Petaluma little leaguers surprised by A's greeting

September 1, 2012, 12:54 am
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OAKLAND -- Midway through their afternoon stretch the Oakland Athletics erupted in applause. The Petaluma National Little Leaguers had arrived. As the kids shuffled onto the Major League field, the A's stopped their work and lined up to greet the kids. As they met each other half way, stopping on the left field foul line, it was impossible to tell who was more excited to meet who. "This is so cool," Petaluma head coach Eric Smith said.
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The A's player's exuberant reception for the kids who advanced all the way to the United States Title Game in the Little League World Series caught everyone off guard. "I think in the kid's mind it is all about getting to meet the big guys," coach Smith said. "So the fact the big guys welcomed them like that, it's not what they expect."The kids took the field and played catch as the A's completed their stretch. Then when batting practice began the boys got to shag balls in the outfield and marvel at some of the tape-measure blasts hit by the Oakland players. "We're excited about having them here," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Hopefully they are as excited about being here."The kids fit in well on the field with the pros -- the matching green and gold uniforms didn't hurt either. The star attraction for the little leaguers was a chance to meet with Petaluma native Jonny Gomes. He led them on a tour of the clubhouse and dugout and addressed the team. They followed him in a single file line as he guided them through the facilities.
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For the 12 and 13-year-old kids this is just another dose of the type of star treatment they are going to have to get accustomed to. The big league perks are nice, but the little local heroes are just starting to reap the benefit of their miraculous run."We didn't think we were going to have 2,000 people waiting for us when we got home," assistant coach Trevor Tomei said. "They are expecting 20,000 people at their hometown parade."In addition to the warm reception the kids received the ultimate prize from a local pizza place. "All the kids got free pizza for a year from Pinky's Pizza in Petaluma," Tomei said. "They get a free large pizza with one topping any time they want." "I think they are starting to realize how big it is for the Bay Area," Smith said.While the kids competed in Williamsport, Pennsylvania they had little idea of how big a story they had become back home. The reality set in as soon as they landed at the airport. "They had a cannonball solute coming down the runway with two fire engines blowing water over our plane," Tomei recalled. Even though they lost in the U.S. Title Game, their improbable 10-run 6th inning to tie the game electrified the Bay Area and softened the blow of their eventual defeat. "15-5 would have felt bad," Smith said. "Knowing that they gave it a shot and were so close, I think deep down, even though they didn't like the loss, knowing they gave it a shot helps."These kids are experiencing something they will remember for the rest of their lives. While it is all about the accomplishments of the players on the team, it is equally as special for the grown ups as well. Coach Smith's son Hance hit the game-tying home run to cap the 10-run rally. A moment he won't soon forget either. "That's the probably the only time during the series that I let the father get ahead of the coach," Smith said. "When he hit that, I probably jumped more like a fan than a coach." The parade in Petaluma will take place on Sunday. Maybe after that things will settle down and go back to normal for the families and players. This may however, not be the last we'll see of these exceptionally talented kids. They have bright futures ahead of them and a couple of them might end up on the playing surface of a big league field yet again, only in a much larger uniform.

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