Little League, major fun
WILLIAMSPORT - Lisa Metzger walked up to Taney Youth Baseball Association founder Ellen Siegel, who was standing at the top of the hill at Lamade Stadium yesterday with fans who'd made the bus trip from Philadelphia to see the Taney Dragons play in their first game of the Little League World Series.
"I was thinking," Metzger said, "You must be the proudest person in the stadium right now."
That was during the second inning.
After the Dragons won their first game on a national stage, 4-to-zilch, Jane Frankel, who co-founded the association with Siegel for their own sons, couldn't contain her excitement.
"Unbelievable!" she yelled. "Never in my wildest dreams in 1994 did I think this could happen. This is so exciting!"
Siegel said when they started the association 20 years ago, "The superstars were the kids who picked daisies in the outfield."
Now, the players - these incredible child ambassadors from our city - are bona fide celebrities. Comedian Chris Rock called pitcher Mo'ne Davis his "hero" on Twitter yesterday and the estimated crowd of 15,000 - one of the series' biggest ever for a Game 1 - rose to their feet in celebration of the win.
As Joe Evangelista, of Lansdale, walked back to the Philly-bound buses after the game, he could not wipe off the childlike perma-smile from his 51-year-old face. "It's a privilege coming up here and seeing this beautiful, wonderful day," he said. "It's just full of happiness here!"
Zachary Cheatham, 12, of South Philly, said the best part of the game for him was Jared Sprague-Lott's home run that gave the team three runs in the first inning.
"They actually did better than I thought. I figured they would have let more runs [in] - or any runs at all," he said. "They're awesome. I'm jealous."
The 150 hard-core Taney fans on three buses who made the trip from Philadelphia were surprised to find the stands at Lamade Stadium full when they arrived two hours before game time. Each team is given only 42 reserved seats per game, and those typically go to family.
So the Philly contingent made a home at the top of the hill, just below where children were sliding down another, steeper hill on broken-down cardboard boxes. The kids from Philly, many of whom play on one of Taney's 72 other teams, gleefully joined in the summer sledding.
Keven Prescott, 36, of Germantown, brought his grandmother and two daughters to the game on one of the buses. He said he didn't have any affiliation with any of the Taney players, "just city pride."
"This is my first time here. It's so authentic, so natural - the field, the game, the speed," he said. "I love it all!"
Prescott's daughter, Kiara, 15, said she was the only girl on her baseball team when she was 8 years old.
"It was a little difficult, I had to work for the coach's trust," she said. "So seeing Mo'ne is really inspiring. It's about caring how you feel, not how everyone else feels."
Terrence Reid, 44, was dressed head-to-toe in Mid-Atlantic gear. The Philly native, who moved to Williamsport seven years ago for "a slower pace and better air," said the game is not only positive for the kids who are in it, but for the kids in Williamsport and those kids in Philly who watched it at home.
"In Philly, kids are getting killed and shooting each other," he said. "This is something for them to maybe check where their life is at and what they are doing."
Reid was impressed with the skills of the kids from his hometown team.
"Mo'ne's doing a heck of a job. I think all of them are, because whenever she let them hit the ball, the rest of the team stepped up," he said. "I played baseball, but I could never imagine this."
Brett Mandel, who has children on younger Taney teams, took the trip down with his kids.
"I don't know how the actual parents of the players do it," he said. "I'm sick to my stomach and I don't have blood on the field."
At one point during the game, Peter Kearney, 48, of Lake Harmony in the Poconos, leaned in to ask Siegel: "Are there a lot of girls in your league?"
"We started as a league open to everyone, but there are fewer now than there were because a lot have been siphoned off to softball," she said. "I'd love to see more again. We've had a lot of very strong girls over the years."
As the Philly fans headed back to their buses home, Siegel, who was bombarded with texts and calls, was already making plans for buses to come for tomorrow's game. Philly kids waiting to leave played catch in the parking lot, strangers driving out who noticed the Philadelphia buses yelled "Taney!" and Evangelista, the man with the perma-smile, wondered just what waves this team may make in the end.
"Just like Jackie Robinson, he broke that barrier, I hope Mo'ne will break that barrier for women," he said. "I have a daughter, and I would love to see women play in the major leagues."
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