The next big baseball name to come out of St. Louis is Little.
Christian Little is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound 16-year-old with a right arm that is taking him places.
Of all the stops he made during a summer whirlwind that had him shaking hands with another Christian (Yelich) and pitching at the home of the Cubs, it was his most recent experience that meant the most.
Little, a rising junior at CBC who became the youngest player to commit to Vanderbilt’s powerhouse program (at 14), was one of the players selected to attend this summer’s Hank Aaron Invitational.
Major League Baseball and its players’ association started the amateur training initiative in Vero Beach, Fla., to help cultivate and connect the sport’s emerging players from diverse backgrounds, and to combat the trend of decreasing baseball participation rates among young African Americans. For Little, the Florida adventure ended in Atlanta, where fewer than 50 invitational attendees played in the event’s showcase game at SunTrust Park during Hank Aaron Week.
“It was fun to play with kids my age who are African Americans and top baseball players,” Little said recently in an interview with his family. “We got to go around Atlanta and visit historic African American places, like The King Center. We went to Paschal’s, a historic restaurant. That’s where we ate with Hank Aaron.”
Aaron told Little and his temporary teammates two hours worth of stories. Throughout, he stressed that each generation must give back to the next.
“Most kids of our color, of our race, are usually playing basketball or football,” Little said. “We are working with Major League Baseball to put the image out there that we can play, too.”
Baseball never has felt foreign to Little. He didn’t choose the sport as much as he absorbed it.
Chris Little, Christian’s father, is a University City native who picked up the game on the fields of Heman Park.
After one season pitching for St. Louis Community College Forest Park, Chris was selected by the Astros in the 12th round of the 2001 draft. He spent nearly a decade playing professionally, including stops with the Gateway Grizzlies and the Southern Illinois Miners. Teri Little would bring her son to watch her husband’s games, as many as possible.
The first sign the Littles had a son with a special arm came the day they went to the hospital for the birth of their daughter, Caitlyn.
They were packing an overnight bag when 17-month-old Christian, perhaps realizing his time in the family spotlight was about to be shared, made a statement. He popped his pacifier out of his mouth and threw it toward his parents, bouncing it off his mom.
Christian warmed up to his sister.
His arm kept making statements.
Soon he was throwing out first pitches and standing with his dad during pregame ceremonies. He hit in the cages, played catch on the field and at times hopped on the team bus. A father’s goal switched gears, from making the majors to picking up baseball knowledge that could be passed to his son.
Christian used to want to be a catcher. When he’s not pitching, he plays first base. He hit .245 with a .394 on-base percentage at CBC last season. But his focus, like his future, is on the mound.
He looks up to Marcus Stroman’s flare and Luis Severino’s snarl. He wants hitters to feel nervous entering the box and defeated exiting it. He’s not shy about that, and he has the tools to accomplish it.
With five pitches — four-seamer, two-seamer, curveball, slider and changeup — and velocity in the (for now) low 90’s, Little has the stuff and and size to make scouts sit up straight.
As a CBC freshman, he had a 1.72 earned-run-average in 40 2/3 innings. He struck out 45 and walked 23. Opponents averaged .196 against him.
Last season, he had a 1.88 ERA in 44 2/3 innings over 11 games. He struck out 58 and walked 18. Opponents averaged .174 against him.
His career high school record now reads 9-2, in 17 starts. Baseball scouting service Perfect Game ranks him No. 2 nationally among prospects in the 2021 class.
Last summer, he helped Team USA’s 15-under baseball team win a gold medal at the World Cup in Panama. This summer has been even more surreal.
He was one of two underclassmen to attend this summer’s Under Armour All-America game at Wrigley Field.
In late July he played at Miller Park, the Milwaukee Brewers’ home, as part of USA Baseball’s 17-under national team development program. The event prompted a drop-in from National League MVP Yelich.
During the Hank Aaron Invitational, Little shook Hammerin’ Hank’s hand. He heard the Hall of Famer’s message.
“We can do it,” Little said. “Our color is not going to stop us from being able to make it to the top level and be the best.”