A heroes' welcome home for Little Leaguers
Twelve days ago, they were one of 16 teams from around the world celebrated with a parade through Williamsport, Pa.
But on Monday, they were greeted with a heroes' welcome back home after their remarkable run in the Little League World Series.
Thousands of people lined Main Street in Westport as the town's Little League all-stars were honored with a parade, followed by a ceremony on Jesup Green. Police estimated the crowd along the route and on the Green at 2,500 to 3,500.
"We've been hearing about the community support, but until you get here and touch it, it's hard to imagine," Westport manager Tim Rogers said. "Seeing it firsthand was amazing."
Westport went 3-3 in its first-ever trip to the LLWS, finishing second in the United States and fourth in the world. The team was the first from Connecticut to reach the U.S. final since 1989 when Trumbull won the world championship.
Fans, many of whom were wearing Westport LL shirts, waived posters and Thunderstix as the team's 11 players and three coaches -- riding aboard a flatbed truck -- traveled south on Main Street, before crossing Post Road to Jesup Green and the ceremony.
Harry Azadian, who homered twice at the LLWS and recorded two wins pitching, was in awe of the warm welcome.
"I didn't know it was this big of a deal," Azadian said, smiling.
At the ceremony, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff proclaimed Monday "Westport Little League Day" as he lauded the players and coaches for their accomplishments and sportsmanship.
"It was the boys' journey that captured Westport, the state, the region and even the nation," he said.
Rogers, who was introduced to the crowd along with coaches Brett Reiner and Tom Whelan, has coached this particular group of players for three seasons. He introduced each player and recited World Series highlight moments for each.
"I've coached these kids in hundreds of games now when you include our AAU team. I always knew they were a great group of kids with a lot of spunk and a lot of fight," Rogers said. "But I never imagined just how much they had in them, to be on that stage and to carry themselves like men -- not young boys."
After the ceremony, the players and coaches -- all of whom were away from home since the start of the New England regional on Aug. 2 -- took pictures and signed autographs for fans.
"I know what it feels like to be getting autographs," pitcher/third baseman Chad Knight said, referring to his trips to MLB spring training. "But now that people are asking all of us (for our autographs), it's really just amazing."
Through all the excitement, many of the players were glad to be back home after three weeks on the road.
"I missed this town a lot," Azadian said. "I miss my house, I miss my bed, I miss everything. Even though I loved it in Williamsport, I needed to come home."
Also honored in the parade and at the ceremony was Westport's 10-11 Little League all-star softball team, which captured its first state title earlier this month.
Dbonjour@scni.com; 203-255-4561 ext 114; twitter.com/DougBonjour