Westport fans love a parade

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Disneyland is about 2,600 miles from this sleepy town tucked away in the Appalachian foothills. But to Westporter Craig Knight, the home of Mickey Mouse and the home of the Little League World Series are one in the same.

"It's Disneyland for adults," said Knight, who, along with other Westport parents clad in forrest green shirts and thousands of local residents lined downtown sidewalks for the Grand Slam Parade.

About an hour later, Westport Little League's 11 players and three coaches -- all fashioning their green New England regional uniforms and hats -- slowly passed by on a float, tossing candy. Sharing the same float, players from Aguadulce Cabezera Little League in Panama, the Latin America champions, waved to the crowd lined six people deep.

Soon after, the 14 other teams -- seven from the U.S. and seven others from around the world -- that will compete in the 67th Little League World Series passed through. And everyone, including the crowd of parents and fans from Westport, were letting the experience sink in.

Westport will play in the LLWS for the first time in its 62-year history on Thursday at 7 p.m. when it faces Southeast champion Nashville, Tenn. at Lamade Stadium.

For many, the opportunity to play on youth sports' grandest stage and on television is a dream fulfilled.

"You think about there being only eight teams from the United States represented here, it's something you certainly can dream about," said Alan Offenberg, whose son Ricky plays shortstop for Westport.

People of all ages, many wearing the colors of a respective teams in the LLWS, awakened the normally sleepy town as music blared from speakers.

"It only comes once a year. This is like the busiest time of the year," said 13-year-old Alyssa Sauers, who lives in Williamsport. "Other times, it's pretty boring here -- not much to do."

The ninth annual parade, with Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry as the Grand Marshal, kicked off the festivities for the Series, which runs Aug. 15 through 25. The opening ceremony featuring the 16 teams are scheduled Thursday at 10 a.m., with the first game between Panama and Carribean champion San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico to start at 1 p.m.

Alan Offenberg called the LLWS experience "surreal," with other Westporters sharing his sentiment.

"We're a family of sports junkies. We watch a lot of ESPN and a lot of sports in general, and to turn that on and see your kid on there, it's one of those things where you just have to pinch yourself," Offenberg said.

Knight, whose son Chad pitched a one-hit shutout in the New England championship, fashioned a shirt at the parade with his last name and his son's No. 24. He's seen the outpouring of support for Westport build in recent weeks, continuing with the parade.

"I'm getting hundreds of emails and texts from people I haven't heard from in years. ... It's an amazing experience," the elder Knight said. "I was in (for) coffee and doughnuts the other day and they were cheering."

From the sidewalk, Janet Rogers cheered both her husband, Tim, the team's manager, and son, Drew, an outfielder. She too was capturing the moment.

"I am so amazed and so proud of them," she said.

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