The welcoming committee wasn’t made up of all of Waco. But to the girls on the Lake Air softball squad, it certainly felt that way.
Make that the world champion Lake Air softball squad.
A crowd of more than 250 people gathered at the Lake Air Little League complex on Thursday night to welcome home those girls as conquering heroes. The night before, Lake Air seized the first world championship in program history when it defeated North Carolina, 7-2, in the Little League Softball World Series final in Portland, Ore.
A police escort led the way. A van from a local radio station blared Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” Dozens of relatives, friends and well-wishers held their smart phones aloft, chronicling the team’s arrival for posterity.
To these sixth and seventh-grade girls, it was all a little surreal. But oh-so-cool.
“I didn’t think anybody was going to come out. We didn’t know this many people were supporting us,” third baseman Asharah Thibodeaux said.
Pitcher Daniella Ramirez echoed that sentiment. “I didn’t realize there was going to be this many people out here. It’s crazy,” she said. “I didn’t know we had this many fans. But as I see, they believe in us, and it’s crazy out here. I just know that now.”
Many of the team’s parents and family members traveled to Portland to cheer the team on during its historic run. But others had to stay home, and Thursday night’s welcome-back party had the feel of a family reunion, with grandmothers and uncles and cousins rushing up to the players and swallowing them up in tearful bear hugs.
“It’s awesome. I’ve got family, friends, people I haven’t seen in years,” Lake Air manager David Rodriguez said. “I guess it got around. When you’re out there playing, we’re so far away and detached. We didn’t realize how much this brought the community together.
“I’m happy, anytime there’s an opportunity to bring the community together like this and celebrate the youth in this community, it’s an awesome privilege.”
Ramirez pitched every inning of the World Series for Lake Air, a total of seven games over the span of eight days. So when Thursday morning arrived, she half-expected to go get ready for another game rather than prepare for a flight back to Waco.
“I woke up thinking I had to go eat breakfast, get my jersey on and get ready for a game,” she said. “But then it really hit me, yesterday was the last time I was going to put on the jersey. And it’s kind of sad, because I can’t put on the jersey anymore. It’s kind of weird now, just being in regular clothes.”
When Lake Air recorded the final out of Wednesday’s title game – on a crisply-turned double play – the fact that their sensational softball summer had ended took a while to register.
Wait – what? That’s it? We’re really the champs?
Indeed they were.
PORTLAND — Lake Air’s lack of World Series didn’t matter. The fact that they were playing an…
“It still hasn’t (sunk in),” Ramirez said. “It just seems so unreal. I’m just going to wake up from a dream one day. It’s finally done and over with, and it’s just crazy that it’s finally done. I don’t want it to be.”’
Waco ISD started school on Thursday, meaning the girls missed the first day of classes. Given their long day of traveling and relatively late arrival back to Waco – the bus arrived at 8:45 p.m., about an hour later than scheduled after the hungry players stopped for burgers – they were due for another set of excused absences on Friday.
“According to the parents, they do,” David Rodriguez said. “Apparently they’re going to get tomorrow off, and a lot of the principals know about it, obviously. Everybody is aware of it, so they’re going to enjoy their day off tomorrow. Unfortunately I’ll be back to work, but they’ll enjoy that.”
A World Series championship seems like a pretty good excuse to play hooky.