CHICAGO (CBS) — The Jackie Robinson West Little League team was the toast of the town on Wednesday, as thousands of fans lined South Side streets and packed into Millennium Park to salute the national championship players and coaches who were the darlings of the Little League World Series.
A throng of fans — many dressed in yellow JRW shirts — packed Jackie Robinson Park Wednesday morning to celebrate the team’s national title, before a parade took the team downtown for an even bigger rally at Millennium Park, where roughly 10,000 fans greeted the team.
At the rally kickoff of the celebration at the team’s South Side ballpark, politicians from Gov. Pat Quinn to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to Mayor Rahm Emanuel took turns praising the team’s hard work and success, When the players and coaches had their turn at a second rally at Millennium Park, they kept it short and sweet.
“Wow, wow, wow, this is unbelievable,” coach Darold Butler said after the team received a prolonged cheer from the crowd when they took the stage at Pritzker Pavilion. “Y’all are about to make me cry.”
“Chi-town, thank you, we love you. Thank you for everything,” he added.
Pierce Jones, who hit three home runs in the team’s opening game of the tournament, kept it simple as he spoke on behalf of his teammates.
“We just want to say thank you, and we love you,” Jones said.
Earlier, at the South Side rally, Butler said the team was “living in a bubble” during the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania; not watching TV or reading newspapers.
At one point, they got a view of one of the watch parties the city hosted for fans to watch the games.
“It was bananas,” Butler said. “After seeing that, we all knew, let’s go win this whole thing for the city of Chicago, for the State of Illinois, let’s make the nation proud.”
Bill Haley, the team’s director, and son of team founder Joseph Haley, praised the players’ parents for instilling the values of “winning with grace [and] losing with grace.”
For a city starved for baseball success the past few years, Jackie Robinson West proved the perfect summer tonic for Cubs and Sox fans alike. White Sox vice president Kenny Williams and Cubs president Theo Epstein were among those who saluted the JRW All-Stars were among those thanking the players for bringing the city together.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve had anything to celebrate about,” Williams said. “Sorry about that.”
Epstein said the team’s success served as a “rallying cry” for the whole city.
“I do think this is a bit of a watershed moment because looks who’s rallying around this team. The entire community, major league players, front offices, the entire city of Chicago so it’s all of our responsibility to make sure that this doesn’t fade away,” Epstein said.
Williams said the team should be celebrated for giving the city something to teach for, and said no one should be surprised by how they have handled the spotlight. Williams said he recently was approached by someone who remarked the players were “so well-behaved.”
“I said, ‘Yeah, we teach that,” Williams said, adding that the players provided a “glimpse into who we really are.”
Williams also said Chicago’s ongoing problems with violent crime should not tarnish the good deeds of so many other people in the city, including Jackie Robinson West.
“Pick up a ball. A glove. A book. A paint stick. A science project. Something. Put down the guns,” Williams said.
Six of the JRW players also have been part of the White Sox Amateur City Elite [ACE] program, which gives inner-city youth baseball players the chance to play with elite traveling teams to compete against other elite teams.
The White Sox will honor the team before their Saturday evening game against the Detroit Tigers at 6:10 p.m.
The gifts from the White Sox weren’t the only surprise for the players on Wednesday. The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition also announced it was working to send the boys to Disney World to celebrate their national title.