The rush of the Dragons

Posted: August 22, 2014

WILLIAMSPORT - This town doesn't have rush hour. There are no lines at the stores. No crowds on the sidewalks.

Many of the kids who grow up here don't get to experience the rush of being one in a multitude, of cheering for the same cause, together, as one.

The Taney Dragons have given them that - and so much more.

While foreboding clouds kept the Little League World Series complex relatively empty in the afternoon, as the skies cleared, the crowds rushed in and by early evening, Lamade Stadium had more people in the stands and on the nearby grassy hills than there are residents in entire city of Williamsport.

The official crowd estimate for last night's Philly vs. Las Vegas game was more than 34,000, but even for Philadelphians like Mo'ne Davis' stepdad, Mark Williams, the crowds were intense.

"This is crazy, I felt like I had to do a dance just to get over here from there," he said. "I was doing the cha-cha and swinging around poles. This crowd is crazy! It's ridiculous up here! It's a lot of fun."

The only time the crowd broke was shortly before game time, when the Taney players had to walk through the masses to get to their locker room. It was as if Moses were parting the Red Sea.

The crowd hushed before it went wild with screams from adults and kids alike. Tiny children, barely old enough to hobble on their chubby legs, chased after the young Dragons until the gate was closed. Then, they pouted at the shut fence.

There were a few pouts in the stands last night from disappointed Taney fans, too, but if there's anything the Dragons have learned from their families - and taught all of their fans - it's how to be a good sport. The 8-1 loss was hard to take, but not devastating.

"It was a good game," said Joe Richardson Sr., whose son, Joe Jr., is a Taney Dragon. "They didn't mercy us and they mercied every other team.

"We have to go through Chicago [today] but we'll be back with everybody on deck Saturday," he said. "With each loss, the kids have to refocus."

Jahli Hendricks' father, Keith, took conciliatory handshakes from Taney fans as they walked down the stands.

"We'll just have to do it the more difficult way," he said. "We'll be back on Saturday."

More than 60 fans traveling from Philadelphia to Williamsport yesterday were disappointed before the game even started when Little League officials told them they could not bring Taney posters provided by the Daily News, Inquirer and Philly.com into the park because they had the publications' logos on the bottom.

Samuel Siegel-Wallace, 21, the son of Taney Baseball founder Ellen Siegel, would not let the 2,000 signs go to waste. When he couldn't get anyone to give him scissors to cut the logos off, he spent hours tearing them off by hand.

"I said to the guy, 'You don't think we're that dedicated, do you?' " he said. "Well, we are."

As fast as Siegel-Wallace could rip the posters to meet Little League standards, a team of kids took them up to the top of the hill at Lamade Stadium and started to hand them out.

Nicholas Basinet, the 12-year-old nephew of coach Alex Rice and cousin to player Jack Rice, was one of those kids.

"Free? That's amazing, thank you!" said one passerby who grabbed a poster from him. "That's so cool!"

Basinet made at least 10 trips back to restock on posters.

"People are crazy!" he said. "I was getting mobbed."

Mo'ne Davis' grandfather, Leonard Davis, of Willingboro, N.J., was trying to keep a low profile in the crowd with his plain "Philadelphia" shirt and a single Mo'ne poster tucked under his arm.

"I never thought Little League was this big!" he said. "It's terrific. I'm getting educated myself."

Davis was especially impressed with the cheap but tasty food at the nearby Mountaineer restaurant and with the local residents who let him park on their lawn for $5.

"If this was Philadelphia, people would be charging $25!" he said.

Eileen Berger, 64, who traveled with two of her best friends from Mount Carmel, Pa., for the first time to see the Little League World Series, was also stricken by the affordability of the experience.

"Where else can you go where there is no admission price and the food is reasonable?" she asked.

South Philly residents Nick Giangiulio, 51, and Domenick DeMuro, 44, also drove to last night's game but plan to be back for work today. They made the trek because their children asked them to. It was just happenstance that DeMuro was also celebrating a birthday.

"What you do for your kids," Giangiulio said. "Tonight, you'll find out what the team is made of because Las Vegas is the best team. They hit the ball."

But Las Vegas, doesn't have Mo'ne Davis, DeMuro proffered.

"Pitching makes all the difference," DeMuro said. "I think she's the real deal."

Barbara Ruth-Cook, 45, of Queen Village, has made the trip to every Taney game at the Little League World Series so far. The first two she traveled by bus with other Taney fans, but last night she drove and also planned to be back in time for work this morning.

She said her son has played with most of the Taney Dragons and said it's been a "fun ride" to see the city get behind the team.

"It's exciting to see kids you watch grow up and achieve this," she said. "You know, it's their dream - you can't help but feel joy for them to achieve their dream."

Even if they fell short of achieving their dreams last night, the Dragons and their coaches remind us that we're never too young - or too old - to dream. It's our duty to wake up in the morning and pursue those dreams, just as the Taney Dragons will do today.

"We have a great chance of winning, it's not going to be easy though," Ruth-Cook said before the game. "But, if not, they can still go out and play again [today].

"Taney kids can play the game with anyone."


On Twitter: @FarFarrAway

Online: ph.ly/crime

Blog: ph.ly/Delco

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