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Federal's run was priceless

August 21, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

The Federal Little League team is a cunning bunch.

You wouldn't know it by looking at them, but there is more to that team than what meets the eye.

On the surface, the players are a dozen preteens -- or tweens, or whatever they are called nowadays -- just out there playing baseball. And doing it very well for that matter.

In case you have been locked in a dugout or a County Commissioners' budget dispute meeting, Federal's amazing run that put Hagerstown in the Little League World Series for the first time in four decades came to an end on Tuesday. It wasn't without a fight since they left as a winner.

In the process, Federal spent a summer playing what's considered the most romanticized experience of boyhood -- the chance to play baseball on the youth game's largest stage in front of an international audience.

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With that, Federal's importance grew beyond the wildest of dreams. The players may just have been playing baseball, but for Hagerstown, it was so much more. More than money -- even a much disputed $10,000 donation -- could buy.

Just by playing a game, Federal's Little League All-Stars were the unwitting goodwill ambassadors to an area sorely in need of some. And to be honest, The Herald-Mail's Person of the Year voting for 2008 should be closed right now.

The Federal team and managers should win the honor gloves down for their work.

This newspaper's yearly award is open to candidates who live in Washington County and have made a meaningful contribution to the community in 2008.

It would be hard to argue against Federal.

Federal put Hagerstown on the map. For the last 10 days, the nation turned its longing eyes to you, Hagerstown. First and foremost, a band of kids who were just learning geography in school showed everyone that Hagerstown is more than "a city located 75 miles west of Baltimore and Washington."

They gave this town 12 miniature versions of Michael Phelps when it came to sporting publicity.

Before the Series, Andrew Yacyk's last name would have been considered a great triple-word score in a game of Scrabble. Now, he provided baseball and television archives an everlasting memory of youthful determination with the diving tag of first base to finish Federal's opening win over Indiana.

The Schreiber family became Travel Channel stars this summer while driving all over the East Coast to see son Zane play for Federal and son Zach compete with the PONY League All-Stars. Zane made his mark as part of the flurry of three straight homers Federal hit in the third inning of Tuesday's bittersweet final win over Louisiana.

And there were many other indelible marks left by this team, ranging from Ryan Byard's homer and great leaping catch in the finale to Mark Grunberg's emotion after scoring the winning run in last Saturday's win.

Those are all tangibles provided by the team. Federal's intangibles are much more important.

This schoolboy band had nearly as strong a following as the Jonas Brothers. They turned Hagerstown into a screaming and screeching bunch of teenyboppers. That's a good thing.

Federal's run became a lightning rod for Hagerstown. It was a single instance that actually unified this city -- a city that loves to fight amongst itself -- behind one cause.

Face it, you name it and Hagerstown fights about it.

What's your team (Redskins, Ravens, Steelers or Cowboys)?

Who's your driver (Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart or Dale Jr.)?

What should tax money be used for? What shouldn't it be used for? Do we need a downtown entertainment district and should we pay for it? What about that downtown college and new hospital? Who's right (Democrats or Republicans)?

If there is a subject, our citizens love to point fingers. When it comes to politics, issues and sports, the most vocal of them line up on either side of the fence, yelling louder to prove they are right and louder to see who will listen. Internet chats and certain newspaper columns show Hagerstonians are at odds with everything.

Federal provided a common ground ... a safe haven. Outside of the politcal donation the team received, there were very few who weren't interested in the progress.

Our newsroom fielded hundreds of calls a day from readers trying to get score updates or the latest information about the team. Businesses and people were looking for ways to say two things -- "Good luck" and "Thanks."

A large contingent of fans -- many without ties to the team -- took day trips to South Williamsport, Pa., just to support the players in this spectatular endeavour.

Local sports bars became gathering places. Major League Baseball games on satellite were taken off in honor of watching Federal on ESPN.

Signs and symbols of support popped up in windows and on front lawns. The team was a subject that brought strangers together to talk in store aisles and gas pumps just to say, "Those boys are doin' good."

This team provided the closest thing this city has exhibited to total civic pride as there has been here in quite some time. And leave it to a bunch of kids to do what a legion of adults can't figure out.

Start engraving their names on the Person of the Year bowl right now.

And you thought Federal was only playing baseball.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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