Honolulu Little League champions return to cheering family, friends and fans
Greeted by cheering fans and music from the Royal Hawaiian Band, the Honolulu Little League team flew back home as world champions.
The team arrived at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on Monday afternoon, after a 3 a.m. wake-up call to leave Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for a 9 a.m. flight out of Newark, New Jersey.
“Coming back home to an airport full of so many fans with all their cameras out taking pictures, you know, and all the leis that they give us and all the treats, it’s really heartwarming coming back and realizing what we've done for The 808 State,” pitcher Jaron Lancaster said Monday.
Jaron threw the game-winning World Series match-up against Curaçao. The Hawaiʻi team, representing the U.S., beat the international team 13-3.
Honolulu Little League Manager Gerald Oda traveled with the team, they’ve been away from home since Aug. 3.
“It's been a long trip,” Oda said. “When we were on the plane, we said this is our last flight together as a team and once we land, things are going to change obviously.”
Oda said he and his fellow coaches used that flight to prepare the team for changes ahead.
“More important than what they accomplished, we're really looking for what their next goals are,” Oda said. “That's the thing that as coaches we're looking for, to see what they do 20-30 years from now. Don't make the World Series the final end, but use the World Series as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.”
First baseman Taualiʻi Purcell was all smiles, with lei up to his chin Monday. Looking back on the experience, he said he’ll remember these moments for a lifetime.
“It was great, you know, spending time with my teammates, making jokes with them, eating with them,” Taualiʻi said. “Making memories on and off the field with them is amazing.”
His parents traveled to Williamsport with him and were on a later flight. But at the airport, he was greeted by family members, including uncle Lannery Purcell who came with signs and balloons.
“It makes me proud because I've seen him growing up from a baby all the way up to how old he is now,” Purcell said. “It makes me proud to see the young man he's become.”
And the homecoming isn’t over. Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said plans for an event on Sept. 8 are in the works.
“Right now, we're planning on doing something very big and I hope if I have my way, we're gonna do something that's never been done before,” he told HPR.