(Oct. 17, 2014) It was an unusual sight. A daylong rainstorm emptied the normally bustling Main Street, and one of the most resurgent small towns in America lay still and empty – dormant – during the evening of its signature 2nd Friday art stroll.
It looked like a rare misfire – a throwaway Friday in Berlin – when, just after 6 p.m., a police car slowly sauntered up Main Street, followed by a small army clad head-to-toe in blue strolling through the streets.
The rain began to temper, and more than 100 Little Leaguer players wearing matching uniforms, hats and cleats pushed open a street barricade, Moses-like, and strode towards a makeshift stage near Town Hall.
Worcester County Commissioner President Bud Church and Berlin Little League President Norman “Nornie” Bunting led the parade, and coaches and parents were suddenly joined by scores of well-wishers, merchants, men, women and children all marching through the streets of Berlin together to champion their champions – the one-dozen Little League all-star teams of the town, including a pair of state champions, one of which made it all the way to final game of the United States Little League World Series.
Mayor Gee Williams, America’s coolest small town cheerleader, greeted the throng from the stage.
“I want to welcome all the families, the parents, the aunts, the uncles, the grandparents, the neighbors and the friends of the Berlin Little League,” Williams said. “This is going to be a very special, memorable night.
A banner above the stage read, “Congratulations Berlin Little League 2014 Intermediate Team USA National Finalists,” The words, “dignity, integrity, sportsmanship” stood out, stared and printed in bold capital letters at the bottom of the banner.
“These are the attributes our Berlin Little League all-stars exemplify year-in and year-out, both on the field and off the field,” Williams said. “That’s important – you’ve certainly shown your sportsmanship on the field, but integrity and dignity is something you can carry with you every day of your life.
“Berlin, Maryland may have the honor of being named ‘America’s Coolest Small Town,’ but we also can be proud of being the home of the hottest Little League teams in the USA,” Williams continued.
Williams then announced that Andre Lucas had left his lights on in a nearby parking lot – a perfect moment of levity, and a reminder of how small the town remains.
Church took the stage next. He said he had four grandchildren come through the Berlin Little League system. His first wife was a huge fan, and still sat in the front row of the bleachers during games, even when her health and eyesight were failing.
During a game that pitted two of their grandsons against each other, Church’s late wife mercilessly heckled the umpire.
“She said, ‘That umpire doesn’t know what he’s doing. Boo umpire!’” Church said. “She was screaming and yelling, and people were laughing in the back. In about the 4th inning, the umpire walked to where she was sitting, took off his mask and said, ‘Mom, will you shut the hell up?’” The umpire was her son.
“All of Worcester County is proud of you,” Church told the players. “You put us on the map. You’re true champions.”
Jocelynn Snelsire, secretary of Berlin Little League and the first female coach of a Little League World Series team, thanked the crowd for braving the weather.
“This season registered in our league we had over 500 boys and girls ages 4-16,” she said. “That’s a lot of people in a lot of uniforms.”
Forty-one regular-season teams played for Berlin Little League, and more than 140 played on all-star teams. The league also had 122 registered volunteers.
Little League District Administrator Leo Ehrisman told the assemblage of players, “You are all champions.”
“These players start in the backyards,” he said. “And these coaches that spend the time with these kids are so important. These kids could just be lost somewhere in the system, but you have brought them together – you’ve made them friends forever. They will remember this forever.”
Norris recognized the state championship 9-10 all-star team.
“This team dominated their age group in local competition, winning six straight games by a collective score of 81-6,” he said.
The team won the District 8 championship and went on outscore opponents by 40 runs at the state level, claiming the 2014 Maryland state championship.
Coach Eric Snelsire called the squad, “a special group of kids.”
“These group of young men truly represented Berlin Little League with class and sportsmanship,” he said. “They have a bright future on and off the field.”
The 13-year-old Intermediate all-stars won four consecutive state titles. For the first time in town history, the team won the East Regional championship in 2014 and finished second in the U.S. in the Little League World Series in Livermore, Ca. Coach Cameron McDonough said the story of the team was the story of 13 families.
“It’s about moms, dads, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles, and for us, this year, especially grandparents,” he said.
Two of the team’s 13 players lost grandparents during postseason play, including McDonough’s own son, Tristan.
“While the pain of losing a loved one can be excruciating, I don’t know that there’s one greater than losing a beloved grandparent,” said McDonough. “However, through the circumstances we, as a baseball family, were able to grow even stronger through the love that was shown to one another.
“Baseball is just a game,” McDonough continued. “But while just a game it can be the perfect metaphor for life. Set your goals high. Work hard to achieve them. You will succeed – enjoy that. You will fail – learn from it. You will have joy and you will have pain, but through it all you will have your team.”
McDonough said his players were, “brothers for life.”
“You are family,” he said. “This town, this county and this area has really wrapped their arms around all of us and supported us through all of this. We had the most amazing time you can ever imagine.”
Maryland District 38 Senator Jim Mathias arrived near the end of the ceremony, the rain beginning to intensify. Mathias managed to draw one last thunderous roar from the crowd, still very much engaged in the celebration.
“How about Berlin Little League baseball?” he said. “You guys are great and what’s great about Berlin and the Eastern Shore. You are the future.”