Chicago celebrates Jackie Robinson West with Millenium Park parade

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Jackie Robinson West was celebrated at Millennium Park Wednesday, Aug. 27. (Maggie Gallagher/The DePaulia)

For Jay Readey, the best way to spend time with his 11-year-old son is through baseball. When he’s not an adjunct professor at DePaul or a civil rights lawyer, Readey is the coach to his son’s little league team.

So when Readey took a vacation in the middle of August, the natural destination for him was to bring his family to South Williamsport, Pennsylvania — home of the 2014 Little League World Series. He wanted his son to soak it all in.

This year, however, Readey had another bond to share with his son: Jackie Robinson West, the humble team from the South Side of Chicago that represented the United States in the Little League World Series.

“We went to K-Mart and got these (yellow) shirts and made our own jerseys with magic markers because they were all sold out,” Readey said. “It was just magic that it was Jackie Robinson West from Chicago. It was a fantastic environment and everyone was excited for the kids.

“And they delivered,” he added. “They represented great baseball and made clutch plays at the right moment. I’m so happy for Chicago and it’s really a moment for people to come together around something so positive.”

Readey was one of the thousands of Chicagoans Wednesday who came out to support Jackie Robinson West’s run as the U.S. Little League champions and placing second in the Little League World Series to South Korea. A parade was held from the Far South Side and capped off at Millennium Park.

After the parade, a celebration was held at Millennium Park with public figures and members of Jackie Robinson West addressing the crowd.

“Thank you Chicago for pulling together and embracing these 13 young boys to show what we have in common,” Jackie Robinson West founder Bill Haley said. “This is just the example of Chicago. These aren’t the only young boys who are striving for excellence.  Jackie Robinson West isn’t the only organization representing young people, but we’re happy to represent them all.”

Like Readley, there were plenty of attendees in the crowd who were proud of the team’s run. Brynn Williams stood along Michigan Avenue in a yellow Jackie Robinson West shirt that read “National Champions 2014.”

Williams said she waited an hour and ten minutes at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in the South Loop to pick up the shirt, with proceeds from the $20 shirt going towards the team.

“It was important for me to come and support them,” Williams said. “I will stand in line an hour or two in line for a rollercoaster because I’m a rollercoaster enthusiast. But this is even better. This is something that’s personal. Not only do they represent Chicago, but this is America’s team.”

Ashley Hendon, 43, came to support the team in person after attending the watch parties in the city. Hendon said the atmosphere at those viewings was eletric. He was among many others who watched the team fight off elimination in three separate games to avenge a defeat against Nevada, winning the U.S. title 7-5.

“This is one of the greatest things Chicago has experienced in a while,” he said. “The positive energy is so beautiful. Everybody was so happy to be around each other. There was just a lot of love.”

In the parade route were Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. in other trolleys as the members of Jackie Robinson West held the 2005 Chicago White Sox World Series trophy from a double-decker bus.

At the rally, there was also a political overtone that carried with the accomplishments of Jackie Robinson West. Amidst all the celebration, people took time to address the issue of the ongoing gun violence in Chicago.

No one hit home the message better than former Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams. Kenny Williams pointed to what Jackie Robinson West accomplished as inspiration for those to stop the violence.

“A person came up to me the other day and said ‘those boys are so well behaved,” Williams said. “I said, ‘yeah we teach that.’ The other stuff you see and reported in Chicago, that’s not us.  These young men gave you a glimpse into a form of who we really are.

“Pick up a ball, a glove or a book. Pick up something. It’s time to put down the guns.”

Jackie Robinson West manager Darold Butler also addressed the crowd. As he looked out at the thousands in attendance, the manager became overwhelmed with emotion.

“This is unbelievable,” Butler said. “I’m not going to cry in front of all y’all.  Chi-Town, thank you for everything.”

Piece Jones, No. 23 on Jackie Robinson West, spoke last for his teammates.

“We just want to stay thank you and we love you,” Jones said.