Little League team returns to celebrity welcome

The mayor waved a yellow towel, the police chief took video on his phone and the sheriff applauded Monday morning when three planes landed at the airport and out burst the members of Greenville’s Little League team.

The North State Little League team members, while not coming back with the World Series championship, nevertheless were treated like celebrities as local dignitaries greeted them at the Pitt-Greenville Airport just before noon.

The team came home as one of the top four teams in the world. Their televised games as they worked their way through the roster of other teams kept Greenville and state residents hoping and cheering before the team lost the U.S. semifinals on Saturday to Texas, a team it previously beat. Texas, in turn, lost the world championship to Japan. North State’s run in the series ended Sunday with a 12-8 defeat in the consolation game at the hands of Mexico.

The loss didn’t seem to bother any of the parents or town officials at the airport. The team’s return was not publicly announced, so it wasn’t a huge crowd, but it was an enthusiastic one.

As the boys and their coaches got off the private planes, Mayor Kandie Smith crazily twirled a yellow towel, and other officials lined up to fist-bump the players as they entered the airport to hug their parents.

Carrying pillows and their bags, the boys entered the airport where their parents, most of whom drove home from Williamsport, Pa., on Sunday or through the night, waited for them, taking videos and snapping photographs.

Amy Dellinger, the mother of player Bryce Jackson, said they’d been gone for 12 days.

“It’s been unbelievable,” she said. “It’s one of those cliches, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, in every journey we’ve been on with them.

“They were second in the United States and fourth in the world and to see how they carried themselves on that stage, very proud,” Dellinger said.

Catcher Jacob Calder, who was praised about the way he played by the TV announcers, sat down next to his mom once he got inside the airport.

“It was really awesome,” Calder said of flying home on the private planes.

Being at the World Series was awesome, too, he said.

“It’s awesome just to walk out of that place and get asked for your autograph and take a picture,” he said.

Johnny Bench, one of the most famous and respected catchers in baseball history, tweeted to Calder that he’d like to get an autographed ball from Calder.

“We’re going to look up his P.O. box and see if we can send that to him,” Calder said.

Calder admitted he was tired and wanted to get home to see his dogs, Sergeant, Sniper and Bear.

But it won’t be back to school yet. Several parents said that the team is scheduled to go to Raleigh on Tuesday for an event.

Cash “The Wagon” Daniel-Moye said Monday it was great to be home.

“I was like excited because a lot of people were cheering us on about what we did,” he said. “I’m just happy we got there and made it as far as we did.”

The highlight for him was making a diving catch in the game against Mexico, he said.

Cameron Greenway said he was tired and the first thing he wanted to do when he got home was to go to sleep.

Monday was the first day of school, but the boys were excused, Dellinger said.

“People are taking first day of school pictures, and we’ve got pictures of our kids getting home on a private jet,” she said. “The support has been crazy.” 

Mayor Smith said the boys made Greenville proud.

“I was so excited that these young men represented us so well,” she said. “I want them to know how much we as a city and state support them.”

Gary Fenton, director of Greenville Recreation and Parks, said he expects the team’s success to have a positive impact on the town’s baseball program for a long time.

“If you’re in our community, it will inspire kids to try to do the same thing,” he said. “It’s wonderful.”

The team that went to the World Series wasn’t the only great youth team coming out of Greenville, he said.

Two younger teams — one was a team for 8 to 10 year olds, and the other was a team for 9 to 11 year olds — went on to win their regional championships, too, he said. That’s the highest level they could go since those teams don’t go on to a World Series.

“The fact that all three won their regionals in the same year is unbelievable,” Fenton said. “We are a baseball town, no question. This year will go down in sports history in Greenville; there’s no doubt about that.”

Parker Overton, the founder of Overton’s, and Time Savers Aviation out of Carthage donated the use of the planes to bring the team home.

Contact Beth Velliquette at bvelliquette@reflector.com or at 252-392-9566.

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