Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

May 2, 2013

A Little League parade worth remembering

Bill Burt
The Andover Townsman

---- — There is nothing quite like a Little League parade.

Andover Little League had its parade last weekend and it was like all the rest of them — funny, cheery, colorful and a day when the boys and girls truly feel like kings. It is a special day.

Well, it’s also going to be a special summer in Andover because of a Little League all-star team that grabbed hold of the hearts of the Merrimack Valley by doing the unthinkable 25 years ago, in 1988. And the 12 boys and coaches on that team were welcomed home with a parade of their own.

That was when the Andover Nationals went to the Little League World Series.

The Andover squad marched through the East Regional in Bristol, Conn., winning on a walk-off grand slam in the championship game, before heading off on a bus to Williamsport, Pa.

It was a trip I’ll never forget because I went there with them (not on the bus).

There is no other place in America like Williamsport, particularly South Williamsport, where the baseball complex, which includes another beautiful 10-year-old stadium, resides.

They didn’t win the Little League World Series, but that has never mattered. Getting there, with America and the rest of the world watching, listening (all of the Andover games were broadcast live on WCCM) and reading about their exploits was what did.

Well, in mid-June, this team will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of that trip. And while there have been factions of people related to the team that have gotten together over a few of the anniversaries, this one is expected to include perfect attendance. All of the kids and coaches as well most of the parents will be there for this private party to celebrate.

I was 26 at the time — (I won’t list my age now. You do the math!) — and this experience following the team and going to Williamsport was unlike anything I had experienced before or since. I remembered leaving Williamsport saying I would some day take my son (I predicted I would have a son!) back there to soak in the special feelings I remembered.

I did go back with my wife and son when he was 7 years old. We returned four more times thereafter, with every year as good as the one before. It was our summer vacation.

But the other special part has been running into the players and coaches over the last quarter-century. I believe I have seen all but one or two of the boys and every time it’s a handshake and a smile. There is a connection.

I can only imagine what it is like when the boys are together — and they will all be together, as one, in June to celebrate their incredible accomplishment.

In fact, a few have said that the parade they got when they returned was the highlight of their experience. They didn’t realize how big a deal this really was until they got back and heard the screams and saw the faces of their fans as their bus pulled into downtown Andover.

We are not done saluting this crew either. In mid-June, we will publish a commemorative section in the Andover Townsman on their incredible journey during the summer of 1988. We will also find out what happened to a lot of them since then and how this journey will forever be etched in their memories.

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Bill Burt is executive sports editor of The Eagle-Tribune and will continue to have a recurring weekly column in the Townsman.