Jackie Robinson West team comes to Evanston, attracts crowd


Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

The Jackie Robinson West baseball squad shakes hands with Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips. The Chicago-based team was honored for its accomplishments at this summer’s Little League World Series on Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

Eli Panken and Khadrice Rollins

Jackie Robinson West, the 2014 Little League National Championship baseball team, made an appearance at an Evanston restaurant Wednesday night and was later honored at Northwestern’s men’s basketball game against the University of Illinois.

A crowd of more than 35 Evanston residents greeted the team at Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles, 2424 Dempster St., at about 6 p.m. The players were able to meet attendees and eat at the restaurant before heading to NU.

The team won the U.S. title at the 2014 Little League National Championship after defeating Nevada. The Chicago team then lost the International Final to South Korea.

Darold Butler, the head coach of the 13-player team, said the dinner was an important experience for his team so that they could understand the significance of their win.

“During the whole series, we were focused on winning,” Butler said. “That gained us a lot of national support and Chicago support, and I think it’s important that we meet the people who watched us the whole way.”

Throughout the evening, members of the team took pictures with Evanston children and their families, talked about baseball and met Negro Leagues player Ray Knox, a former catcher for the Chicago American Giants.

Darnell Johnson, the operations manager for the restaurant, said the event was more than just a chance for residents to meet young superstars.

“These kids are an inspiration for everybody in Evanston, especially our Little Leaguers,” Johnson said. “If kids of the same age are able to see what others are able to do at that age — like win a U.S. baseball championship — it inspires them to follow their dreams and work hard like the team does. It makes a huge impact on them.”

George Daniels, an attendee and an investor of the restaurant, said he was impressed by the team members’ humility despite the publicity they have received.

“I’m so proud to see the job that the coaches and the parents have done with these kids,” he said. “They’ve kept them so humble and maintained them as young gentlemen in all of the limelight they’ve received after what they’ve accomplished.”

Once at NU, the Jackie Robinson West players and coaches walked onto the court and received a standing ovation in the first half of the basketball game.

“Evanston treated us like champions,” Butler said.

Butler said the team was thankful and happy with the way it was welcomed by NU athletic director Jim Phillips and the entire men’s basketball staff.

The players got the chance to watch a close game at Welsh-Ryan Arena, but had to leave at halftime. Although the team has traveled across the country and become national stars, they are still in middle school and had to travel back to the South Side, Butler said.

“I got to get the boys home,” Butler said. “They have school in the morning.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @elipanken

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @KhadriceRollins