Chicago's Little League champs return as heroes

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Little League World Series - Chicago team returns - South Korea - August 27, 2014
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Chicago's Little League champs return as heroes
Members of the Jackie Robinson West All Stars Little League baseball team participate in a rally celebrating the team's U.S. Little League Championship Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Members of the Jackie Robinson West All Stars Little League baseball team participate in a parade and rally celebrating the team's U.S. Little League Championship Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Jackie Robinson West coach Darold Butler, right, and players make their way to Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago during a parade on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, following their Little League World Series second place finish. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
Jackie Robinson West players wave to the crowd, including an overzealous fan who jumped the barriers, as they pass U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. The team stopped briefly and raised the World Series Trophy won by the Chicago White Sox. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
Jackie Robinson West players ride a double decker bus northbound on Indiana Avenue in Chicago during a parade on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, following their Little League World Series second place finish. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
Jackie Robinson West players are surrounded by confetti during the rally at Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, following their Little League World Series second place finish. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
Members of the Jackie Robinson West All Stars Little League baseball team participate in a rally and listen to manager Darold Butler on the big screen as they celebrate the team's U.S. Little League Championship Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Jackie Robinson West All Stars Little League baseball team manager Darold Butler shakes the hand of a fan as his team participate in a rally to celebrate the team's U.S. Little League Championship Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Members of the Jackie Robinson West All Stars Little League baseball team participate in a rally celebrating the team's U.S. Little League Championship Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Darold Butler, manager of the Jackie Robinson West baseball team, holds the trophy for winning the Little League U.S. Championship during a rally honoring the team in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Jackie Robinson West defeated a team from Philadelphia to win the U.S. Championship before losing to South Korea in the final game. Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Jackie Robinson West All Stars baseball teams stand on the field at their hometown ballpark in Chicago during a rally Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2014, before they headed out for a parade to honor their play in the Little League World Seris in South Williamsport, Pa. The all-black team claimed the U.S. title in the Little League World Series. (AP Photo/Theresa Crawford)
Members of the Jackie Robinson West All Stars Little League baseball team participate in a rally celebrating the team's U.S. Little League Championship Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Members of the Jackie Robinsin West All Stars Little League baseball team pose for a selfie with Chance The Rapper, right, after a rally celebrating the team's U.S. Little League Championship Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, left, and Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, attend a rally honoring the Jackie Robinson West baseball team for winning the U.S. Little League Championship in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Jackie Robinson West defeated a team from Philadelphia to win the U.S. Championship before losing to South Korea in the final game. Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, second from left, attends a celebration with manager Darold Butler, left, and members of the Jackie Robinson West baseball team in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Jackie Robinson West defeated a team from Philadelphia to win the U.S. Little League Championship before losing to South Korea in the final game. Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attendees celebrate during a rally honoring the Jackie Robinson West baseball team for winning the U.S. Little League Championship in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Jackie Robinson West defeated a team from Philadelphia to win the U.S. Championship before losing to South Korea in the final game. Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Members of the Jackie Robinson West baseball team pose for photographs during a rally honoring their winning the U.S. Little League Championship in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Jackie Robinson West defeated a team from Philadelphia to win the U.S. Championship before losing to South Korea in the final game. Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 24: Members of Team Asia-Pacific (L) pose following their 8-4 win over the Great Lakes Team from Chicago, Illinois to win the Little League World Series Championship game at Lamade Stadium on August 24, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
South Korea's Hae Chan Choi, top center, celebrates teammates after getting the final out of a 8-4 win in the Little League World Series championship baseball game against Chicago in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Spectators cheer for the Taney Dragons baseball team during a parade in Philadelphia, Wednesday Aug. 27, 2014, to celebrate the team's accomplishments during the Little League World Series. (AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek)
Mayor Michael Nutter, third from left, along with members of the Taney Dragons baseball team are greeted by fans during a parade in Philadelphia, Wednesday Aug. 27, 2014, to celebrate the team's accomplishments during the Little League World Series. (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)
South Korea players hold their coach after winning the championship baseball game against Chicago at the Little League World Series, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in South Williamsport, Pa. South Korea won 8-4. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
South Korea's Hae Chan Choi, left, celebrates with catcher Sang Hoon Han, center, and Shane Jaemin Kim (17) after getting the final out of a 8-4 win in the Little League World Series championship baseball game against Chicago in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
South Korea's Hae Chan Choi celebrates after getting Chicago's Ed Howard to ground out for the final out of the Little League World Series championship baseball game in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. South Korea won 8-4. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
South Korea's Hae Chan Choi (21) celebrates with teammates after hitting a two-run home run off Chicago's Brandon Green in the sixth inning of the Little League World Series championship baseball game in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
South Korea's Hae Chan Choi (21) celebrates with teammates after hitting a two-run home run off Chicago's Brandon Green in the sixth inning of the Little League World Series championship baseball game in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
In this photo taken with a fisheye lens fans of South Korea cheer and dance before the Little League World Series championship baseball game between the South Korea and the Chicago in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
South Korea players celebrate after winning the championship baseball game against Chicago at the Little League World Series, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in South Williamsport, Pa. South Korea won 8-4. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
South Korea's Hae Chan Choi, center, celebrates with teammates after getting the final out of a 8-4 win in the Little League World Series championship baseball game against Chicago in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
South Korea's Hae Chan Choi (21) celebrates with teammates after hitting a two-run home run off Chicago's Brandon Green in the sixth inning of the Little League World Series championship baseball game in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
South Korea's Dong Wan Sin watches his solo home run off Chicago's Brandon Green in the fifth inning of the Little League World Series championship baseball game in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
South Korea's Jae Yeong Hwang, left, is tagged out attempting to steal third by Chicago Cubs' Cameron Bufford in the first inning of the Little League World Series Championship baseball game in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 24: Gyu Heon Kwon #12 of Team Asia-Pacific hits an RBI single in the third inning against the Great Lakes Team from Chicago, Illinois during the Little League World Series Championship game at Lamade Stadium on August 24, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 24: A general view before the start of the Little League World Series Championship game between the Great Lakes Team from Chicago, Illinois and Team Asia-Pacific at Lamade Stadium on August 24, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 24: Members of Team Asia-Pacific (L) celebrate following their 8-4 win over the Great Lakes Team from Chicago, Illinois to win the Little League World Series Championship game at Lamade Stadium on August 24, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 24: Brandon Green #14 of the Great Lakes Team from Chicago, Illinois reacts after striking out for the second out of the sixth inning as catcher Sang Hoon Han #5 of Team Asia-Pacific hold up the ball during the Little League World Series Championship game at Lamade Stadium on August 24, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Team Asia-Pacific won 8-4. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Members of the Chicago team look out of the dugout in the sixth inning of the Little League World Series championship baseball game against South Korea in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. South Korea won 8-4. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
The Chicago team lines up to shake hands after an 8-4 loss to South Korea in the Little League World Series championship baseball game in South Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 23: Members of the Great Lakes Team from Chicago, Illinois shake hands with members of the West Team from Las Vegas, Nevada following their 7-5 win during the United States Championship game of the Little League World Series at Lamade Stadium on August 23, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 23: Starting pitcher Joshua Houston #17 of the Great Lakes Team from Chicago, Illinois throws to a batter from the West Team from Las Vegas, Nevada during the fourth inning of the United States Championship game of the Little League World Series at Lamade Stadium on August 23, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 23: Marquis Jackson #16 of the Great Lakes Team from Chicago, Illinois celebrates after stealing third base against the West Team from Las Vegas, Nevada during the first inning of the United States Championship game of the Little League World Series at Lamade Stadium on August 23, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 23: Members of the Great Lakes Team from Chicago, Illinois celebrate following their 7-5 win over the West Team from Las Vegas, Nevada during the United States Championship game of the Little League World Series at Lamade Stadium on August 23, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Chicago’s Ed Howard celebrates after his team won the United States Championship baseball game against Las Vegas at the Little League World Series, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, in South Williamsport, Pa. Chicago won 7-5. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Chicago's Brandon Green (14) celebrates after scoring on a single by Ed Howard off Las Vegas' Zach Hare in the fifth inning of a United States Championship game at the Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. Chicago won 7-6. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
Philadelphia's Mo'ne Davis, top center, shakes hands with the players from the Chicago team after Philadelphia lost 6-5 in an elimination baseball game at the Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Chicago's Marquis Jackson delivers during the first inning of an elimination baseball game against Philadelphia at the Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Chicago's Jaheim Benton, left, slides safely into third ahead of the tag by Las Vegas' Dillon Jones in the fifth inning of the United States Championship game at the Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. Chicago won 7-5. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA - AUGUST 23: Members of the Great Lakes Team from Chicago, Illinois celebrate following their 7-5 win over the West Team from Las Vegas, Nevada during the United States Championship game of the Little League World Series at Lamade Stadium on August 23, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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By DON BABWIN & CARLA K. JOHNSON

CHICAGO (AP) - The ballpark gleams, exactly as the home of the Little League World Series national championship team should.

Free of graffiti and absent so much as a kid's initials carved in the grandstand benches, Jackie Robinson Park is outfitted with a digital scoreboard and mechanical pitching machines. It sits in a tidy neighborhood of brick one-story homes and manicured lawns on Chicago's South Side.

While the words "South Side" are often shorthand beyond Chicago for gangs, shootings and poverty, the people who live here see a more nuanced picture.

"These are middle-class families," said Jamieson Clay, a relative of Joshua Houston, who was the pitching and hitting hero of U.S. championship game. "Ninety percent of the boys have both a mother and a father at home with them and the fathers are playing a pretty active role in their sons' lives."

The beloved Jackie Robinson West All Stars, Chicago's first all-black team to claim the national title, autographed T-shirts and posters at the ballpark Wednesday before boarding trolley buses for a parade in their honor. They're only beginning to realize the impact they've had on the city.

"I didn't know it was going to be like this," outfielder Darion Radcliff said as he posed for photos. "I feel like a celebrity."

In the days to come, he and the other players will be held up as models for how to keep vulnerable kids out of trouble. Radio host Matt McGill said to the crowd at Wednesday's pre-parade rally, "Look at those kids. You can be a star without a gun in your holster, without a gun in your waistband."

And before thousands at Millennium Park downtown, Chicago White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams urged kids to "pick up a ball or a glove or a book, a paint stick, a science project (and) put down the guns."

Adrian Newell, 59, said at the downtown rally, "You never hear anything positive about little black boys and these (13) boys did so well, behaved so well, you are just so proud of these kids."

But some people close to the team chafe at the kids being portrayed as another example of sports rescuing people from dire circumstances.

"This is not some fairy tale about ducking bullets," said Bill Haley, director of Jackie Robinson West, which his father founded in 1971. "The story is we are the national champions."

Williams suggested the team might change the perception of Chicago's youth.

"I had someone pass me by the other day who said, 'Those boys are so well behaved.' I said, 'Yeah, we teach that. The other stuff you see reported, the perception of what's happening in Chicago? That ain't us. These young men gave you a glimpse into who we really are.'"

The team united Chicago, which remains one of the nation's most segregated cities. Last weekend's televised games were the most-watched telecasts in Chicago, with 623,900 viewers Saturday and 810,500 on Sunday - including at Wrigley Field where the Cubs watched during a rain delay and cheered like 12-year-olds themselves.

Chicago Celebrates Little League Champs With Massive Parade, Rally

Mayor Rahm Emanuel organized all-city watch parties. Fans lined up Tuesday to buy 7,000 team T-shirts at a local sporting goods store and on Wednesday - just as they did in 2013 when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup - fans lined the streets to cheer.

They'll even be able to live stereotypical post-sports championship dream: The Rev. Jesse Jackson announced Wednesday that his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition will be flying the boys to Disney World.

The team is built around a core of longtime baseball families, Clay said. Joshua Houston has older brothers who play high school and college baseball. His father is the team's pitching coach.

Of the Jackie Robinson West players who attend Chicago public schools, most attend magnet and charter schools, which indicates their parents made the effort to enroll them in special programs. One boy has two parents who are both Chicago police sergeants, while a second boy has a dad who is a Chicago police officer. Coach Darold Butler is a Union Pacific railroad engineer.

"The values of dignity, winning with grace, losing with grace, we can't take credit for that," Butler said. "Those come from their parents."

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