In Williamsport, Philly's Taney Dragons already a hit

Posted: August 15, 2014

WILLIAMSPORT - Edward "Mr. Ed the Barber" Fields, 66, a Philadelphia native who lives here, couldn't contain his excitement as the Taney Dragons passed by on their float in the Grand Slam Parade last night.

"PHILLY!!!" he screamed. "This is like Doctor J, Moses Malone and the Broad Street Bullies all in one!"

Fields was among an estimated 40,000 people who jammed the parade route along the city's main drag, West Fourth Street, to cheer on the Dragons and the 15 other teams in the Little League World Series, which begins today.

The Taney Dragons were a favorite among the Williamsport crowd, who urged them to "Bring it home!" to Pennsylvania. While the team was on a slow-moving flatbed truck, kids along the parade route played catch with the Taney players with the candy and toys they'd been given by other floats. The Dragons posed for photographs for adults and were especially thrilled when they were asked to sign autograph books by other kids.

Before the parade, the teams were given a picnic at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. There was no hint of rivalry among players, only camaraderie. Members of the team from Japan even showed some of the guys from Philly how to properly bend the brims of their ball caps.

No words were spoken among the kids, because they have none in common, but every player used the language we all share: laughter.

Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, the parade's grand marshal, spoke to the players at the picnic and told them to savor these moments.

"Go and meet kids from around the world, see what city they are from, what language they may speak, and you may travel there one day," he said.

The Dragons weren't the only Philly group participating in the festivities last night. For the seventh year in a row, the Aqua String Band, a Mummers group from Bridesburg, brought a little Philly to Willy.

Ron Iannacone, retired Aqua captain, said the Little League parade is one of the best in which to strut.

"It's easy to get jaded, but this is still one of those parades you get chills down your spine," he said. "You don't think about it because it's Williamsport and it's in the middle of Pennsylvania, but they're hosting guests from around the world. It really is an international event."

The fact that Williamsport will be the first place in America some of these kids will see is not lost on the city's mayor, Gabe Campana.

"I think it's wonderful because they're going to get a nice impression of the United States," he said. "Williamsport is a family-oriented, safe environment with nice people."

The series pumps $32 million into the region over its 11-day run, according to Jason Fink, executive director of the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau.

Visitors with downtime can take a ride on the west branch of the Susquehanna River on the Hiawatha, a paddle-wheel boat with a full bar; catch a home game of a Phillies affiliate, the Crosscutters, across from the site of the original Little League fields; grab a bite at Franco's Lounge or the Bullfrog Brewery; or take a walk down West Fourth Street, also known as "Millionaire's Row."

During a lumber boom in the 1800s, Williamsport, also known as "Billtown," was home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world, and vestiges of that time can still be seen in the mansions along Millionaire's Row. Today, it's the Marcellus Shale and the natural-gas industry that are pumping money into the area economy and fueling debate about the use of land and natural resources.

Crime is relatively low - the city of 29,000 had two homicides, 42 aggravated assaults and 111 violent crimes in 2012, according to the latest information from the FBI. Heroin is perceived to be the region's biggest growing problem, and this year leaders created the first Lycoming County Heroin Task Force. "This should be the No. 1 issue," Campana said. "This is really a domestic issue affecting all families."

The area boasts a few famous sons and daughters. Former New York Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina is from nearby Montoursville, as is ex-WNBA player Kelly Mazzante, who met with Taney Dragon and WNBA hopeful Mo'Ne Davis on Tuesday night. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson even spent some time in nearby landlocked Jersey Shore, Pa., when he took a job there thinking he was moving to the actual Jersey Shore.

Winfield called Williamsport "the heartland of America," and seemed to reference Little League founder Carl Stotz when he said: "No matter where you're from, if you have an idea and you plant a seed, great things can happen. That is what happened here."

On Twitter: @FarFarrAway



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