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Come on down! Eastlake Little League all-stars start their victory tour Phillip Brents | Fri, Sep 06 2013 02:17 PM

Popular? Who’s popular? The answer to that question was delivered in earnest during the early stages of the fourth quarter of Saturday’s San Diego State football game at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Aztecs were mired in a funk en route to a dismal 40-19 loss to FCS foe Eastern Illinois when suddenly the 42,978 fans in attendance began to cheer, the applause rising in volume.

Could it be for the first down the Aztecs had just recorded — a sort of Bronx cheer?

The answer was quickly forthcoming as one discerned a string of yellow shirts descending from the stands onto the field.

Eastlake Little League’s 12-under all-stars had arrived.

And none too soon, it appeared, to the relief of beleaguered fans.

“That was the biggest standing ovation I’ve had so far,” Eastlake’s Nick Mora said.

Well, it’s time for Eastlake’s high-achieving team — Little League World Series national champions, you’ve still got to pinch yourselves — to take a well-deserved bow.

The team arrived back home on Aug. 27 after spending nearly a month away from home while competing in the Little League West Regional championship tournament in San Bernardino and then in the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.

The team was housed in on-site dorms while competing at the West Region finals. After winning the West Region championship, the team was then promptly whisked away to Pennsylvania — and more time spent in on-site dorms.

It’s an experience that none of the 12 boys and three adult coaches on the team will ever trade in. Team members are only now starting to realize just how much of an impact their stellar on-field play had on the general public that had been watching — and cheering — them on television.

The Little League World Series has become an American icon, one of those things that has almost become sacred to people growing up in this country, regardless of the generation.

As newly crowned U.S. champions, the Eastlake little leaguers are America’s latest pop celebrities.

They got an inkling of their new found status during a homecoming celebration put on by the city of Chula Vista Aug. 29 at Sleep Train Amphitheatre. An estimated 3,000 fans turned out to express their the sentiments.

Welcome home! America loves you!

“I didn’t think that many people would turn out, that was kind of a surprise,” Eastlake manager Rick Tibbett said.

A pleasant surprise.

The players estimated they signed “thousands” of autographs to cap the event.

“It was weird,” ace pitcher Grant Holman confessed, “because we’re just a bunch of regular kids who won a couple of games.”

Well, actually more than just a “couple.”

Eastlake finished its all-star tournament run with a 22-2 record. In the process, the team captured championship titles at the district, section, sub-division, state, regional and national levels.

That’s six championship banners. The league may have to erect some type of display room for fans to view all the banners and trophies collected by various Eastlake Little League teams this summer.

A museum might seem more appropriate.

Shining stars

The Eastlake boys aren’t the only ones receiving the star treatment. Members of the Mexico champion Tijuana team that placed third at last month’s LLWS were on hand to take part in the Sleep Train homecoming event hosted by San Diego’s own “Mr. Baseball” Tony Gwynn.

The Tijuana team has generated its share of fans on both sides of the border and will join Eastlake as part of pregame recognition ceremonies prior to upcoming Padres baseball games at Petco Park.

The Padres will honor Eastlake on Saturday, Sept. 7, and the Tijuana team on Sept. 20.

“Both of these local teams have captivated our region and made all of us proud,” Padres President/CEO Mike Dee stated in a team release. “The entire Padres organization, especially the players, was impressed with not only their extraordinary level of play on the field, but also their resolve and heart. We are thrilled to honor their accomplishments at Petco Park.”

As part of the two special nights, both teams will have the opportunity to meet Padres players and take batting practice on the major league field. The teams also will be honored as part of that night’s pregame ceremony.

The Padres are providing game tickets to players, coaches and families of both teams.

That appears to be just the beginning.

The Chargers are expected to honor the Eastlake team at Monday night’s NFL season opener against the Houston Texans.

The 2009 Park View LLWS championship team made an appearance on “The Tonight Show” and met President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C.

There’s no reason why Eastlake won’t do the same.

Locally, the team will make an appearance from 1-3 p.m. on Sept. 15 at the Eastlake Village Marketplace shopping center. Eastlake will honor its own.

Team parents said the community appearances are a reward by the team to repay the support fans showed during its history-making run.

From all early returns, it appears to be a long-lasting love affair.

After posing for a group photo outside Islands Eastlake restaurant following a team dinner on Wednesday, fans in passing cars began to honk their horns at the sight of yellow-shirted youngsters. A few even slowed down to snap a photo out the window.

Team members responded with robust cheers to each honk.

“It’s a way to say ‘hi’ and also to show their appreciation,” Mora said, smiling.

Yellow is the word right now.

“They’re having a great time,” the Eastlake manager said. “They’ve got something going on all the time. As for me? I’ve got to get back to work.”

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