Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Little League champs celebrated

Thousands line parade route to root for Ky. team

By James Bruggers
The Courier-Journal

        LOUISVILLE — Thousands of people lined Dixie Highway and gathered at Louisville Slugger Field Monday in a celebration of a Little League team that has stolen the hearts of Kentuckians.

        “Let's never forget it's all about these 12 boys right here,” Troy Osborne said at Slugger Field. Mr. Osborne is the father of player Zach Osborne and manager of the Valley Sports American team that defeated Japan, 1-0, to win the Little League World Series Aug. 25.

        The parade and Slugger Field event culminated a week of praise and congratulations that have been heaped on the players since their victory, including a homecoming gala at Cardinal Stadium Aug 26. that drew an estimated 10,000 fans.

        Monday's celebration began close to home — on the Valley Sports ball fields. Before each player and coach climbed onto Corvettes for his parade into the city, he was honored by Jefferson County Judge-Executive Rebecca Jackson.

        U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, a Republican from Louisville, promised them that President George W. Bush would shake their hands first upon his arrival in Louisville Thursday, when he will campaigning on behalf of Ms. Northup.

        Before joining the parade, Ms. Northup told the players that they gave the United States something of which it can be very proud.

        Several members of the last Louisville-area team to play in the Little League World Series were on hand. Their year was 1965, and the team from Jeffersonville placed fourth, beating Japan but losing to Canada.

        Ray Leezor, a member of that team, told the boys they had done something truly special and that they “will have this moment forever.” He also said that their Little League experiences will help them excel in their lives as they mature and become adults.

        “I'm real proud of these kids,”said Troy Bennett, who chauffeured team star Aaron Alvey in a royal blue 2002 model. “It's a neat thing to be a part of.”

        Mr. Bennett said his teenage daughter was crushed when he insisted there wasn't room in the two-seat sports car for her to ride alone with Aaron. “She said he could sit on her lap.”

        Along the route, businesses displayed balloons and put up signs such as “Bring on the Yankees” or “Welcome Home World Champs.”

        As the team arrived at Slugger Field, cheers nearly drowned out recordings of Carly Simon's “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

        The coaches received red autographed boxing gloves from Louisville native and boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

        The boys and their coaches went inside the baseball stadium, where they were introduced to several thousand cheering Louisville Bats fans.

        From the area of the pitchers mound, each player then simultaneously threw a baseball to a Bats player for the ceremonial “first pitches” of the minor league team's final regular-season home game.

        “We don't get this every day,” said Daryl Cheatham, the parent of Valley Sports League competitors who were not on the World Series championship team, but who has nonetheless followed and supported its exploits. “We're trying to enjoy the moment.”


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