Braeden Zanni ran to his bedroom and cried late Saturday afternoon after he heard the Red Sox had traded his favorite ballplayer. Tyler Beach, another distraught 7-year-old, asked his dad whether Nomar Garciaparra ''had done something wrong."
When David DeMatteo broke the news to his two children, Joshua, 5, and Kelsey, 9, they just couldn't grasp why their hero wouldn't be playing at Fenway Park anymore.
''They were saying, 'Where did he go? How come? Where's he playing?' " said DeMatteo, a tee-ball coach in Agawam. ''You try to explain it -- that it's a business. You try to explain why he's not going to be on TV anymore. But to a 5-year-old, its kind of hard."
The Red Sox's trade Saturday of the hugely popular shortstop, a New England fixture since 1996, has left many fans feeling frustrated, sad, even heartbroken. But Garciaparra's trade to the Chicago Cubs arguably has been hardest on his youngest fans -- 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds -- who don't understand contract disputes, free agency, or soured employer-employee relationships.
All they know is that they've lost their hero, and that it hurts.
''A child experiences ballplayers and teams as if they are extensions of themselves and their family," said Dr. Carolyn Newberger, a Brookline child psychologist. ''The Red Sox are their home team, and their home team and their neighborhood and family are all part of who they are. When their hero is traded, there is a loss of a sense of safety and permanence."
To ease the pain, Newberger said, parents should try telling their young softball and baseball players that professional baseball is like a job, and that people often leave one job because they can get a better job that will make them happier. Empathy, she said, also goes a long way.
''Rather than saying this is the way things go and there will be someone else, say, 'I see you're upset. I know this is upsetting. Do you want to talk about it? Because I'm upset, too,' " she said.
Peter Zanni of Lynnfield tried consoling his 7-year-old son by following him into his room -- decorated with Garciaparra pennants, pictures, and a bobble-head doll -- and letting him vent.
''He was going to throw all his Nomar stuff away," Zanni said. ''He was actually more mad at the Cubs. 'I hate the Cubs,' he said. He just couldn't understand why he's not a Red Sox anymore."
Braeden was feeling better yesterday morning, his father said, but he was still pining for his favorite glove-tugging shortstop. During breakfast, Braeden came downstairs with his Garciaparra pennant and began tracing a copy of it with pencil and paper.
''I'm sad. I didn't want him to get traded," Braeden said. ''I like how he plays and does his stuff -- his batting stance."
Though the Red Sox were in Minnesota, souvenir shops around Fenway Park were busy yesterday with fans buying Garciaparra shirts with his No. 5 on the back and his rookie baseball card. Rene Umanzor, of Sturbridge, bought his 5-year-old son, Andrew, a new Manny Ramirez shirt to replace the Garciaparra jersey he usually wears.
He also tried telling Andrew that the two players Garciaparra was traded for -- shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz -- are also very good players.
''The easiest way I've found to explain it to him is just to say we got two players now instead of one. And that's something better," Umanzor said.
Close by on Yawkey Way, a quiet 9-year-old Anthony Donaldson was wearing his brand-new Garciaparra shirt, purchased by his uncle on Saturday just hours before the trade.
''He was so thrilled to get the shirt," said his father, also named Anthony, of Roslindale. ''He's hurt about it. You can tell."
As usual with young children, few have attempted to hide their emotions about saying goodbye to their icon, parents said. Rick Beach of Quincy said his son, Tyler, was very upset Saturday upon hearing about the trade.
Yesterday morning, Tyler was still melancholy, barely uttering a word during a 2-hour car ride to their family's camp in Vermont.
''There was no talk about baseball. Nothing. And that's always one of his favorite subjects," Beach said.
''I wish he'd stayed. I'm mad," said Jessica McAlpine, 12, of Holbrook, another visitor to Fenway Park wearing a Garciaparra jersey yesterday. ''He's just a really good player, and he's always doing charity work."
Newberger, the child psychologist, said children will get over losing Garciaparra, though it may take some longer than others.
In the interim, she advised parents not to rush the process -- his poster can stay put on the wall -- but also to be as honest as they can.
''The reality is awful," she said. ''But this is a reality that will help the children understand a little more how the world works."