The Jackie Robinson West Team may not have won the Little League World Series, but Chicago is still treating them like stars.
Hopefully the young champions aren’t tired of the spotlight yet because the City of Chicago is hosting a parade in their honor Wednesday morning. They won the U.S. Little League Baseball World Series title, 7-5, in Pennsylvania becoming national champions. The parade will kick off at 10 a.m. from the Jackie Robinson Park. Before the parade begins, the neighborhood will hold a rally at the park, 10540 S. Morgan St. at 9 a.m. The procession will wrap up at Millennium Park at 11 a.m.
Dick’s Sporting Goods ordered 7,000 Jackie Robinson West T-shirts to sell on Tuesday. People lined up hours before the store opened at 9 a.m. and by 2 p.m. they were sold out, said Brian Dibbert, community marketing manager.
Darold Butler, the team’s manager, said he and the youth had no idea how many people from home were cheering them on until they arrived back in town.
“We were living in a bubble,” Butler said. “We heard Chicago was rooting, but we just saw clips of watch parties, so we didn’t get the full effect until we got off the plane; it was going crazy, they were shaking hands, signing autographs, the kids were shocked.”
Marquis Jackson, 12, said he was caught off guard by all of the attention he and his teammates received once they got off the airplane. He said he recognizes that it was the support of the parents and community that helped him and the other players make it as far as they did.
“I wouldn’t have been able to make it if the people wouldn’t have donated the funds for us to stay down there for so long,” Jackson said.
He said he didn’t expect all of the media attention or the Facebook posts, but it was great to know that so many people cared.
Even though Jackson has had a lot of fun and said the experience has been great, he said he’s “tired.”
His mother, Linda Sneed, followed the team on their trip and said the experience has been great, but that she is ready for him to go back to his regular routine.
“There has been no relaxing time,” she said. “He got his hair cut today and Channel 5 wanted to watch him.” Sneed said they couldn’t even go to the mall because people recognized Jackson before they even stepped inside.
Playing baseball is what the youth do, but the team is about more than just the sport, League Director Bill Haley said.
“Even now, in 2014, the Black community still embraces a lot of firsts, the first person to do this, to achieve that, it is source of pride,” Haley said. “This is [the] first African-American team to win the national championships, but I think the bigger thing is that these boys are the best team in the U.S.”
Head coach Butler said he had been motivating the team the entire time, telling them to keep working hard no matter what, and to stay humble. Many of the young men have played on the team since they were seven, so for those players, that message has been drilled into them for a few years. The all-Black team consists of 11 and 12-year-olds.
The Chicago White Sox is another supporter of the Jackie Robinson West Team. Kevin Coe is not only the director of Youth Baseball Initiatives for the White Sox, but he has a deeper connection with the youth team. As a child, he played on the team and against the team and now his 12-year-old son is a team member. He first joined at 4.
“I think it’s a wonderful place for kids,” Coe said. “There is positive energy and the support system is incredible; being a participant in the league is historic.”
Haley said that the accomplishment the Jackie Robinson West Team has achieved this year sends an important message to the world.
“When parents support their kids and the kids are supported by community, these young people will be on [the] right path,” Haley said.
Jackson’s mother, Sneed, said the team becomes a role model to other African-American youth.
“I think it gives them hope to see that they don’t have to stand out in the street and waste their life,” she said. “I think a lot of young Black boys are loving this, like if these little kids can do this, so can we.”