Phila. champs head to World Series on wave of good fellowship

Taney's #18, Jahli Hendricks (left), Scott Bandura (rear), in the background and #11, Mo'ne Davis, right, leap for joy after securing the last two outs on a double to end the 6th inning and win the Eastern Division Championship over the Newark Nationals and go on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Philadlephia's Taney Little League plays against Newark National Little League, for the Eastern Regional Championship, and a trip to the Little league World Series, on August 10, 2014. ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
Taney's #18, Jahli Hendricks (left), Scott Bandura (rear), in the background and #11, Mo'ne Davis, right, leap for joy after securing the last two outs on a double to end the 6th inning and win the Eastern Division Championship over the Newark Nationals and go on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Philadlephia's Taney Little League plays against Newark National Little League, for the Eastern Regional Championship, and a trip to the Little league World Series, on August 10, 2014. ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
Posted: August 12, 2014

BRISTOL, Conn. - There is, most definitely, crying in baseball.

As the players filed past one another for the post-game handshake, both the winners and the losers shed tears. And because many members of the victorious Taney Dragons and their opponents from Delaware had become close friends over the last 10 days, they hugged with surprising affection.

But there was no question that the 8-0 win, which will take the Philadelphia upstart team to the Little League World Series, was overwhelmingly, deliriously sweet for the Taney kids, many of whom had been playing ball together since they were 5 or 6 years old.

While the final out flashed on the scoreboard, they toppled over one another in a tangled heap on the field. Over the crowd's roar, one voice shouted, "We started from the bottom. Now we're here!"

Mo'ne Davis, the 13-year-old phenom and the only girl on the field, had slept through lunch and launched all 80 of her pitches hungry, said her mother, Lakeisha McLean.

"She'll be all right," McLean said. "She did real good."

Sports analysts will review the strategy, technique, and star potential of the players, especially Mo'ne. But equally worthy of note is the underlying goodwill among the teams' players and parents.

Breaking with its no-frills tradition, Taney parents, aunts, cousins, and grandparents spent Sunday afternoon making signs. In response to the players' requests to make a splashier show of support, the families were determined to make it known that no matter what the final score, their team had loud and proud Philly roots - and rooters.

Well, proud anyway.

"We're not screamers," said Carey Davis, whose son Carter pitches and plays center field. "We have a quiet roar," said fellow team parent Erik Lipson.

The handmade posters, neatly printed in neon markers, shouted, "Brotherly Love" and "Go Taney!" One of the more understated merely featured a sketch of the Liberty Bell.

And at the last minute, a friend of the team's had made up posters of each player with a full-color photograph and bold-faced name.

"Did you see this?" said Lakeisha McLean, holding the poster of Mo'ne, emblazoned "Go Mo!" across the top. In the weeks leading up to Sunday's win, her daughter had become a celebrity around Bristol.

In the hotel lobby, a woman came up to McLean and asked, "Is Mo'ne your daughter? She's my hero!"

The woman said she was a lifelong Little League fan and had driven from Williamsport, Pa., to see the playoff. "I'll see you in Williamsport!" she said.

And she will.

After 10 days away from home, many parents can no longer put off demands at work, so most made the four-hour drive home after the game.

One parent, a pediatric nurse practitioner, had to take a recertification test early Monday. She had been sneaking off to study for the exam whenever she could grab a spare moment.

The children will be swept off to Williamsport in a bus Monday morning at 9. Since they have to be accompanied by at least one coach, however, the logistics of how to get the cars in Connecticut back to Philadelphia required a complex exchange of keys and drivers.

There had been a few minor crises over the weekend. In the Little League dormitories where all the boys have been staying, Joe Richardson Jr. broke the screen on his new iPhone.

After practice Saturday morning, Zion Spearman was out in the field, trying to recover the dozens of baseballs he had sent sailing over the fence, when he was stung by a wasp twice in one calf.

And that night, Jared Sprague-Lott broke his cornea-reshaping contact lenses. They allow him to play ball without wearing glasses.

"He says he will be able to see well enough to play," his mother, Alison Sprague, said. "The biggest effect will probably be a nervous mother."

Three hours before the game, Little League officials met with the parents in the cafeteria behind the field.

"Williamsport is a whole other world," they were warned. Parents will not be allowed near their children immediately after each game. The players will be taken away and then reunited with their families in a designated spot.

Parents also learned that Little League had reserved a block of rooms at a hotel near the World Series field. Although families will receive a reduced rate of $95 a night, there was a five-night minimum, which will be a stretch for some of the Taney parents, especially if the team makes it beyond the first three guaranteed games. (Donations to help with World Series expenses may be made here: http://taney12ubaseball.weebly.com/)

It will help considerably, though, that each player will be supplied with free bats, cleats, and special uniforms - a retro design to honor the league's 75th year.

Toward the end of the meeting, Jenny Hardcastle, one of the parents from the Delaware team, raised her hand. Wearing a bright-red tank with Delaware spelled out in rhinestones across the back, Hardcastle said, "I just want to say how much we have loved getting to know the team from Philadelphia."

The feeling was mutual. Throughout the game, the Taney parents praised the Delaware players.

"Nice catch!"

"Beautiful hit!"

Even after Delaware challenged a run on a technicality and prevailed, the Taney parents grumbled but did not curse. (And there is, most definitely, cursing in baseball.)

"That was fair," one of the Taney fathers said. "Let's move on."

In another moment of grace, when Delaware's pitcher, nearing the maximum number of pitches allowed - 85 - walked off the field, the Taney fans gave him a sustained standing ovation.

The parents had been sleepless for days, trying to tamp down their expectations. And although it might have been easy to say that win or lose, they were winners, winning clearly was better.

Still, as they shouted themselves hoarse and watched their children line up for interviews on ESPN, several parents said that aside from their spectacular performance, they were most proud of how kind the players had been to one another.

Quyen Shanahan, whose son Tai played center field, said she told her son, "You might not have been born with as much talent as some of these other players, but there's no reason you can't be the hardest worker and the best teammate. Those things you can control."

For the losing team's parents, the consolation seemed sincere.

"It's so nice to be playing friends," Hardcastle said. "This way, win or lose, we can cheer for the Mid-Atlantic team."


215-854-2590

mdribben@phillynews.com.

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