Jackie Robinson West, the U.S. 2014 Little League champions, scored a heroes’ welcome on Aug. 27 after returning home — in spite of a disappointing loss in the Little League Baseball World Series (LLBWS) final. Wednesday was a prideful, feel-good day for thousands of fans who lined the parade route in celebration of the team’s unprecedented accomplishment.
Jackie Robinson West (JRW), an all African-American male Little League team of players, age 11-13, was hoping to be Illinois’ first team to win the World Series. The team’s quest started on Aug. 23 against Las Vegas after a close 7-5 victory that garnered them the U.S. championship and a spot in the finals.
Coming off an impressive season, JRW’s World Series dream ended in an 8-4 loss to Seoul Korea’s champions. In spite of its defeat, JRW received an elaborate celebration, complete with a star-studded parade and rally.
Thousands lined the parade route from 105th and South Morgan Park Street to Millennium Park. Navy Pier launched a fireworks display in their honor. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Chance the Rapper, and players and representatives from Chicago’s major league teams all turned out to salute the champions.
In a televised interview, JRW director Bill Haley said the road to the World Series was not an easy one for the team that Haley’s father founded in the early 1970s.
“The team’s story is not a fairy tale about ducking bullets,” Haley said, “but instead a story of family support and players with character who became national champions.”
Getting to the World Series took a collaboration of supporters, including Dick’s Sporting Goods Company, which printed and sold T-shirts to help finance the team’s World Series expenses. Before the start of the parade, approximately 7,000 fans purchased team T-shirts from a South Loop sporting good store.
Informally called the National Little League Tournament, LLBWS was first held in 1947. It is always played in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Initially, only U.S. teams competed; however, it has now become a worldwide tournament consisting of eight U.S. teams and eight teams from other countries.
Edward Dade, a longtime fan and former 1975 JRW team member said, “I am so proud of them. They have come so far. Playing on the team in 1975 meant so much to me.” Dade, an avid baseball fan and inventor of the Ump Card Baseball Board Game, said much of his love and admiration of baseball came from his time on JRW. “I hope my name is still on a roster somewhere because I want to be associated with the champions even in some small way,” Dade added.
Aided by family support, the players worked as a team to win the championship. Clay Jamieson, a relative of Joshua Clay, the team’s pitcher in the U.S. championship game, said, “These are middle-class families. Ninety percent of the boys have both a mother and a father at home with them, and the fathers are playing a pretty active role in their sons’ lives.”
There is no doubt the champs are role models for Little Leaguers all over the world. JRW’s story is inspirational, quite like that of Jackie Robinson, the man for whom the team is named. Robinson broke the major league baseball’s color barrier when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as the first African-American team member.
JRW has a city that loves and supports them, and a world that is eagerly watching for future victories. It was reported an estimated 623,900 viewers watched Saturday’s televised game, which was surpassed by Sunday’s game with an estimated of 810,500 viewers.