A Superior Court judge took time out Wednesday from the usual murders, robberies and multimillion-dollar civil suits to rule on whether the Verdugo and Vaquero all-stars get to play for their district Little League championship, even if they did violate some adults' regulations.
After a 25-minute hearing, His Honor ruled:
Superior Court Judge S. James Otero not only returned the two all-star teams to the ranks of Little League contenders, he ruled that they must face off against each other in an elimination game tonight.
"The winner of that game will play the so-called tournament champion" on Friday or Saturday, said Phillip R. Marrone, the Burbank attorney who represents the players' parents.
The two all-star teams had been forbidden to play in the district championship by national Little League officials because they played in a charity event.
According to Marrone, the judge agreed that irreparable harm would come to the players, many of whom are in their last season of Little League eligibility, if they were not allowed to complete the season.
Steven Smilay, the attorney representing Little League Baseball Inc., did not return a telephone call seeking comment Wednesday evening.
Twenty Verdugo and Vaquero all-star players were banned from the District 16 all-star playoffs after Little League officials decided that their participation in a charity tournament earlier this month violated a league rule that forbids more than six players from the same team competing on a nonleague team.
If their parents had not been successful in their appeal to the court to intervene, the district champion would have been decided at the last scheduled game of the tournament Wednesday night.
Carlos Torres, president of the Verdugo Little League, said that although the teams had asked the judge to order that the tournament be restarted with the two ousted teams participating, he's satisfied with the outcome.
"We're happy," he said. "All we've been saying all along is they should have the opportunity to play."
Torres and Richard (Moe) Montanez, president of the Vaquero Little League, have been stripped of their volunteer positions by national Little League officials for allowing their players to compete in the charity games after being informed that it violated league rules, a situation that Torres said has yet to be resolved.
"That's something else that we're going to address at a later date," he said.
Torres said he was "the happiest person around" when the judge's decision was announced but that there would be no party to celebrate.
"We're getting ready to practice," he said.
And while the ruling once again places the Verdugo and Vaquero players and parents on opposite sides of the ball field, Verdugo Manager Tony Cisneros said that everyone will remain friends.
"We're united and we'll stay united," he said.