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Rainstorm can't stop pageantry of opening parade at LLWS

Updated 6:55 pm, Thursday, August 16, 2012

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  • Members of the Fairfield American little league team, renamed New England, make their way down Third Street for the downtown parade to kick off the 2012 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn. on Wednesday August 15, 2012. Photo: Christian Abraham / Connecticut Post
    Members of the Fairfield American little league team, renamed New England, make their way down Third Street for the downtown parade to kick off the 2012 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn. on Wednesday August 15, 2012. Photo: Christian Abraham

 

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Even a freak rainstorm could not dampen the spirits at the eighth annual Grand Slam Parade.

Despite a downpour that soaked the thousands of spectators, Williamsport welcomed the 16 teams to the 66th annual Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., on Wednesday.

"Despite the fact that it was pouring, all these people stayed in the rain," Fairfield American Manager Bill Meury said. "And it didn't look like they were going anywhere. Some of them didn't even have umbrellas."

American, clad in its green uniforms with white New England script across the front, were among the stars riding in a float at the parade. Their parents -- sporting green New England T-shirts and sitting in reserved seats outside the Genetti Hotel -- could see the excitement on their sons' faces.

"Just the smile on his face showed me how much he enjoyed it," Rani Clarkin, mother of American outfielder Matty Clarkin, said. "(Making it to Williamsport) has been his dream."

Spectators from all over the world lined the 1.6-mile parade route down Williamsport's West Fourth Street. Some sat in beach chairs drinking beer at street level, others took in the scenery from their front porches. Children frolicked along the street, dancing, catching candy and silly string.

Vendors -- like 55-year-old Francis Ciccarelli, of Williamsport, who runs The Clothier clothing shop on West Fourth -- sold hot dogs, hamburgers and soft drinks to the hungry parade viewers.

"I go from a clothier to a salesman," Ciccarelli said. "This is like the Olympics. We welcome the world."

Ciccarelli had competition, though. Just a half-mile down West Fourth at St. Joseph the Worker Parish, the Rev. Brian Vanfosson and his volunteers sold their special baked hamburgers, barbecue sandwiches and the standard ballpark fare.

"It's a fundraiser, but it's also to offer fellowship to the people from around the world," Vanfosson said. "We usually have Mass at 7 p.m., but we pushed it back to 9 tonight so everyone can watch the parade."

Vanfosson understands why the event draws the crowd it does.

"This country is rooted in baseball tradition," he said. "These kids aren't major-leaguers, but they have great spirit and great aspirations and that enables them to play like major-leaguers."

Gary Christman -- a radio personality on Williamsport's KISS-FM -- has been the parade's master of ceremonies for five years on WVIA, the town's PBS affiliate. Christman has lived in Williamsport all but four years of his life, has broadcast every World Series since 1974 and appreciates what the series and its pageantry mean to the town.

"It means everything," Christman said. "It puts this town on the map."

Meury echoed Christman's sentiment, and as the Fairfield team floated down Fourth Street, it began to realize how special Little League is to Williamsport.

"The kids began to realize as we moved down the parade route that this town is all about Little League baseball," he said. "I think the kids had a terrific time ... it's a memory, I'm sure, they'll never forget."

ppickens@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/Pat_Pickens

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