CHICAGO – In the midst of all their accomplishments, honors and accolades, the Jackie Robinson West Little League players have retained a bit of innocence about them.
It’s no small feat, since the Chicago squad of 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds earned the United States title at the recently completed Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in front of a packed stadium and a national television audience.
Honored before the Chicago White Sox played the Detroit Tigers on Saturday night, the JRW ceremony was crowded into pregame activities that also involved former White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who was celebrated for his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame last month.
“It’s crazy because he’s a Hall of Famer and we’re just some regular kids that made it to Williamsport,” JRW’s Trey Hondras said.
Hondras and his teammates shook hands with players, posed for pictures and ran the bases one by one after their names were announced, slapping high-fives with White Sox players as they rounded third and headed for home.
“A dream; it’s been unreal,” team manager Darold Butler said. “The parade, I heard, was one of the biggest parades Chicago has ever had and these guys are 11, 12, 13 years old. It’s been unreal and the boys, they deserve every bit of it.”
Butler has been running on fumes since the Little League World Series, but with the first day of school approaching some rest is in sight.
“I think we’ve been trying to rest but it’s not working,” said Butler, who still has a trip to Disney World planned for his team Friday. “I think I’m four hours of sleep every day now because of all the activities and all the things they have going on. But anything for these guys.”
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn was also on hand Saturday, in his yellow JRW champions T-shirt, soaking in the atmosphere.
“We are going back to school on Tuesday and it’s important to learn in school, but it’s special that they are here on the field of a major league ballpark,” Quinn said. “Someday, maybe they will be in the majors, or someday they might not be, but they are our heroes forever.
“The way they played that game last week when they won the championship, they came from behind, the double play at the end. They know how to play the game and they show us how to play it right in life too.”
So are the players keen on returning to everyday activities like school and homework?
“I heard them talking to each other and it doesn’t sound like they’re ready to go back to school,” Butler said. “Right now they’re having a ball. I don’t think school is what they’re looking forward to, but it’s about to happen so they’ll be all right.”
Hondras definitely sounded like he was willing to let the celebrations continue.
“I’m real happy," he said. “I’m excited we’re on this field and get to jog around and see the players. It’s real exciting.”
Little did he know, the White Sox players were probably just as happy to see him.