Updated: August 26, 2014 9:32AM
Firetrucks’ sprayed arches of water over the airplane that carried the Jackie Robinson West team home to Midway Airport on Monday evening.
A long row of police officers and firefighters lined the path from the plane to the terminal to welcome the U.S. Little League champions just after 5 p.m.
At the arrival gate, reporters and photographers jostled for position and fans screamed.
As the young players walked through the crowd at Midway, the overwhelming shock and awe that filled their faces was briefly interrupted when several boys answered calls from fans for high-fives. As they made their way to baggage claim, several of the Little Leaguers smiled.
After realizing why a horde of photographers was following a single file row of kids in yellow hats, befuddled travelers began to clap.
Several of the boys, when asked what they thought of the reception, simply smiled and shook their heads. “There are no words,” they all agreed.
After a police escort through the airport, the team was shuttled to their home field at Jackie Robinson Park, 10540 S. Morgan St., where several hundred cheering people had gathered in the infield.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel congratulated the team, which gathered in bleacher seats behind home plate to soak up the love. A detail of two uniformed Chicago police officers stood guard over the teams’ luggage, which was stacked off to the side of the baseball diamond.
Shortstop Ed Howard said he didn’t know just how much the team meant to Chicago until he got off the plane.
“I’m just happy to be part of something positive,” he said.
He also said he missed his mother’s home-cooked chicken and macaroni and cheese.
The group of 11-, 12- and 13-year-old boys had been on the road playing baseball for 25 days, said Ed’s mother, Calandra Howard. When asked where Ed got his “rocket arm,” a motherly voice from the background teasingly said, “Be truthful.”
Ed looked at reporters and said, “My mom.”
Howard signed several autographs between chatting with reporters.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who also coached youth baseball for a separate team, attended the rally.
“This is an amazing group — the poise they had, the professionalism and everything that they demonstrated was pure excellence,” Beale said. “Nobody realizes how much pressure was on these kids. We are so proud of them and hopefully we can continue to rekindle baseball here in the inner city.”
The citywide embrace of the South Side kids who made it to the Little League World Series will continue with a parade on Wednesday.
The team lost to South Korea on Sunday, but no one cares. They are our champions.