the Boras staff said Dodger counsel Sam Fernandez does not deny the documents were altered.

Fernandez and the Dodgers have consistently refused comment, as did Pablo Peguero, the scout who signed Beltre and is now director of the Dodgers' Dominican academy, when he was interviewed at the academy Thursday.

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