Petaluma National Little League players rolled into town Monday in a white Hummer limo accompanied by a police escort - a welcome befitting the community heroes they have become.
News helicopters circled overhead and cameras snapped as the young baseball stars were greeted by well-wishers, including those who had traveled from other cities to see the players.
“This has been one incredible ride,” said team manager Eric Smith. “As coaches we couldn’t be more proud of how well the boys did and how far they took this community.”
The 13 players looked happy, but tired and overwhelmed as Smith introduced each one to the audience. As each boy's name was mentioned, the crowd roared and waved homemade signs. Some of the boys spoke, thanking the crowd for the unwavering support.
Petaluma resident Peggy Tiernan was among the hundred or so who came out to the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds to welcome the team.
“They are the greatest team in the world,” she gushed. “These boys are never going to forget this experience as long as they live.”
The past month has indeed been an unexpected journey for the team who left home 27 days ago to attend the West Coast Regional Championships in San Bernardino. There they snagged the West Coast title and were soon on their way to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
They won three games and lost two, including last Saturday, when they lost 24-16 to the undefeated Little League team from Goodletsville,Tenn. The next day they made a comeback, winning the consolation game against a team from Panama 12-4.
The Kitasuna Little League team from Tokyo, Japan won the world title, which it has claimed for the past five years.
But Petaluma coaches only praised the boys for the mental focus, stamina and ability to work together, saying the success was the culmination of years of practice.
"They have nothing to be ashamed about. They're the third-best team in the world and second-best in the United States,” said Andre Davis, a Petaluma Little League board member. “I'm O.K. with that."
The Petaluma Downtown Association posted the following message on their Facebook page:
"The dream was to get there and play; they completely surpassed every hurdle and created Little League history. They did it with dignity, manners, determination and heart, and no one could not ask for more. Thank you for the laughter, excitement and even the tears. You united us and put us firmly on the map - PETALUMA IS SO PROUD!"
This Sunday, Sept. 2, Petaluma will hold a parade for the team, starting at 1 p.m. at Walnut Park in downtown Petaluma, which will feature a confetti machine, highlights from the games and a large card supporters can sign.