CHICAGO — The Morgan Park-based Jackie Robinson West Little League team arrived in Williamsport, Pa., Sunday — one day after becoming Chicago's first team to reach the Little League World Series in 31 years.
"It's like we're in baseball heaven," Jackie Robinson West coach Darold Butler told DNAinfo Chicago during a brief phone interview Sunday night. "The kids just got their hats and their uniforms. It's surreal. It's like baseball Christmas right now."
Butler correctly predicted his team would win the Great Lakes Regional, which it accomplished Saturday with a 12-7 victory over New Albany, Ind., in Indianapolis. The triumph gave Jackie Robinson West Chicago's first Little League World Series berth since the same organization advanced to Williamsport in 1983.
On Sunday, Jackie Robinson West took a flight from Chicago to Philadelphia, followed by a three-hour-plus bus ride to Williamsport in the heart of Pennsylvania.
The Little League World Series, a 16-team, double-elimination tournament with eight clubs from the United States and another eight from various regions of the world, begins Thursday.
Jackie Robinson West's first game is at 2 p.m. Thursday against Lynnwood, Wash., the Northwest Regional champions. It will be televised by ESPN.
On Saturday in the Great Lakes Regional final, Cam Bufford's grand slam highlighted a seven-run fifth inning that carried Jackie Robinson West to the thrilling win. Jackie Robinson West trailed 5-0 and 7-3 before mounting its comeback.
In six regional games, Jackie Robinson West outscored opponents 61-19.
The Chicago team's previous performances attracted a national following, including several social shoutouts from rapper/actor and South Side native Common.
Jackie Robinson West was founded in 1971 on the city's South Side.
Gov. Pat Quinn celebrated the win by declaring Saturday "Jackie Robinson West Little League Champions Day," adding the ballplayers made the entire state proud.
“With power and poise, this group of young ballplayers has outperformed opponents across the state, region and now they have their eyes, gloves and hearts set on a bigger field," he said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement that the city "could not be more proud of" the team.
"They are now on the road to the Little League World Series — something that no Chicago team has played in since 1983. However, more important than making history on Saturday, the courage to persevere and hard work displayed by the Jackie Robinson West Little League Team and Coach Darold Butler, has once again reminded all of Chicago the very best of what we hope from and for our kids," Emanuel said.
"I want the whole team and Coach Butler to know that Chicago is rooting for them, and as they take the field for the Little League World Series, they will be taking the best wishes of an entire city with them.”
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