On a picture-perfect, late-summer Saturday, the city of Westbrook paid tribute to a dozen youngsters who had pulled us along on a magical ride from the local baseball fields to the stadiums of Williamsport, Pa. The 12-year-old all-stars were lauded with proclamations and gifts as a couple hundred local residents turned out for a short parade down Main Street to gathering at Riverbank Park where Mayor Bruce Chuluda declared Saturday to be “Westbrook Little League All-Star Champions Day.”

“For a city of 16,000 to have an all-star team that was fifth in the country is a great accomplishment,” Chuluda said. “It says a lot for their work ethic and desire and how they play the game. I’m proud of them, and I think everybody in the city is, too.”

Gov. John Baldacci was also on hand, and he invited the team to Augusta for lunch in the near future – though the guys made clear that they’d prefer to do so on a school day. Baldacci said he’d see what he could do.

“The way this has played out, everybody is reminding themselves of their own childhood,” the governor said, “and it’s so great that these kids are going to have such wonderful memories, not only about the winning, but about teammates, friendships, and what’s happened. It’s something to look back on and enjoy the rest of their lives.”

The guys, now celebrities in their hometown, signed autographs and posed for photographs. The crowd laughed and cheered at the personalities that the whole country got to find out about during the Little League World Series, thanks to ESPN: Tommy Lemay demonstrated his famous moose call; Reid Coulombe continued to display his love for every microphone and camera that he’s ever met; and there, still atop several players, was that unruly hair, reminiscent of the Beatles, circa 1966.

The team received certificates that entitle them to free ice cream at Schwan’s for a year, and they were invited to McDonald’s for lunch “on the house” after the ceremony.

Jimmy Burrill and Gene McClure were among those in Saturday’s crowd, as was Tom Caron. The first two grew up in Westbrook and were members of the 1951 team from Maine that made it to the Little League World Series. The latter was a coach in the city league that season.

The trio looked at black-and-white photographs of the youngsters they used to be and told stories, including of their own visit to Fenway Park, something this year’s team also did, and the parade thrown for them down Congress Street in Portland.

Those memories are the real prizes that this year’s players will take away from their experience. Of course, it’s cool to have people ask for an autograph and it’s tough to top free ice cream, but eventually all of that will come to an end.

However, from time to time, through the years, conversation will turn to the summer of 2005, and the guys will enthusiastically retell stories of their time in the spotlight, playing the game that they love.

It’s likely that many of us don’t ever have any better memories, either.

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