The Little League World Series has seen its fair share of incredible storylines, from Philadelphia pitching phenom Mo’ne Davis to Caribbean star Erick Figueroa (listed at 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds), but in terms of local impact, few teams have grabbed the attention of their city as Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team.
On Thursday night, the team will be playing for a spot in the United States Championship Game against Philadelphia, and thanks to the generosity of a group of Major League Baseball players, their families will be able to join in on the fun:
“It all started last year when (Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Carl) Crawford watched a Little League team from Chicago on television called Jackie Robinson West. It caught his attention because it was an all-black team. That’s something you tend to notice in a day when fewer and fewer African-Americans are playing baseball.
“”He saw them and felt a real connection to them,” said Crawford’s agent, Brian Peters. “It reminded Carl of when he was a kid growing up (in Houston). It reminded him of growing up playing with other kids like him in his neighborhood.””
The connection that Crawford felt to the team has resulted in the outfielder pledging to cover all travel, lodging, and food for the families of the players, and it has enabled the team’s parents to see them compete in Williamsport.
Crawford and former Chicago Cubs pitcher LaTroy Hawkins (now with the Colorado Rockies) put out the word to other MLB players, and several stepped up to the plate. Justin and B.J. Upton of the Atlanta Braves agreed to chip in money, as did Cubs pitcher Wesley Wright.
“It’s all about the life experience of going to the Little League World Series and having the support of your family,” Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter told the media in Tampa on Tuesday. “Because if I was a kid, I’d want my mom and dad to come. We wanted to make sure everyone had someone there to support them.”
The team has made a nice run for itself in the tournament, winning two consecutive games after dropping into the loser’s bracket following a 13-2 loss to the West Region-winning Las Vegas squad. That is the team they will be trying to force a rematch against when they battle Philadelphia on Thursday night, and thanks to the generosity of Crawford and the other big leaguers that helped him, their families will be along for the ride.