Westport team tastes celebrity status Fairfield savored last year
Published 4:18 pm, Thursday, August 22, 2013
Just 12 months ago, those forest-green jerseys with "New England" in white script across the front were being worn by Fairfield American Little League's all-star team, a lively group of kids that captured the hearts of an entire town by gaining a berth in the Little League World Series.
In South Williamport, Pa. right now, a group of kids from neighboring Westport are wearing those green, New England champion's jerseys.
And like their Fairfield neighbors a year ago, the Westport players are finding themselves sudden celebrities on the world's grandest stage for youth sports.
The 12- and 13-year-old Westport players have seen their names and images on TV monitors -- especially Chad Knight, whose popularity skyrocketed after pitching a one-hit shutout in the New England title game Aug. 10.
The Westport players knew their games would be televised, but they're a bit awestruck by the attention focused on them.
"That's pretty cool, especially for our age," said the 12-year-old Knight. "For our age, it's like once-in-a-lifetime. You never know what's going to happen again."
Stadiums are regularly crowded, and more than 20,000 people jammed into Lamade Stadium on Sunday to watch Westport defeat Sammamish, Wash., 9-7 in the winner's bracket.
Before that game, Westport pitcher Harry Azadian had a sit-down interview with ESPN, then had a chance to playfully carry a camera on his shoulder and interview field reporter Jaymee Sire.
"It's been great. I never imagined doing this," Azadian said. "Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to come here. I've wanted to be on SportsCenter."
After practice on Aug. 19, the team was invited onto the SportsCenter set for a live interview with hosts Chris McKendry and Jay Crawford. Azadian was seated at the desk and joined shoulder to shoulder by his teammates, all of whom are soaking in their sudden stardom.
"It feels great," Westport first baseman Chris Drbal said. "We've been on CPTV (local table), and we're like, `Oh, this is so fun.' But now we're in the Little League World Series and we're on ESPN every time, and ABC. It's been a really cool experience."
When their games have finished, they haven't missed the chance to watch themselves on the nightly highlight reel.
"We love watching the highlights, watching the games, looking at the fun parts," Knight said. "It's pretty cool."
Before to their live appearance on SportsCenter, the players were greeted by former MLB pitcher Orel Hershiser, who is now a game analyst for ESPN. Hershiser showed the players his 1988 World Series ring and signed autographs.
Chula Vista, Calif., manager Rick Tibbett joked that his team's walk from its dorm to the practice field is often complicated because of star-struck fans.
"They like that part," Tibbett said of his players. "The last couple days, you walk around, it takes a half-hour just to get where we're going. All the little girls are chasing them all over, they all want phone numbers and they want pictures. (The players) are getting a kick out of that."
Dbonjour@scni.com; 203-255-4561 ext 114; twitter.com/DougBonjour