Greenville traded in its signature green to paint Elm Street Park gold on Wednesday in a celebration of a summer of champions punctuated by the North State all-stars’ appearance in the Little League Baseball World Series.
More than 1,500 people packed the Stallings Stadium seats and outfield bleachers and lined the brick walls to pay tribute to an unprecedented regional championships in three age groups. N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper and Greenville Mayor Kandie Smith each read proclamations designating Aug. 30 as a celebration of Little League in Greenville and presented them to North State manager Brian Fields.
“I want to say on behalf of the entire state of North Carolina, ‘You made us proud, you made us proud,’” Cooper said.
Joining Cooper and Smith were N.C. House Rep. Greg Murphy; N.C. Sen. Don Davis; Greenville City Council members Shawan Barr, Rick Smiley, P.J. Connelly and Calvin Mercer; and Pitt County Commissioners Melvin McLawhorn, Ann Huggins, Tom Coulson and Glen Webb.
Greenville Tar Heel all-star teams in ages 8-10 and 9-11 divisions, dressed in their green and white uniforms, paraded on the field first. Each team won district and state titles before giving Greenville its first Tournament of State Champions titles at Elm Street Park.
North State’s all-stars, honored at the General Assembly in Raleigh earlier in the day, arrived with a police escort at 6:47 p.m., wearing their Southeast champion gold and black uniforms, then navigated their way through the crowd and a standing ovation.
After player and coach introductions, Smith grabbed a gold towel and waved it as she revved up the crowd.
“They had me dancing, rapping, singing, running,” she recalled of watching North State’s journey to Williamsport, Pa. “It’s been awesome just to get to know them personally. They are awesome young men.”
Smith read her proclamation, saying the accomplishments of all three teams build on Greenville’s distinction of Sportstown USA and a hotbed for baseball.
“We’ve made history, but we’ve not stopped yet,” Smith said. “Look for these young men in the future. You better get their autographs today.”
Hundreds of people lined up for autographs after the ceremony. Cooper intended to leave with a few.
“I came so I could get these guys’ autographs,” he said.
Cooper said he also wanted to be a part of the ceremony to honor four things: the Greenville community; the families, parents and volunteers; the coaches; and the players. He marveled at how North State performed on Little League’s biggest stage, becoming the first team in the 71-year history of the LLWS to throw a combined perfect game and the first U.S. team to record consecutive no-hitters.
North State followed that up with a one-hitter in a 2-1 win over Texas but fell 6-5 in a rematch with the Southwest champions in the U.S. championship.
Greenville Tar Heel in 1998 and Greenville North State this year are the only North Carolina teams to ever reach the U.S. championship game.
“How many of us could do, even what we’ve done a thousand times, with such poise, with such skill, with such grace, with the ability, with poise to not only do your job well but to excel?” Cooper asked. “I was constantly amazed.”
East Carolina University baseball coach Cliff Godwin, who spoke to North State’s team before it left for the regionals in Warner Robins, Ga., then flew to Williamsport to attend last Wednesday’s game against Texas, told the players they will “be remembered forever for winning championships.”
“I tell our players all the time, ‘If you want to be remembered, be on a championship team.’ … Greenville, North Carolina, will always remember you guys because you have won championships.”
Fields challenged the younger age groups to dream big.
“Keep believing in your dreams, make it happen,” he said. “Believe in yourself. You never know when you will get your opportunity.”